Network: Part 2: A Wireless Wonder

Stephen Yagielowicz

I'm at it again, delving into the arcane black arts of computer networking, attempting to bend what I call "plumbing" to my will. In this case though, rather than turning on a faucet in hopes of seeing water pour out, I'm turning on my laptop, in hopes of seeing data pour in — all without my old 25-foot long "tether."

Over the years, in many times and many locations, I have been shackled by the need to have 'wires' of one sort or another connecting me to 'the computer Internet.' While additional phone jacks are an easily installed option requiring a mere call to the telephone company to implement (and indeed, Dawn Elizabth and I had literally 5 separate phone lines in our last apartment), it always seemed that one or both of us had the damn 25 foot phone cord stretched out across the room, inviting me to trip and fall, cussing all the way down to the floor.

Dreams & Desires
Moving into our 'dream home' last week brought with it an added and welcomed bonus however: we would now have broadband, something we had lived without since moving from Vegas, and the Sprint DSL connection we enjoyed there. While I was now freed from the agonies of dialup connections, I was still tethered, hanging onto the end of a slick new cable modem (it looks like a big shark's fin!) by a short run of Ethernet cabling. To make matters worse, 'Kitten' was still on her dialup connection, working from her corner of our cavernous new beach house — 25 foot phone cable and all, and unfortunately connecting at only 26k! Something had to change and fast:

As I sat considering my options, I remembered an intriguing tale recounting the exploits of my old friends Allison and Stephen over at Far more technically adept than I, and operating in the heart of Toronto where such technology becomes available earlier than in my sleepy little seacoast town, they had experimented with a wireless addition to their broadband network — one that allowed them to work and play at high speed from the comfort of the coffee shop across the street from their office, and perhaps even from the pleasant park down the road.

Hmmm: I'm less than 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, with a 'private' beach suitable for all kinds of foolishness, including writing my articles in the sunshine. Would a wireless broadband network like Allison and Stephen's let me and Dawn Elizabeth work there, just like you see in those "promise of tomorrow" TV commercials? On second thought, who wants sand in their hard drive? I'll settle for 'Kitten' and I sharing our broadband access, and doing so without any cables to trip over. It was time for another trip to 'town,' and CompUSA:

As luck would have it, we arrived on day two of a three day sale on wireless broadband access sharing toys, and after a brief consultation with some of the sales staff, I grabbed up a couple of small boxes and headed over to the cash register. $320 later, I was bouncing happily out the door, an enormous grin on my face:

A Dream Come True
Contained within these small boxes was a Linksys EtherFast® Wireless Access Point / Cable / DSL Router with a 4-Port Switch and a pair of Linksys Wireless Network PC Cards. This solution allowed us to "easily" build and connect a wireless network to our broadband Internet connection, and also provides a 10/100 Fast Ethernet backbone with an integrated DHCP server. Serving as the Internet gateway for our new local area network (LAN), this setup also provides a firewall helping to protect us against any outside intruders.

This is really a sweet setup, and is easily expandable without requiring any external hubs or switches to share our Internet connection with our desktop boxes as well, and allows us to run these computers as dedicated print and mp3 servers (among a myriad of other uses), through the Router's full duplex 10/100 4-Port Switch, or through Wireless Network PCI Cards. I was presented with a dire flashing warning that the drivers were not Win XP compatible, and that my system might even explode if I continued.

While I am not the stupidest guy to ever fall off the back of a turnip truck, I found the installation and setup of these products to be a serious pain, involving some foul language and bad attitudes. Many folks (such as my friend Karl LaFong — a talented "plumber" in his own right) will doubtless find it a much easier task, but I was hoping to simply toss this small PC card in my laptop, plug everything into the appropriate outlets, and let Windows XP 'automagically' configure everything for me while I poured another cup of coffee. Such was not the case, however, and in fact, I was presented with a dire flashing warning that the drivers were not Win XP compatible, and that my system might even explode if I continued. A little bit more cussing and a trip to Linksys' driver download page provided me with a suitable option that wasn't included on the setup CD-Rom.

Installing the PC Card on Dawn's Win98 laptop was no easy task either, although this probably had more to do with the dubious state of this 'box,' and the endless amounts of software that have been added to and deleted from it over the years. The problem was that her computer was not "seeing" the card, and installation took several attempts before we succeeded. Four hours into a 20-minute project later, happy lights were flashing and we were both roaming the property with high-speed Internet access in the palms of our hands:

While I did have to call AT&T to have a new MAC address provisioned for me before this system would work (another unforeseen stumbling block), all in all it was a quite reasonable process with spectacular results that made all the pain worthwhile. If you are tired of tripping over cords and cables, and want to work out by the pool instead of in an office somewhere, give this setup a try — you won't be sorry! ~ Stephen