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« Confessions of a Dangerous Mind | Main | Vivato Broadcasts Its Plan »

February 14, 2003

Quality Configuration Time

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Configuring a/b and g (and sometimes why): I've had a chance to spend some quality time this morning with new products from Proxim (their Orinoco Gold 802.11a/b ComboCard) and Linksy (the draft 802.11g 54 Mbps WAP54G and WPC54G -- I'll be trying the WRT54G soon as well). My test equipment is a 1999-era Sony Vaio (Z505R) running Windows XP Professional. This is a good testbed because the machine itself can be a little funky, so if a card and driver work on it, they'll work anywhere.

Installing and using the Orinoco 802.11a/b card was a snap. I installed the drivers, placed the card in, and it automatically recognized the two infrastructure points with the same SSID in my office. I plugged in a Proxim 802.11a AP that I'd configured some months ago, and was able to quickly run a site survey, configure a connection to it, and swap over. The card can scan for both a and b networks without losing the current configuration, or you can use what it nicely calls a snoop mode which performs more extensive frequency checking. It's definitely an A-plus product, like all Proxim gear, and a refresh to support a/g would be most welcome for the maximum flexibility.

The Linksys configuration software also continues to improve over time. Their older configuration tools were a bear, requiring IP settings changing, reboots, and other problems. But their newer tools all rely on scanning a network for the specific device signatures and then allowing you to connect and configure. I installed the WAP54G because I already have a DHCP server running (on an Apple AirPort graphite model), and a WAP11 as well. They occupy channels 6 and 11.

I installed the WAP54G, set it up to run with a real IP address and a fresh password, and then had some interesting issue with the WPC54G. Initially, I set the WAP54G to act as another infrastructure point on the same network, but on channel 1. (The WAP11 and WAP54G are sitting on top of one another.) Even though the WPC54G card configured easily and connected to the main network, I could not force it to connect to the higher-speed G access point, even when selecting it from a list in the Site Survey window which shows all active access points, including their MAC addresses.

The solution, unfortunately, after testing several options, was to reset the WAP54G's SSID to a new name, leaving it on channel one. I was then able to set a configuration profile for the card that connected to the new network, and it all worked fine. My AirPort Card was also able to connect with no problems to the WPC54G, and I'll be testing an AirPort Extreme Base Station and 12-inch PowerBook G4 with AirPort Extreme shortly to see how they work in this environment.

My score (all ad hoc, seat of the pants) for the Linksys equipment is a 9 out of 10 for ease of configuration, but 5 out of 10 for simplicity of switching between b and g networks. You'd think the WPC54G would preferentially connect to the higher-speed AP (which also had the highest signal strength).

You can buy Linksys 54G equipment from the PC Card (WPC54G, $70), the access point (WAP54G, $130), the wireless gateway (WRT54G, $130), and the PCI Card (WMP54G, $70). And did you know the price continues to plummet on the 802.11b side? See, for instance, the Linksys (BEFW11S4, their Ethernet/wireless gateway, which is now $80 with a mail-in rebate. The WAP11 is just $80 without any rebate, while the WPC11 PC Card is $50 with a rebate.

Interestingly, the WAP11 on channel 6 now seems unhappy: even after powercycling, it's not showing up in Macstumbler or the Linksys Site Survey. I wonder if it couldn't handle the competition from its faster brother? Very odd.

Update later in the afternoon: I realized that the WAP11 I was using was an original 1.4 firmware-series unit, but I had a trump card: a WAP11v2.2 in reserve that I'd configured but never deployed back when I was testing something I can't now recall. I powered it up, force reset it, logged in via a Web browser and set its password, WEP key, SSID, and channel (to 6), and voila: all three stations are operating in their nonoverlapping ranges. Oddly, the WAP11v2.2 is showing 100 percent signal strength to my Vaio (through a wall with an open door) while the WAP54G just next to it only shows a 50-odd percent strength. More testing with mobility (walkin' around) soon.

Other News

Slouching toward interoperability: another draft of 802.11g approved: Another 802.11g draft, version 6.1, was approved this week but as the article notes, there's yet another draft to come, and the difference between this week's approved draft and the previous one were significant enough that devices conforming to each wouldn't work with each other. The article says that the specificiation could be approved in June and published in July, but it's possible that it would be delayed until a September or even November meeting. It's happened before.

Laotians celebrate, even with computer not running: A truly lovely in depth story on the folks trying to bring computer and Internet service to the way, way out there in Laos. A power surge disrupted the efforts to launch, and some fires and guerrillas may continue to threaten people's lives and connectivity. But it's another tool to make sure these villagers are only as disconnected as they want to be. "The first thing I will do when the Jhai Computer comes is call my daughter in Ohio over the Internet," 78-year-old Pane Vongsenthong said, grinning hugely at the children who were jostling for turns on the bicycle. "I never get to call her now, and I miss her voice.

Air reports: Our correspondent writes from 30-odd-thousand feet in the air: Christopher Maines took advantage of the Boeing Connexion on the Lufthansa Frankfurt-Dulles run this morning (or his afternoon) to send this brief note: I'm at this moment somewhere over Northern Canada near Goose Bay and Labrador City on my way to Washington Dulles. The service is not as fast as I would have hoped, however, it's serviceable. I'm currently averaging between 80Kbps [kilobits per second] and 160Kbps (10KBps [kilobytes per second] and 20KBps). The service is extremely easy to set up; as long as you are set up to use DHCP rather than a hard-coded IP, the connection is automatic. Thanks for the report!