April 16, 2001, 3:12 PM — Wireless is everywhere these days. Or rather, it isn't. Be that as it may, the desire to not to have to struggle with wires is high for anyone who has ever installed a network.
But until recently, wireless products for the LAN environment were proprietary and rather pricey. All that changed with the IEEE's 802.11b standard.
For details, there's an 802.11b primer from the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, a consortium formed to drive the adoption of a global standard (IEEE 802.11b) for high-speed wireless local area networking.
802.11b networks operate in the 2.4-GHz radio band using spread spectrum transmission. May we point out in passing that the actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil invented spread spectrum technology. On June 10, 1941, the unlikely duo received a patent for a classified communication system especially useful for submarines.
These networks support a maximum raw data rate of 11 Mbps that can drop to 2 Mbps when the signal is degraded.
Gearhead liked some of the 802.11 products tested. Our first products were Linksys's wireless access point, WAP11, which provides a link to a LAN, and wireless PC card, WPC11 (a Type II card). Linksys also supplied its PCI adapter, WDT11, but the one machine we wanted to try installing it on died the day the hardware arrived.
Linksys offers drivers for Windows 95, 98, NT, Millennium Edition and 2000, and the manuals step you through each installation screen you'll encounter. We installed the WPC11 under Windows 95 and 98, and it was straightforward.
After the inevitable reboot (we lost about one hour per week waiting for reboots after the Windows software was installed or updated), we configured the card, which is pretty easy.
During installation, a control applet for the card is installed in the system tray that gives information on the link quality (signal strength and throughput) as well as the configuration options and security settings.
There are three key items on the applet's Configuration page: The mode is Infrastructure if you are using the wireless access points or Ad Hoc if you only want a number of machines to operate in a private unwired network.
The service set ID (SSID) is the name of your network (all machines that are to communicate must agree on this name).
The Use WEP setting specifies the type of encryption to use, offering Disabled, 128-bit, or 40-bit. Use 40-bit if you're using the Linksys wireless access point because those devices don't support 128-bit encryption.
To complete the installation, we selected the Encryption page and entered the pass phrase for the WEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy, key, which is used to encrypt the data exchanges.