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Optimize your Business or Home
Wireless Network

Written by Zack Bryce, Tech Lab Mgr.
July 1, 2004 - Page 1

It is no surprise to most anyone familiar to computers that Wireless (Wi-Fi) Computer Networking is the hot button in the tech industry. All you need to do is to look at any weeks newspaper sales ads for a chain computer store or your local BestBuy, to see that dozens of Wi-Fi products are listed on sale for amazingly low prices.

Not more than seven years ago(1997), a Wireless Access Point (WAP) generally only made for commercial business applications, would have cost you between US$500 to $1000 , and they only had 2Mbps bandwidths (802.11). A Wireless PCMCIA (PC Card) Adapter was also around $250 and the ORiNOCO Bronze and Silver Turbo ruled the roost then. Cisco and Lucent were the predominant brands of the few that were available then for IT Managers to choose from.

The numbers of 802.11 wireless networks in large business applications were few and far between, and S/MB or home Wi-Fi was essentially none existent. The cost and complexity was just too much for anyone’s budget and IT capability to accept. Small / Medium Businesses just ran Cat 5 cables anywhere they could, not concerned how it looked and home users bored into walls and floors to run those cables hidden. Architects and contractors with touting homes “pre-wired for connectivity” as a big selling point.

Then the 802.11b standard came along and Apple changed things in 1999 for everyone at home and even small businesses. The Apple Airport Base Station, and its adjunct Airport PC Card for Apple PowerBooks and iBooks was the first consumer level Wi-Fi product. At $299 the “Graphite” Airport Base Station access point was at an obtainable price and one anyone could set up . . as long as you had a Mac that is. Apple was also the first to put a 802.11b card inside a notebook computer; it was a $119.95 option in the 1999 iBook and 2000 G3 PowerBook. Least to say, a lot of companies with mostly Windows computers bought these because it was a lot cheaper than a Cisco and any IT Tech could set it up, as long as he had a Mac.

Apple had a big hit even in the business market, but the early Airports had four fatal problems. 1) – The Airport actually had a Lucent ORiNOCO Silver PC Card inside, which only had 40-bit Encryption; 2) – While the Airport had very

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acceptable radio range, there was no way to attach an antenna; 3) – The Airport was only an AP (access point) and had no Ethernet ports or printer port; 4) – Poor design of the circuitry lead to a LOT of failures right after the 1 year warranty was up due to sub par capacitors . Apple did make good if you complained enough and fixed the design in a second release of the “Graphite” Airport Base Station.

Since those days, we have seen a real war breakout amongst the various manufacturers and big brands. Those that weren't satisfied with the theoretical 11Mbps (real world about 7Mbps) of the 2.4GHz 802.11b, countered with a new 54Mbps bandwidth 802.11a standard on a different frequency of 5GHz.

We won’t go into the differences here, but will mention some of the differences in each segment of this series. Otherwise, if you are curious we suggest that you research the differences on the Internet or read this from 3Com

Today 802.11a and b have been nearly pushed aside from the big competition with 802.11g and all of its “Turbo’d” variants and their claims (see our recent 802.11g Shoot-out article). All of the manufacturers would love to have you throw away what you bought last year for all new hardware this year, of course.

Some home network geeks with money burning holes in their pockets might be able to do that, but most of us, and especially business on a tight IT budget can’t. Not only that, there may also some computers that just can’t be upgraded from 802.11b to 802.11a or .11g.

Whether your Wi-Fi network is recent, or rather ancient or you are just planning to implement your first one, there is a lot to be gained by understanding how to Optimize it for maximum performance, reliability and operation.

Some Optimizing tricks will cost you nothing at all, some only a minor percentage of the your total systems cost, but most won’t be excessively costly. Implement most of these Optimizations and you find you don’t need to pop for a complete new Wi-Fi network costing thousands.

We will be giving you a setup checklist to follow, tips and tricks, simple hardware to implement, antenna systems, amplifiers, repeaters to use and a lot more.

Every six weeks we’ll be adding another segment until we run out of things and new gadgets that will help you attain your Wi-Fi network Optimization Zen. So please join us as we find Wireless Nirvana as we Optimize your Business or Home Wireless Network.
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Click here shortcut - Optimize your notebook Wi-Fi setup
  (re)Design a better Wi-Fi Network - next
  Wi-Fi Antennas, Repeaters and Gizmos
  and more . . .

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