Wireless
Top
Bottom
Top

Feature Article
Wireless

May 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

I finally got a wireless connection for my wife's laptop.

After living in our house for over a year, we finally bit the bullet and bought a Linksys Wireless-G router.

Router Setup

You would think that today's wireless routers would be so simple as to negate the need for me to write about it. And you would be right, except for two things. 1) I am still using my old router/hub and 2) There is still a lot of confusion about security with wireless equipment.

I initially followed the instruction sheet that came with the Linksys Wireless-G router and hooks my main PC to one of the wired ports. I accessed the setup page for the router. All simple and exactly as expected. I was able to surf the net.

Being security conscious I changed the default password for the router's setup as well as the default SSID (service set identifier... don't ask) and I added a 10 digit WEP key (wired equivalent privacy... again, don't ask) to the router. I also turned off broadcasting of the SSID. I wrote down the SSID and WEP Key and headed to the laptop.

Laptop Setup

I turned the laptop off, plugged in the Wireless-G PC Card and powered the laptop up. It asked for the drivers for the card, I put in the CD-ROM and the driver install went smooth and easy.

The wizard showed my regular wired network and a wireless network connection. I disabled the wired network and attempted to connect to the wireless connection.

Unfortunately the screen that let me pick a wireless connection was blank. I assumed this was because I turned off the broadcasting of the SSID. A good thing, right? Wrong! There is no place to enter in a SSID to try to connect to.

I went back to my PC and changed the setting in the router to broadcast the SSID. By the time I got back to the laptop it already displayed my SSID as the only wireless connection available. I entered my 10 digit WEP key and it connected just fine.

The little meter in the system tray indicated I was getting the full 54 Mbps performance.

The Old Router

My old Linksys 4 port router/hub has been turned into a 3 port hub only. Since one of the four ports is "shared" with the "Uplink" port, that leaves only 3 ports available. Since I plugged the Uplink port on the old router into one of the ports on the new wireless router, that limits my two 4 port routers to only 6 available ports. What a rip! I leave my server plugged into the old router/hub. This is mainly to make sure I know everything is working together.

Security

I am no security expert. But I have read enough to know that far too many people leave settings at the default and don't implement any security.

That was one of the reasons I didn't want to broadcast my SSID. I figured that it was one more hurdle for the bad guys. They would have to guess my SSID. Then I came across this article. The article is very simple, but gets the point across. There is no real reason to try and hide the SSID. But it is still important to change it. Not that I have to worry about those reasons. Regardless, I have changed it and I am using 40 bit WEP keys. I will probably move up to 128 bit (26 character) WEP keys, but there is no hurry. And don't be fooled into thinking the WEB keys are truly secure. I have heard that a good search on the Internet will reward a diligent person with a method to crack these keys.

For the bad guys to get to my wireless network they would have to be pretty close to my house. I only get 1 - 2 Mbps performance on my back porch. The street is over 100 feet from my house, so I doubt I have too much to worry about with someone parking in front of my house to steal my Internet connection. The neighbor on my right is an old lady that probably doesn't even know what a computer can do, no less owns one or has the ability to steal my Internet bandwidth. The neighbor on my left is my brother-in-law and he is already on my network through a 650 foot CAT 5e cable to my router.

I live in a semi-rural area with individual property starting at close to an acre in size. My own is 1.1 acres, and my brother-in-law is on 1.67 acres. My backyard extends about 300 feet past the back of the house. I don't think I have to worry about wireless security here.

Besides, the only computer on my network that shares anything is my Win 2K Server, and it requires user IDs and passwords to access any of its resources. I am safe enough for the area I am in.

Performance

So far performance has been excellent. I have not tried to find a tool that can measure actual throughput... yet. I have seen no performance lag using the Internet anywhere in my house. To test the actual performance I copy a 100 MB file from my file server to the laptop while watching the "meter" in the system tray.

The meter seems to be a good enough gauge for how well I am doing. I have observed performance in these ranges as I move throughout my house:

Master Bedroom = 48-54 Mbps
Study = 54 Mbps
Family Room = 24-36 Mbps
Kitchen = 11-24 Mbps
By Refrigerator = 2-11 Mbps, mostly 2-5.5 Mbps
Upstairs Game Room 11-24 Mbps
Upstairs Bedroom = 11-24 Mbps
Guest Room = 2 Mbps
Back Porch = 1-2 Mbps

The Master bedroom has the laptop about 12-15 feet from the router with only one wall for interference. I have very rarely seen the meter drop to 36 Mbps in the master bedroom. The router is in the Study closet, so I was about 10 feet away with nothing but a closet door for interference while in that room. That explains why I get such good performance in those rooms.

Performance in the kitchen was spotty. If I was on the counter next to the fridge performance would drop down to 2.0 Mbps with 5.5 Mbps about 1/3 the time. Occasionally it spiked to 11 Mbps, but this was rare. I mostly saw 5.5 Mbps on the kitchen island, which is still pretty close to the fridge. However, on the counters away from the fridge I never saw the meter drop below 11 Mbps, and it would go back and forth to 18 Mbps with occasional trips to 24 Mbps speed.

Performance upstairs seemed very stable and consistent the the 11-24 Mbps range. There is not much in the way of interference except lumber between my study closet and the upstairs.

The Guest room is the furthest point (inside the house) from the antenna of the router. The meter stayed rock steady at 2.0 Mbps. Keep in mind that not only is this the room furthest from the antenna, but the kitchen with that fridge are in between the study and the guest room.

Moving to the back porch saw the worst performance on the meter. The meter bounced back and forth between 1.0 and 2.0 Mbps the entire time I did an advanced search on the web for a steady 30 minutes without stopping. I never noticed any problems with the Internet access. Remember, most cable modems are "throttled" to 1.5 Mbps maximum. I have seen speeds reach at least 2.0 Mbps on my cable modem. It pays to be in a rural area with few neighbors. The Linksys Wireless-G router seems to be capable of meeting the performance of by broadband Internet access even in the worst location I will use it.

I don't expect to have any problems using the laptop on the deck I am in the process of building (as you read this). I should be able to surf the net in comfort by the pool. However, if performance does become an issue I can always relocate the router, use an external antenna or buy a booster. Time will tell.

Conclusion

Overall I like the wireless router. The PC Card sticking out the side of the laptop is only a mild concern. I will make sure that any future laptops we buy will have built-in 802.11g wireless capabilities.

I still have plenty of wire running through my house. With any desktop computer I will still use the wired connections.
Bottom