John Ross (johnross) Sun 10 Aug 03 17:13
It makes perfect sense in an environment like a college campus, but it does create some security issues. But it's really no different from providing free access on wired computers in the library. There's nothing "inherently open" about WiFi. The owner of the network can decide whether they want to make it open to the public or limit it to authorized users.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 10 Aug 03 19:12
> (jonl), I don't understand your question in #18. When WiFi/802.11 works > properly, it's a wireless extension of a LAN that looks just like a LAN > with ethernet cables. My question in #18 was about the origin of WiFi - why did it emerge in the first place, and how (or how well) does it extend the capabilities of LANs?
John Ross (johnross) Sun 10 Aug 03 21:21
As I understand it, WiFi was intended to be "wireless Ethernet". It replaced was intended to extend existing LANs to wireless links. So, for example, a user with a laptop could connect to the LAN without a cable tethering her to an Ethernet port. Or somebody taking inventory in a warehouse could use a portable device with a barcode reader. That kind of thing. When it's working right, and the client machine is configured correctly, the differences between a wired LAN and a wireless LAN are minimal -- the maximum speed is lower, and the link isn't as secure, but in many situations, the type of link is invisible to the user.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Aug 03 03:30
Re. the comments on security of WiFi, we should talk more about that later in the discussion. Getting WiFi to work right and getting the client configured correctly is what the book's about. What should the average home user consider in deciding whether to add WiFi, and in thinking about how to set it up?
John Ross (johnross) Mon 11 Aug 03 10:16
The first decision point is "Can you conveniently connect all your copmputers and peripherals with ethernet cables?" If they're all in the same room, and you don't need to add portable devices, then a wired network is easier, more secure and cheaper. If you're can run cables through the walls, or through the rafters of the attic or basement, cables might still be easier. But if you don't want to drill holes through walls, or if you want to reach places where cables aren't practical (like the back yard) WiFi is a viable option. Unless you live in a mansion, the exact location of the access point is probably not critical. It my opinion that having the access point next to a computer and a telephone is a better chioce than placing it in the middleof the house, because you will want to watch the flashing lights on the accesss point, and maybe connect and disconnect the power plug while you're entering commands to the access point from a computer, and because you will want to watch the flashing lights while you're on the phone to tech support.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Aug 03 10:34
Let's say you do live in a mansion or large building, and you want wireless everywhere... might you need more than one access point?
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Mon 11 Aug 03 10:44
I have Mac and Windows on my home Wi-Fi network. Once I got the right card the Mac was a piece of cake to set up and I had almost no Mac experience. The XP machine took a little bit of tech savvy to do the network settings, which I am fortunate to have. I would expect the casual user to need some tech support or face something of a learning curve on Windows, more so than on the Mac. Do you have any feelings one way or the other about Mac v. Windows in a Wi-Fi environment?
Angus MacDonald (angus) Mon 11 Aug 03 12:56
I'm interested in the same area, especially regarding print-serving issues.
John Ross (johnross) Mon 11 Aug 03 14:02
Yeah, you can extend the range of a WiFi network by adding more access points. As for the Mac v Windows question, it's entirely possible to create a mixed network with Mac, Windows, Linux, Unix and even Palm stuff all exchanging data through the same network. Apple has done a better job than many others in providing an easy to use configuration utility, so the Airport package is a good choice as host for a mixed network. One of the big shortcomings of the whole WiFi world is that there isn't a single set of terms that everybody uses. So it's often difficult to know exactly what settings an access is expecting. That's one of the things I've tried to address in The Book of WiFi, by including a bunch of step-by-step instructions and translating the terms that different access points and network adapters use for the same settings. Unfortunately, there are stil a bunch of obscure settings that you have to configure before the network will work properly. Remember ten or fifteen years ago, when you had to worry about data bits and stop bits every time you made a connection through a modem? Nobody knew what a stop bit was (it's a settng that goes back to the days of machanical teletype machines), but you had to set it properly or the link wouldn't work. WiFi settings are like that--they have to be set the same at the network card and the access point, even if you don't know exactly what they mean.
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Mon 11 Aug 03 15:49
>That's one of the things I've tried to address in The Book of WiFi, >by including a bunch of step-by-step instructions and translating >the terms that different access points and network adapters use for >the same settings. That stuff was well done.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Aug 03 18:47
Definitely. John, you mention extending the network by adding access points... can you say more about access points and what they do? Is an access point a bridge, a router, or any of the above?
David H. Lawrence (dhl) Mon 11 Aug 03 19:55
John, further following up on #34 and #36, do all the added access points need to be on the wired network? How would one go about distributing a WiFi network across a fairly large area if only one access point is directly wired to the network and the others are wireless, and not all in range of the main access point (as in point to multipoint scenarios?) For example, if I had to cover an area that would require three access points and: access point 1 is wired to the network, access point 2 is in wireless range of access point 1, access point 3 is in wireless range of 2, but *not* 1, etc.
John Ross (johnross) Mon 11 Aug 03 21:23
The access point is the base station of a wireless network. it's the feed point where the network clients connect to the upstream network. Many access points come in a single box combined with an Ethernet switch or router, but they're separate functions. In other words, each network client exchanges data only with the nearest access point. If you're doing a file transfer with another client, each client links to the access point, and not to the other client. So you can think of the access point as a wireless hub. It's possible to set up an "ad hoc" point to point network that doesn't use an access point, but that's pretty uncommon. If you need more than one access point, you have to connect each access point to the upstream LAN. Orinoco and some other folks make base stations that use a separate point-to-point radio link for the upstream connection, but that's not the same as the kind of daisy chain described in #37. You can't use Access Point #2 as a client of AP #1. There are a couple of ways to deal with the large area problem. Easiest is to just wire all the access points to the same LAN. Or you could wire each access point to the Internet and set up a vitual private network. Or use a multi-stage network. Connect Access Point #1 to the backbone LAN, install a network client (with a directional antenna if necessary) at each remote site, and connect each client to another Access Point, using a different non-overlapping channel. The other option, if you're only concerned about Internet access and not about local file sharing, is to connect each access point to the Internet, and assign the same SSID (network name) to each access point. As far as the network clients are concerned, it's all the same network, so the client will find the strongest nearby signal. The fact that there's no shared network between the access points will mean that you might have trouble handing a live connection from one AP to the other, but as long as you're standing still (with a laptop on a table or your lap), it ought to work. In a home or small business, I'd find a way to connect all the access point with Ethernet cables. Through the rafters, inside the baseboards or the heating ducts. There's almost always some way to do it.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 11 Aug 03 22:33
How well does 802.11 penetrate walls? If there are several walls between the base station and the client, does each wall diminish the signal appreciably?
John Ross (johnross) Tue 12 Aug 03 10:54
Depends on what the wall is made of. If it's just wood and plaster/drywall, it shouldn't make much difference. But rebar or other metal can make a big impact. When we set up a temporary WiFi network in a hotel ballroom last spring, the temporary "curtain wall" was enough to cut the signal strength.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 12 Aug 03 12:54
<scribbled by jonl Wed 13 Aug 03 19:26>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Aug 03 19:31
<scribbled by jonl Wed 13 Aug 03 19:48>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Aug 03 19:50
Okay, getting this right: you don't say much about antennas because they're not quite in scope, but could you say a bit about their value - where can they be most effective?
John Ross (johnross) Wed 13 Aug 03 20:23
First, every access point and every network adapter must have at least one antenna connected to it. But most of them have built-in antennas that are inside the case, or permanently attached. If you can get a decent signal with the built-in antenna, that's all you need. But if you're in a situation where you're trying to wrign the last possible hundred feet of distance between the client and the access point, an external antenna will help. A few network cards come with external antenna connectors. The Orinocos have a connector behind the teeny tiny dot on the edge of the card. But you need an adaptor cable that goes from the connector to a standard cable, and that costs more than the network card if you buy it from Proxim. There are some third-party "pigtail" cables out there for a lot less. Anyway, the rule of thumb is that an external antenna will boost the signal strength. If you run it up to the attic or the roof, the line of sight distance increases, too. So an external antenna (or two--one at each end of the link) makes sense when you're trying to set up a long-distance link. In a home or small-office WLAN, I don't think it would make a lot of difference unless there's some kind of unusual problem like a metal filing cabinet between the two ends. As for access to public WiFi hotspots, you're probably using a laptop or smaller client computer. An external antenna would be just one more piece to haul around. Not much weight, but more nuisance. Of course, if you want to pirate somebody's service from outside their intended coverage area, an antenna might help, but you're on your own for that kind of thing...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Aug 03 21:10
Changing the subject a bit - you mention the WiFi Alliance several times in the book. What does the Alliance do, and how effective are they?
John Ross (johnross) Wed 13 Aug 03 21:20
The WiFi Alliance is the industry group that has promoted interoperability among all the makers of access points and network adapters. They conduct periodic "bake-offs" where everybody brings their own gear and proves that they can connect to everybody else's equipment. Unfortunately, their interoperability specs don't include the terminology used in configuration utilities. But other than that, it's a safe bet that any device that carries the WiFi logo will work in any WiFi network. There's a new and different logo for the newer wireless ethernet standards that have appeared since 802.11b--802.11a, 802.11g and so forth. But give the rigorous testing that the Alliance demands, it's likely that they'll be compatible across brands, just like the 802.11b stuff. Before you ask, I don't have any useful opinions about 802.11a or g. I haven't had a chance to play with the newer gear, so all I know is what I read in the trade magazines and blogs.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 14 Aug 03 09:29
The WiFi Alliance just moved to Austin, where I live. Spent some time talking to Frank Hanzlik, their new director. He pointed out another cool thing they offer, a 'zone finder' at their web site... you can search for hotsposts around the country, they maintain a list. Getting back to the book... can you talk a little about the details of planning an installation?
John Ross (johnross) Thu 14 Aug 03 10:50
The book has a couple of chapters devoted to planning an setting up a network. I'd encourage people to read them rather than trying to boil it down to three or four paragraphs. It seems like this has turned into a dialog between (jonl) and myself. Does anybody else have any thoughts about this stuff? I'm fascinated by the social implications of wireless and how it effects people's lives. Has anybody seen a change in the way they relate to networking or the Internet because they've been able to cut the cable? Does it really make any difference to be able to go online from a Starbucks?
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Thu 14 Aug 03 11:00
Does it make a difference? Perhaps not at Starbucks since you 're suppose to try and socialize a bit. At a series of meetings in Pasadena we connected all sorts of difference ways. Wireless was the easiest in a four story building where there were no network-in-the-wall connections. The Hilton charged $10 per day per room for a high speed connection at 2M or better. And the university made us sign all sorts of papers before they would allow us to use the wall connections but their firewall was a major bottleneck for our Internet useage. Wireless is simply the frontier of freedom in information flow. The cost is minimal if not zero. It's the high tech equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor. Your network becomes someone else access point. Now, the telcos, the cable folks and anyone else who has made money living off others may not like the business model. However, the Internet seems to be the last bastion with the freedom to socialize with no cost.
John Ross (johnross) Thu 14 Aug 03 13:48
No cost? Who's paying for the infrastructure?
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