Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Posted by Jason Dunn in "ARTICLE" @ 10:00 AM
Un-published PocketPC.com article originally written April 20th, 2002.
Wireless technology is hot – there are countless hardware and software solutions on the market today for wireless networking, and the demand is only getting stronger. No one likes wires! This article will take you through a step by step process of picking the right hardware, setting it up, and getting it working. Since exactly setup procedures will differ with every type of hardware, this article focuses on the generic steps you’ll need to take and things to consider while doing so. The focus here is on the network itself, specifically on the wireless portion. This article assumes that you already have a functioning wired network in place (but if you don’t keep reading), and it also assumes you have a basic understanding of networking terminology. In part two of this series, we’ll look at getting your Pocket PC configured on the wireless LAN.
What You Need
• High-speed Internet access
• An already functioning network
• At least one computer (laptop or desktop)
• An 802.11b Wireless Access point (explained below)
• An 802.11b connection device (PCMCIA, CompactFlash, or USB depending on the device you want to connect)
Step 1: Look at your network topology
“Network Topology” is a fancy phrase that just means “look at what you’ve got, and decide what you want to do with it”. What do you want to accomplish with a wireless LAN? Some common reasons for wanting a wireless LAN:
• You have a new desktop computer that you want to connect to a network, or high-speed Internet access, but you don’t want to run cables to it (or can’t)
• You have a laptop that you want to roam the house with and still have a network connection to get Internet access, share files, and print
• You have a Pocket PC, and checking your email from your front porch sounds like a great idea
The next question you need to ask yourself is what sort of Internet connection you have. If you don’t have high-speed Internet access, you’ll be limited to printer and file sharing on the network. If you have high-speed access, you’ll likely fall into one of two scenarios:
• You have high-speed cable or DSL access with a single IP address from your provider. You’ll need to get hardware to enable your computers to share that IP address. You may be able to purchase an additional IP address from your provider for a monthly fee. If you want to avoid this fee, you’ll need hardware that offers a feature called “NAT” (Network Address Translation)
• You have high-speed cable or DSL access and you have multiple IP addresses from your provider. You’ll need a small hub to connect the cable or DSL modem and the wireless access point.
Figuring out exactly what you want to accomplish will help you accomplish your goals much easier!
Step 2: Purchase the right hardware
I can’t list every type of hardware on the market, but I can tell you what to look for. If you don’t already have a wired network in place, you can purchase some two-in-one hardware that will make getting this set up much easier. In the following examples I reference mostly D-Link hardware because I’m most familiar with it , however any brand will do.
Figure 1: A D-Link wireless access point
802.11b Access Point (Figure 1): These are made by many popular manufacturers like LinkSys, D-Link, Symbol, 3COM, and SOHO. You’ll want to make sure that whatever model you get includes full 802.11b support, and has an uplink port on it (most will). This is what you should purchase if you already have a hub and a network connection set up and are strictly looking to wirelessly-enabled your network.
Figure 2: A D-Link Wireless Broadband Router
802.11b Wireless Broadband Router (Figure 2): This class of device is different than the Access Points. Wireless routers combine several functions into one – all will have, at minimum, several Ethernet ports for other hard-wired computers on the network (ie: normal cables), the ability to share one high-speed Internet connection among many PCs (up to 32 computers on some models) using Network Address Translation (NAT), and lastly they incorporate the functions of an 802.11 Access Point. Some models also include hardware firewalls for security, and even a print server for sharing printers. This is what you should purchase if you don’t yet have a working network, or are looking to replace a current hub with a box that will secure your network and give you wireless access.
Figure 3: A D-Link 802.11b PCMCIA card
802.11b PCMCIA card (Figure 3): This will enable you to connect a laptop or PCMCIA slot-equipped Pocket PC with wireless access. There are many brands on the market, so if your goal is to have a single card that you can share between your laptop and your Pocket PC, make sure that brand has drivers for both devices.
Figure 4: A D-Link 802.11b CompactFlash card
802.11b CompactFlash card (Figure 4): An 802.11b CompactFlash card will enable you to connect a Pocket PC, or a laptop with the appropriate adaptor, to the network. These cards are offered in both Type 1 and Type 2 thickness, so make sure you buy one that’s compatible with your Pocket PC. Most will come with drivers that will enable you to use it in your laptop. There are many different brands to choose from: Symbol and Socket Communications both have a very compact model that is popular among Pocket PC owners.
Figure 5: A D-Link USB 802.11b adaptor
802.11b USB adaptor: Designed for either desktop PCs or laptops, this device will enable you to connect your computer to the wireless LAN. In most cases I’d recommend the PCMCIA or CompactFlash version for a laptop and limit this USB-based wireless adaptor to a desktop.
Step 3: Get it all set up
Setting up the specific hardware will require you to follow the included instructions. But no matter which brand of hardware you purchase, there are some things to keep in mind when setting it all up:
• If you already have a hub or switch/router, it should have an uplink port. The uplink port is where your high-speed modem is connected. If you’re integrating a wireless access point into this scenario, the access point should be plugged into the hub just like any other computer. Remember that if you’re out of ports you can purchase a smaller hub and plug it into the bigger hub, then connect the access point to the smaller hub – the data will flow through them all quite easily. You may need to configure the wireless access point with the included utilities.
• If you’re using a multi-function router/firewall/802.11b device, you’ll want to plug the high-speed modem into the uplink port, and plug your local computers into the normal Ethernet ports. Obviously, since the multi-function device has integrated 802.11b, the most you’ll need to do is configure the unit to get an Internet connection. By default, it will likely be set up to find an IP address automatically from a DHCP server (this is the way most cable modem providers are configured).
• Most 802.11b access points and multi-function devices will require a minimum of configuration. The nice part is that most are web-browser based: you’ll type in an IP address (usually 192.168.0.1) into a web browser from a computer already connected, and configure it. Most of the default settings are fine for beginners, but as you become more experienced you’ll be able to set up and configure your SSID, WEP security key, etc.
While costs are falling, this is still a moderately expensive undertaking depending on what sort of hardware you use. And remember that 802.11b has a limited range – inside a house, it’s around 500 feet, but that will vary widely depending on the number and type of obstructions between the wireless access point and the device that is trying to connect to it.
Another important factor here is that 802.11b has several well-known security weaknesses that can be exploited by a knowledgeable person. Do not use wireless networking technology if you have critical data on a shared drive that doesn’t have special permissions for access.
Wireless networking is one of the most exciting technologies to come around in years – it will enable you to work away from your desk while still being connected. I really enjoy having a wireless network in my home – being able to sit down on the couch with a laptop or Pocket PC and work is a beautiful thing.