- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

When it comes to wireless computing, how fast is fast? How fast must fast be? I guess the answer might well be, fast enough to get the job done.

There are a number of aspects to the wireless game that were not present, say, 12 or 18 months ago.

For one, a "new" wireless standard, 802.11a, is making its presence known. It's actually an "older" standard, predating the widely known and used 802.11b.

But dot-eleven-a, as it might be called, operates in the 5 gigahertz radio band, which is relatively free of "cross traffic" from cordless phones and the like. Makers say that 802.11a radios can receive data up to 1,650 feet from a base station and can transmit up to 72 MBps of data.

The bad news is that it does not work with 802.11b equipment, since the latter runs on the 2.4 GHz radio band shared with some cordless phones and the like.

This lack of compatibility also extends to Apple's AirPort wireless network cards, which come in the basic 802.11b flavor and, now, in the 802.11g standard that is "backwards compatible."

So, for the "a" user, it's tough sledding if you have a lot of "b" gear installed. (All of the new Tablet PCs have 802.11b radios built in, and so do many hand-held devices, for example.)

I live and work in a mixed-up world of both Apple Macintosh and Windows PC systems, so my first new wireless test has involved the 802.11g standard items.

These computers run mostly on 802.11b wireless cards and so upgrading to 802.11g seemed to make sense.

Coming to my aid was Linksys, the Irvine, Calif., company acquired last week by Cisco Systems.

Linksys' products are reasonably priced and have wide consumer acceptance.

The company's WRT54G wireless broadband router, $220 list price, can be found for just under $130 at Amazon.com; the $117 wireless PC card (for use in notebooks) is sold by the Internet retailer for $69.95.

These are good prices, far less than what comparable 802.11b products were selling for a year ago.

Installing and configuring the wireless router, and getting it working with my Comcast cable Internet service, was not a problem.

The technology was working fairly quickly, and I was happy to report success with both my Mac PowerBook G4 (using an old AirPort card) and my wife's Acer notebook, using a Cisco Aironet card.

Oddly enough and I chalk this up to some quirk of the Acer's hardware design the Windows notebook didn't like the Linksys 54G wireless card. All that means is that my wife will stroll along, wirelessly, at about 11 MBps, instead of up to 54 MBps.

So far, she's not complaining. As I get another notebook set up for her, I might try again.

Also, there are no Mac drivers for the 54G card; a "hack" does exist, but it involves a level of programming and tweaking with which I'm not comfortable.

While results may seem inconclusive, I would say that anyone with 802.11b gear might want to look at the 802.11g wireless router from Linksys for ease of installation and management, as well as "future-proofing" your network investment.

I get better coverage at my home with the new Linksys product from my home office to the bedroom to the loft and the tech support is quite good.

All that and the freedom to roam while computing. What more can you ask for?

Information on the Linksys products can be found online at www.linksys.com. A "Google" search on "802.11a" also will reveal some useful articles and resources.

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