- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

After two years of cable Internet service, and about a year of trying to get the biggest bang for my Internet buck by sharing that

one high-speed connection with various computers in my home/office, I believe I may have found the ultimate home network. (In fact, it may be the ultimate small-office network, since you can hang as many as 10 PCs from it.)

It's wireless, but oh so much faster than the Intel Corp. AnyPoint wireless network described here a few weeks ago. And, it works with both my PCs running Microsoft Windows as well as an Apple Computer iBook. Yet, unlike the Apple AirPort 1.1, the gateway device used to beam this Internet access through the house could be made to work with my somewhat quirky Internet provider, MediaOne RoadRunner.

If all that wasn't enough, there's even more good news: I could take any of my mobile PCs that are equipped with a wireless antenna and go to a hotel, a conference or even an airport and use that same wireless connection to hook into the Internet. Costs should be minimal, if not free in some cases.

To top it off, I can use the same wireless antenna to connect to a network at my office or school. In fact, Drexel University in Philadelphia announced plans this month to create just such an environment where any of its students, faculty or staff, carrying a notebook PC with a wireless antenna can roam and still be connected to the Internet. Other providers will offer similar services in public spaces; can Starbucks be far behind?

All of this is possible because of two things, an industry standard wireless networking specification called 802.11, and, in my case, finding a home wireless networking product that not only uses the standard, but which actually works. The 802.11 standard is designed primarily for business users, but home products such as Apple's AirPort are making it popular outside the office. That you can use the same wireless networking standard for business and home applications without conflicts, no less is an added plus.

The product, in my case, is Lucent Technologies' ORiNOCO line of wireless LAN devices. The RG1000 is a residential gateway device slated to retail for $349. In a portable computer, you can install the ORiNOCO Silver Turbo wireless antenna card, which lists for $179. The gateway hooks up to either a phone line for Internet access or to a high-speed link such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable Internet service.

While speeds for the Internet access are determined by your service provider, the ORiNOCO network in a home or small office will zip data around at 11 megabits per second, just about 10 times the 1.6 mbps speed of the Intel AnyPoint device.

Installation of the gateway was a major challenge, and therein is found a story. Lucent not only makes the ORiNOCO device, but also is the maker of Apple Computer's AirPort system, which also works on the gateway-and-antenna principle. But while the AirPort was impossible for me to install and get working, despite several days of tech support from Apple, it took a Lucent engineer about 90 minutes to walk me through the steps needed to make this work with my quirky setup. (In fairness, Apple has said they're going to make the AirPort functional with my somewhat-dysfunctional cable Internet setup.)

However and this is important it should be noted that Lucent plans to sell the ORiNOCO system principally through firms offering high-speed Internet access, and to have the base stations pre-configured to work with a given network. For example, if you buy DSL service from your local phone company, and that company, in turn, sells you this product, it already will be set up to work easily and quickly. The same would apply if I'd bought this from my cable-based ISP.

Those of us who buy our hardware direct the ORiNOCO product also will be available from mail-order and Web merchants, I'm told still may need some assistance in getting it to work with various Internet service providers. But such likely will be a one-time effort.

Once the system was installed, I had an Internet gateway (the ORiNOCO device) which each of our computers could use to access the Web. For the remaining "wired" PC, a desktop unit, I routed the Internet signal through a Starlet Ethernet hub sold by Farallon (www.farallon.com), a good maker of networking products.

The various computers now connect to the Internet gateway independently of each other (thanks to the "trick" of assigning separate network identification numbers to each device) and each can access the Net without depending on any unit's being powered on, save for the ORiNOCO gateway, of course.

The speed of the ORiNOCO setup amazed my wife, who, while appreciating the Intel AnyPoint system, groused about its speed and occasional freeze-ups. To give you an idea of how well the system worked, it wasn't difficult for me to sit in our living room with a notebook PC and play streaming audio from the BBC World Service, with nary a wire in sight. Having the 11 mbps speed was a real advantage here.

The greatest and most pleasant surprise came when I decided to take a leap of faith and buy a $99 AirPort card to install in my iBook. The AirPort card and software installed without a hitch and the card immediately found the ORiNOCO network and allowed me to set it up for use. (Turning on the encryption feature of the wireless network allows me to keep that access secure from any "visiting" 802.11-based devices that might want to tap in.)

As of today, there are three PCs at La Casa Kellner sharing the ORiNOCO system; I plan to acquire and use add-in antenna boards for a couple of other desktop PCs, making it possible for all the devices to share Internet access, and even data.

Knowing that I can take one of my portables and access other 802.11-compliant networks is an added advantage. As the standard spreads across businesses and to public places such as hotels, it may be possible to be instantly in touch just about anywhere.

For now, of course, it's just neat to have so many different computers at home connected, and to have them working so well. Those interested can find out more at (www.lucent.com/orinoco) or call 1-800-928-3526.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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