- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

It was Sunday afternoon and, heck, I didn't have much else to do. So I hooked up another wireless network for my home.

Longtime readers of this column will know that I've tried this before, at least three times, with varying results. One try involved Intel Corp.'s home networking products which used a radio frequency transmitter at 1 Mbps. It was OK as far as it went, but it wasn't very fast. Moreover, its reach was limited to IBM-compatible PCs, since there was no easy way to link into an Apple Macintosh.

To link Macs to a wireless network as well as to achieve faster speeds one needed to embrace the IEEE 802.11 standard, also known as "Wi-Fi." My first effort there, with the original Apple Computer "Airport" base station, was far from a success. Apple has refined the Airport, and others have had greater success in using the product.

The Orinoco product, now sold by a company called Agere, was next in my roster of 802.11 experiments, and it worked well with both PCs and the Apple iBook that had a wireless card installed. For a good while, ours was a wireless home office situation where I could work in any room and still reach the Internet and stream audio and video easily.

For a while, though, I'd had the Orinoco gateway on the sidelines. Other wireless products came into my view, however, the most notable being a combination router and wireless gateway from Irvine, Calif.-based Linksys. Why a combination router/gateway is important stems from my using a broadband service, specifically a cable Internet modem, as my connection to the Web. The router part helps share the wireless link with a nearby computer via an Ethernet connection. The wireless gateway broadcasts a data signal to mobile devices that are equipped with a wireless antenna. Some notebook computers are shipping with an 802.11-compatible antenna built in, while others can accept a PC Card antenna.

As with any wireless gateway, the Linksys device contains a network card that has a specific "address." Once that address is given to the cable Internet company (AT&T; Broadband in my case), it's "provisioned" at the cable office and the network can thus recognize the card and then send and receive data. In turn, the Linksys unit talks to the computer either via an Ethernet connection or its wireless antenna.

I'm spending a bit of time on the mechanics of this because, frankly, there's precious little to explain in terms of setting up the device. Once you get the network address set up with the Internet provider, at least under the version of Windows XP that I was using, the router itself worked almost instantly and without much fuss. If you do need or want to adjust some settings, the unit itself contains the software needed, which you can reach via a computer connected to an Ethernet port and a Web browser.

I had some interesting experiences with the notebook computers and wireless cards I had on hand. One card, from SOHOware, didn't want to "play" in the digital sandbox too well, but after a couple of software adjustments, it worked well. The Linksys folks referred me to an independent iBook Web site (www.ibookcentral.com/ linksys.shtml) for information on how to configure an iBook/ Airport card combination to "talk" to the Linksys device, and, presto, it worked like a charm.

Despite earlier successes, however, two wireless access cards from Cisco Systems ultimately balked when tested on notebook computers running Windows XP and Windows NT; it functioned for a longer time on a notebook with Windows 98, so perhaps the other issues are fixable. At press time, I was awaiting a response from the manufacturer.

Why does all this matter? Well, Linksys told me last week that the price of the wireless router is now a mere $99. The wireless antennas are also in the $99 to $150 range, depending on whose you buy. The result: you can set up a wireless network in your home for far less money today than a year ago, and you might be able to do it more easily than ever, since both Windows 2000 and Windows XP have networking "wizards" that make configuration easier. If you've wanted to cut the cord for some time, now might be the most opportune moment.

• 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.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenalineradio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time.

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