Cutting the Cable

The advantages of local area networks are known by even the smallest firms, however Wi-Fi technology offers businesses the same functionality but without all that pesky cable clutter. This makes hotdesking viable and - if routing an internet connection around a wireless network - can help create an in-office ‘hotspot’. WINDOWS explains how to turn your office wireless…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  June 2, 2005

Cutting the Cable|~|WLAN---m.jpg|~|Click Create New Connection to enter the Windows Network Set-up Wizard|~|A wireless network not only means there are no cables to install or trip over, but your seamless office design will stay that way without Ethernet leads strewn around the place. A wireless LAN (WLAN) can also make it easier to get some peace, as if your colleague’s rowdy sales calls are driving you to distraction, or your offspring’s bootilicous beats playing heck with your head, simply pick up your notebook and relocate elsewhere. Unless you work in a huge office, the 100-150 foot coverage possible with ‘b’ and ‘g’ standard wireless products should easily meet your needs. If unconvinced, consider another, often-overlooked, selling point of going wireless; if you rent your office space, install a traditional LAN and then decide to move, it may be difficult to take your LAN cabling with you. Your landlord might even demand you leave this cabling in or else take the time to restore the property to its original condition. Setting the standard You will probably have noticed different wireless standards being referred to in WINDOWS magazine. It helps to understand these, particularly when buying an access point (the centerpiece of a WLAN - it does the same job as a hub or switch in a wired network). 802.11 refers to the family of wireless specifications that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) developed for WLAN technology. 802.11 denotes that an over-the-air interface between a wireless client (such as a wireless enabled PC or peripheral notebook) and a base station (in our case an access point) or alternatively between two wireless clients. Within this specification are three standards - 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. The speedier 802.11n standard is also forthcoming. 802.11b has been the most widely adopted standard to date, but the ‘g’ standard is increasingly stealing the limelight. Both standards operate at a frequency of 2.4GHz (the same as that used by cordless phones and microwave ovens), as does the next ‘n’ standard, however the ‘b’ standard only offers a top data transfer speed of 11Mbps compared to the ‘g’ standard’s niftier 54Mbps. As for 802.11a, this standard operates on a 5GHs band rather than 2.4GHz, which means 802.11a products avoid conflicts with 2.4GHz devices. They also have a top speed of 54Mbps, but in the Middle East the ‘a’ standard isn't widely used because it uses the same frequency as many military applications. Most wireless home and small office products in the shops now tend to use either the ‘b’ or ‘g’ standard, or are compatible with both (‘dual-standard’). STEP 1 The PCs you plan to connect must include a wireless component. In the case of Centrino notebooks, part of their package is Intel’s Intel PRO/Wireless network adapter, which obviously meets this need. If in doubt, head into the System section of Control Panel on your PC and check Device Manager/Network Devices. If your notebook or PC doesn’t have a wireless component, this is solved by buying either a wireless PCMCIA card (for a notebook) or wireless PCI card (to enable a desktop PC). After your wireless card is installed, you have two options. It is possible to connect wireless devices in a peer-to-peer (P2P) fashion rather than using an AP as the centre of your LAN (in what's called a star topology). If you have two wireless notebooks at home for instance, you can connect these by heading to Control Panel/Network Connections and clicking Create a New Connection before choosing to set-up an Advanced Connection. When configuring your P2P wireless network parameters, be sure to change from ‘infrastructure mode’ (a setting designed for use with WAPs or routers) to ‘ad hoc mode’. However, if you go the wireless access point route - as we will in the remainder of this article - this has the advantage of providing better security (some high-end WAPs with built-in broadband routers also include firewall functionality), extending a wireless network’s range, and making the process of adding additional wireless devices simple (i.e. turn them on and they should recognise your WAP). STEP 2 If you are planning to route an internet connection around your wireless network, first remove the Ethernet network cable from your PC and connect this to the LAN port of your access point. It may be the case that your modem connects to your PC via a USB connection, in which case there’s more to do. Keep this USB cable connected from modem to PC and next connect the PC to your wireless access point (WAP) via an Ethernet cable. You then need to enable Internet Sharing on your wireless network card. To do this, click your DSL or dial-up internet icon in Control Panel, choose Properties and under the Sharing tab select the wireless network card in your PC. Turn on your modem and connect the WAP’s power supply. Wait until its alert LED has stopped flashing. Note: check with your telephone service provider before sharing an internet connection, as some operators have policies against sharing one connection amongst different devices. STEP 3 When your WAP is turned on, any wireless enabled kit within close proximity should prompt you that there is now a wireless network available. Click the pop-up window that says this and then choose the wireless network you want to join. This network is usually named after the type of access point you’re using, for instance in our office set-up our wireless network was identified as USR8024 after the US Robotics 8024 WAP we used in our test. If this doesn’t occur, head for Control Panel/Network Connections and click Create New Connection to enter the Windows Network Set-up Wizard to search for the wireless network connection manually. The majority of this Set-up Wizard is self-explanatory, though some of the options require a little more attention. We recommend you check the ‘Ignore disconnected network hardware’ box to help avoid unnecessary conflicts. Then it’s simply a case of naming your computer for use on the network, choosing whether or not an internet connection will be run over your WLAN, and joining the relevant network workgroup or domain. If using WinXP, your final choice before the Wizard starts searching for an available wireless network (i.e. looking for your turned on access point) is whether or not to create a network set-up disk. Why might you want to do this? Well you need to run the network set-up wizard on each PC you wish to connect to your WLAN. If most of your machines are running Windows XP and one computer an earlier version (Windows 98 say) then you'll need to use either the Windows CD or such a network set-up disk to get it up and running smoothly. Once you have bypassed that option or created a disk, click OK and Windows will track down available wireless networks. From the results given just click on the network you would like to join. STEP 4 Switch on the rest of your wireless enabled PCs and notebooks. Much of the time these will automatically detect that a wireless network is present (a pop-up prompt will tell you so). Click the pop-up and choose the correct WLAN to get connected. If this doesn’t occur, simply click through the Network Set-up Wizard in Control Panel or, in the case of a non-XP OS, use the Windows XP CD or the network set-up disk you created. At any time you can check your WLAN’s status, how long it has been connected, what speed it is running at and how strong the wireless signal is. Just double-click the wireless network logo in your PC’s taskbar (or Control Panel/Network Connections). In Network Connection’s Properties tab you can also jump between your WLANs. STEP 5 Your WLAN should now be operational and your PCs able to see each other over it (to check this, open up Explorer and under My Network Places/Entire Network/Microsoft Windows Network check that you can see the devices you’ve added to the network). As far as sharing information between devices is concerned, you must first choose those folders you want to share. Having spied the file you want to make public in Explorer, simply right-click it, choose the Sharing and Security option, and click ‘Share this folder on a network’. A check box then lets you determine whether or not other users are able to change its contents. To check whether the folder you want shared is viewable, use another PC on your network, go to My Network Places and click on the host PC. Its shared file should be shown (along with Windows’ standard Shared Documents folders (Music, Pictures and Video). STEP 6 Should any of your devices suffer from problems with reduced signal strength, try moving your WAP around the office. Because 802.11 ‘b’, ‘g’ and ‘n’ standard access points use the 2.4GHz band, devices such as cordless phones that use the same band may interfere with the WAP’s signal, so try to locate the WAP as far away from such devices as possible, and away from metal too as this can affect the signal. Consider that a WAP’s signal will radiate from the device as though in expanding concentric circles (see this feature’s opening image), therefore the WA’'s signal won't be transmitted too effectively if it's positioned in a corner against two walls. -------------------------- Safety First Follow these links for advice on keeping your data safe and making sure your routed internet connection remains used only by you Most of the tips here apply largely to 802.11b-based LANs Good advice on how to secure your WLAN when using Windows XP WPA2 is the second generation of WPA security. Find out all about it here. Microsoft talks you through using WPA (first version). -------------------------- -------------------------- WHAT WAP? When buying a wireless access point (WAP), consider the following: Signal strength Measured in miliwatts (mW) - the more miliwatts, the stronger the signal. Wireless standard Go for 802.11g if possible. Data transfer speed (Mbps) Note the data transfer test results in WINDOWS' WAP reviews (see our April 2005 WAP grouptest or search for 'Wi-Fly High'). Router If you're looking to share an internet connection, go for a WAP with a built-in router. Ethernet ports Some WAPs also function as a LAN switch, in which case they need a means of connecting devices using cables. This usually comes in the form of ethernet ports. Four ports should keep most SOHO set-ups connected. --------------------------||**||

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