Home Wireless Networking

If your organization is looking at implementing wireless LANs, but RF (radio frequency) is terra incognita, here’s a way for you to get up to speed fast and have some fun too: install your own wireless LAN at home.

Well, okay, maybe not fun exactly. But with a wireless home network and a cable or DSL high-speed Interet connection, you can sit out on the deck or in the family room with your laptop, or wherever you like, and connect to the ‘net or a VPN at warp speed – cordlessly. You can also share files and printers with other PCs in the house.

Several vendors, including familiar names like 3Com Corp. and Agere

Systems (Lucent), sell wireless home network systems that use the same 11-megabits-per-second Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) LAN technology they use in their corporate W-LAN products. We tested two: Agere’s ORiNOCO RG-1000 Residential Gateway ($470) and 3Com’s Home Wireless Gateway ($475). Linksys and D-Link have cheaper alternatives.

These devices function first as access points, providing network connectivity to clients equipped with Wi-Fi network interface cards (NICs). Both deliver up to 11 Mbps of throughput – at up to about 90 meters for the 3Com product, 150

meters according the specs for the ORiNOCO gateway.

Although Wi-Fi uses 2.4 GHz radio spectrum which requires line of sight in wide area outdoor applications, at these short distances it works fine through walls and floors and doors.

Both products work in a variety of configurations. The 3Com unit, because it has additional wired Ethernet ports, is more flexible. With the ORiNOCO device, if you’re creating a network from scratch, all the clients must have wireless NICs, which are quite a bit more expensive than standard 10 Mbps Ethernet NICs – $160 for the ORiNOCO PC card, $250 for a 3Com PC card and $320 for a 3Com PCI card. With the 3Com product you can connect some clients by wire.

Both have networking smarts to automatically share an Internet connection. Both make it remarkably easy to set up simple networks – configuring settings through Wizards and automatically linking to and configuring in-range Wi-Fi-NIC-equipped clients. The 3Com product with its firmware-loaded setup software has a slight edge in this department, though ORiNOCO has new easier-to-use software we were not able to test.

Both also work in more complex networks. I tested them as wireless ex-

tensions to an existing wired Ethernet network. The documentation for neither makes it clear how you do this – the 3Com manual doesn’t even mention it. But both firms provide 24/7 technical support that quickly got me up and running.

As for performance, I could detect little difference, though the ORiNOCO unit may be marginally more sprightly in

delivering Web pages.

Gerry Blackwell is a reviewer of high-tech devices, and a veteran journalist specializing in information technology. He is based in London, Ont.