The A, B, B+ and G of wireless LANs

Thanks for all the feedback and handy hints on Bluetooth. Despite all this good advice, I still haven't been able to get the stuff to work reliably enough for our MD. Time for plan B. Well, plan 820.11b, to be precise.

The pup seems to be settling in well. I’ve suddenly become one of those people that always has doggy treats in one pocket and a plastic bag in the other. When someone at work does or says something particularly clever I have to restrain myself from presenting them with a schmacko and saying "Good boooooy" in my softest, most positively-reinforcing dog trainer’s voice.

To b or not to b

Thanks for all the feedback and handy hints on Bluetooth. Despite all this good advice, I still haven’t been able to get the stuff to work reliably enough for our MD. Time for plan B. Well, plan 802.11b, to be precise.

Actually deciding on the b version of 802.11 wasn’t as straightforward as it might seem. As with every standard there seems to be an equal and opposite number of variations. There’s 802.11a, 802.11b, the inevitable 802.11b+ and the yet-to-be ratified (last time I checked, anyway) 802.11g. A runs at 56Mbit/s, b at 11Mbit/s, b+ at 22Mbit/s and g will be 56Mbit/s. At this point it’s worth noting that you usually don’t actually achieve this speed. With wireless, you’re dependent on your distance from the access point, the number of walls in the way, etc, etc. You with me so far?

Then, when buying hardware, you have the choice of buying stuff that does a, a and b, b and b+, and then, of course, there’s the option of being upgradable to g. A and b are totally different and don’t mix. That’s why some manufacturers make a/b dual mode gear. A and g won’t mix either. B and g, however, will mix, or at least g will be backwardly compatible with b and some b gear is currently being sold as being future-upgradable to g. Gaaaaaah!

Where am I getting to with all this? Well, in the absence of the newest standard g gear being available, I bought some b/b+ gear as it seems like the smartest choice for right now. Although it’s not as fast as the a, it’s more commonly used and we’ll still be able to use our old b gear when (and if) we move to g.

That said, this stuff is cheap -- it’s possibly even cheaper than putting wires in walls. If you have to throw it out and start again on a new standard in a couple of years, it mightn’t be a big deal.

At the top end of the price scale there’s Cisco, then there’s a wide selection from there on down to the SOHO end of the range. I suspect that, as with most stuff, you get what you pay for, so it’ll pay to get the best you can afford. For our first foray we’ve gone for the mid range (about $500 per access point and under $200 for each PCMCIA card). At this price point you seem to get the features that the big guys offer -- strong encryption is obviously a key one (and I’m particularly fond of the idiot-proof browser-based configuration) -- but without the promise of modular upgrades to g.

The best thing is it just bloody works. Whew!

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons in South Auckland. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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