No one doubt whether wireless networking (WiFi) is a hugely practical and liberating innovation. Our campus is “unwired” to support our free roaming and wandering internet usage to the point where after 9 months we are already taking it for granted. So much in fact that we have started cursing the fact that Bluesocket isn’t “perfectly” timed with the professor walking out the door, or that if you sit in the lawn between Aldrich and Spangler, that your signal is very weak. Just two years ago, these minor annoyances would have been impossible. Well, just as quickly as technology moves, so too do our expectations rise. One of these expectations is coverage, or lack thereof. At the end of the day, when we leave the HBS bubble, the majority of us go home to, God forbid, plug into the internet. How lame.
I, an intermediate techie, am here to demystify the product space and installation steps for getting you off that cat 5 cable, and into thin air, so you can surf myHBS, JobBank, and forward write-ups from out on your patio, in your bed, or on your couch (note: bathroom not recommended, is nothing sacred?).
First, you need commitment. Commit.
Second, you need to decide what technology you want. The de facto standard right now is 802.11b. This is what we all use around HBS. New standards include 802.11a (faster up close, but more range dependent, uses different frequency) and 802.11g (faster, backwards compatible with 802.11b, uses same frequency). Bottom line, if you don’t care about preparing for tomorrow’s standards, stick to 802.11b devices.
They are cheap ($60-100) and will work for you for at least the life of the laptop you have right now, probably longer. If you want to embrace future change now, get a dual-band, tri-mode device. They are a bit more expensive ($150-200) but support 802.11a/b/g. Newer computers sold by the majors are embedding tri-mode network devices.
Third you need a device. You need a Wireless access point (WAP).
Linksys and Netgear offer a full range of WiFi enabling devices through many common retail outlets (Amazon.com, Best Buy, etc). Some WAPs come intergrated 4 or 8 port switch/router. These are great. They give you the option of wired and wireless connections, and divy up your single DSL/Cable/T1 connection to many computers. Look to spend around $80 bucks for a simple 4 port device with intergrated WAP.
Fourth, you need to plug it in. The device has a very straightforward out-of-box experience. Typically, you will need to find the wire that plugs into your existing computer. If you live on campus, this is wire that comes straight out of the wall. If you have DSL or a cable modem, it is the wire that comes out of that device. The WAP device will have a IP address that you will type into your browser. At which point you can set password, network names (SSID, e.g. “Home” or “HBS”), and enter any login information your ISP requires (typically DSL only).
It’s as simple really of setting up a VCR, maybe easier. And for less that $100 dollars, and 15 minutes of setup time, you can start enjoying wireless networking for nearly 100% of your waking life at HBS.
o With the addition of a WAP you can support multiple wireless computers. Good for significant others, study groups sessions, and a host of future devices that will comply with 802.11a/b/g standards.
o If you chose a WAP with an integrated switch/router, your household can now seemlessly support multiple computers, or old computers that you can keep around for storing backups, mp3, etc.
o DSL and Cable modem providers will give you a harder time if you call for technical support. They tend not to approve of any devices that plug into their modems besides your main computer. Don’t let them intimidate you!
o Security. Anyone who knows your WAPs network name, or SSID, can get on your network. Advanced features allow you to control this. Just enable what is called WEP encryption. I don’t because I’m not that paranoid. Naive maybe.
o Like most all computing devices today, sometimes they just lock up. I have found one of the quickest remedies is to simply unplug, and replug the power (don’t worry, any on-device settings will be retained). This forces the device to reinitiate. It’s the old ctrl-alt-del move. Works everytime.