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Getting Started with Wireless Network Technology


Part II: Connecting a Wireless Laptop or Notebook PC to a Wired PC Network

Mike Angelo -- 19 December 2001 (c)

Page 2


Article Index

Using the Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway as an Access Point

The Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway we used here is much more than a simple access point. It also is a four-port switch and a router as well. Additionally, it has an Ethernet port that lets you connect a cable/DSL modem to your network.

Here we used the Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway as a simple access point. We did that partly to keep things simple for now and partly because we already had a desktop computer on our existing wired LAN that performs routing and gateway services.

The Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway comes set up to act as a router/gateway by default. So, if you want to use it as a simple access point rather than as a router/gateway you should change the Wireless Broadband Gateway setup before you plug it into your wired network.

Configuring the Skyline Wireless Broadband Gateway as a simple access point can be a little tricky. First, disconnect one of your computers from your wired network and connect it to the Skyline Wireless Gateway.

Then use the configuration software that comes with the Skyline Wireless Gateway to reset the IP address of the Skyline Wireless Gateway from 192.168.0.1 to another address that is not used by any of the computers on your wired network or your wireless notebook computer that you are in the process of connecting to your wired LAN. Also, make sure you disable DHCP services for the Skyline Wireless Gateway while you are re-configuring the Skyline Wireless Gateway.

You need to do this re-configuring so that the Skyline Wireless Gateway will not conflict with the computer on your existing network that performs routing, gateway, and DHCP services. More importantly, you need to do the reconfiguring before you connect the Skyline Gateway to your existing network.

The Skyline Wireless Gateway follows the general rule for access points in that it is platform independent -- cross-platform (XP) if you like.

In an e-mail interview/discussion with Proxim spokesperson Amy Martin she said, the Skyline gateway is a platform independent device and will work with any 802.11b clients. Additionally, any client with a browser can configure and manage the gateway. However, Proxim provides only Mac OS and Windows support for the Skyline gateway.

We were able to access the Skyline Wireless Gateway using Microsoft Internet Explorer running on a Windows 98 SE box and also by using the KDE Konqueror browser running on Caldera OpenLinux Workstation 3.1, Mandrake Linux 8.0, and Red Hat Linux 7.1 machines.

The Skyline Wireless Gateway set-up and configuration utility is built into the device. You access it from a Web browser running on a computer networked to the Skyline Wireless Gateway. It is as simple as entering the IP address of the Skyline Wireless Gateway into the URL window of the browser and hitting the enter key.

The initial default IP address of the Skyline Wireless Gateway is 198.162.0.1. After you configure the Skyline Wireless Gateway its IP address will be whatever you set. Make sure to make a permanent record of the Skyline Wireless Gateway's IP address if you do change it. You need to do that so you will be able to get back to the Skyline Wireless Gateway in the future.

Proxim has a Tech Tip on its Web site that details using the Skyline Wireless Gateway as an access point only. If you get stuck or confused when you try to configure the Skyline Wireless Gateway as a simple access point, Proxim has good toll-free and free tech support.

Scalability and the Skyline Wireless Gateway

There are several reasons we used the Skyline Wireless Gateway rather than a simple access point. One is that Proxim does not offer a simple access point in its SkyLine IEEE 802.11b collection -- just the Skyline Wireless Gateway.

Note: for more information about networking and using a network to share peripheral devices, please see our article, Computer Connections at Home, Office, & School.

Another is scalability. As your network grows and changes, you can use the Skyline Wireless Gateway as an additional switch for your wired Ethernet -- that is why the four Ethernet switch ports are on the Skyline Wireless Gateway. We already took advantage of the SkyLine Gateway's four-port switch to add another computer to our wired Ethernet LAN.

As your network grows, you can let the Skyline Wireless Gateway takeover the routing, gateway, and DHCP services. That frees resources on the desktop computer that currently performs those network services.

At some point you might want DSL or Cable access to the Internet. The SkyLine Gateway can be used for that too.

Cautions

There are some cautions and drawbacks to wireless networking performance. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11b specification results in maximum wireless bandwidth of 11-Mbps (Mega-bits per second). Moreover, actual throughput achieved depends on the quality of the radio connection between the wireless PC Card and the wireless access point. So, wireless networking is not going to have the speed of a 100-Mbps hard-wired Ethernet.

Wireless networking equipment usually is more expensive than comparable hard-wired Ethernet equipment. However, since wireless networking does not require cables, you save the material and labor costs of installing Ethernet cable if you go wireless. That narrows the cost-gap between wired and wireless networking. Moreover there likely are instances where the cost of running Ethernet cable could make the total cost of setting up an all wired Ethernet more than that of setting up a mixed wired and wireless network.

In Part I, A Simple Wireless Computer Connection for Home, Office, or School, we built a two-computer, all-wireless network. In a future article in this series, we will take a closer look at establishing an integrated wired and wireless network with wireless desktop computers in addition to wireless laptop or notebook computers.

The focus in this article is on connecting a wireless-equipped laptop or notebook computer to an existing wired network. However, in some circumstances you might find it convenient or cost-effective to equip a regular desktop PC with a wireless network adapter. You can do that too. That's another, but similar, story.The conveniences of wireless networking, particularly where laptop or notebook computers are networked far outweigh the drawbacks. For most networking-related tasks, the 11-Mbps of the wireless connections verses the 100-Mbps of the wired Ethernet connections is hardly, if at all, noticeable.

In the case of the HP Omnibook 6000 running Microsoft Windows 2000, both the Skyline PC Card wireless connection and the Omnibook built-in Ethernet connection can be run at the same time. So in this and similar scenarios, it's easy to plug the laptop or notebook computer into the wired Ethernet whenever you desire the higher, 100-Mbps network connection speed.

It is important that all the wireless network devices you use comply with the same wireless network standard. If they do not so comply, it is likely that the wireless devices will not be able to communicate with each other. Here we use the IEEE 802.11b specification compliant devices.

There are ways to mix and match wireless networking devices that do not comply with the same standard. However, that can be tricky. We will take a closer look at selecting a wireless standard for your network and also mixing wireless networking devices that comply with different standards in a future article in this Getting Started with Wireless Network Technology series.

Conclusion

A note about wireless networking technologies: only wireless network devices that conform to the same standard can communicate with each other. Some wireless network equipment vendors use their own proprietary designs. If you choose such proprietary-design wireless network equipment you will be locked-into only that vendor's products if you later expand your wireless network to include more computers.

The Proxim Skyline products used doing the legwork for this article comply with the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11b specification. It is an open specification. That means that anyone can manufacture wireless network devices that conform to the IEEE 802.11b open specification. And that means that as you expand your wireless computer network, you can mix and match wireless devices from different vendors if you use IEEE 802.11b compliant devices for your wireless networking.

Proxim and other wireless network device manufacturers have implemented products complying with the IEEE 802.11b specification before implementing production of IEEE 802.11a devices. The 11b specification calls for a maximum data transfer of 11-Mbps. The faster 11a specification calls for a maximum data transfer rate of 54-Mbps. IEEE 802.11a compliant devices are not compatible with 802.11b devices.

At publication time of this article, there is a greater variety of available 11b-compliant devices than 11a-compliant devices. That's why 11b-compliant wireless devices were used in doing the legwork for this article. As we got to press, so to speak, Proxim is in the process of rolling out its line of 11a-compliant devices.

Thanks to wireless networking technology, you can free your computers and yourself from the shackles of network cables. No more need to locate your computers where existing network cables are located. And no more need to string network cables in your home, office, or school.

Hard-wired networks, such as wired Ethernets, outperform wireless networks when it comes to data throughput-speed performance. Moreover, there are many more computers connected to hard-wired networks than there are computers connected to wireless networks.

On the other hand, the conveniences of wireless networking, particularly where laptop or notebook computers are networked, far outweigh the drawbacks. And with a wireless connection you have the mobility and freedom to roam about with your laptop or notebook computer without losing your network connection. You do not have that freedom to roam about with a hard-wired network.

The really great news is that you can get the best of both the wired and wireless networking worlds by marrying these two networking technologies into a mixed wired and wireless network. The key to implementing this marriage of wireless and wired networking technologies is the access point, which provides the bridge between the wired and wireless network devices. Moreover, access-point devices generally are platform independent. That means that you can mix Linux, Macintosh, and Windows powered computers on the same integrated wired-wireless network.

For most networking-related tasks the 11-Mbps of the wireless connections verses the 100-Mbps of the wired Ethernet connections is hardly, if at all, noticeable when both the computer with the wireless network adapter and the access point are within twenty feet or less of each other. In our tests, speed started to drop off after that and at 150 feet the connection was either barely usable or not usable at all. That is consistent with what the Proxim people say their equipment, the Skyline PC Card and Skyline Wireless Gateway, will do.

You could apply the same techniques discussed here to connect several wireless-equipped laptop or notebook computers to an existing, hard-wired, Ethernet LAN -- likewise for one or more wireless-equipped desktop computers. Please remember the key to integrating wireless and wired network devices is the access point. Moreover, one access point will serve to bridge many wireless network devices to a wired Ethernet LAN.

Proxim provides Microsoft Windows 98, 98 SE, 98 ME, and 2000 drivers for the Skyline 802.11b PC Card for Notebooks and Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway . Unfortunately, it does not support these devices for the Linux operating system. There is some Macintosh support.

Proxim's suggested retail price for the Skyline 802.11b PC Card for Notebooks is $149. The suggest retail price for the Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway is $299.

In Part II, coming soon, we will take a closer look at connecting wireless desktop computers to an existing hard-wired Ethernet network. Stay tuned.




Article Index

Resources

Related Articles


Getting Started with Wireless Network Technology Part I: A Simple Wireless Computer Connection for Home, Office, or School

Computer Connections at Home, Office, & School

Some Basics for Computing & Networking Novices


Belkin 4-Port USB Switch for Linux, Mac, & Windows

Laptop & Notebook Docking -- Peripheral Device Sharing


Products Discussed in Article


Proxim Skyline Products

networking by example

Networking Books:

Here are some books to help you with networking. They cover different user levels, take different approaches, and discuss different networking features. Pick the book or books that suit your needs best.


For Wireless Networking:


Chapters 14-16 in Upgrading and Repairing Networks 3rd Edition, Que Books, ISBN 0-7897-2557-6. $60.

Chapters 13-15 in How Wireless Works, Que Books, ISBN 0-7897-2487-6. $30.


For Networking in General:


Complete Idiot's Guide to Networking Your Home, Que Books, ISBN 0-7897-1963-0. $17

Networking by Example, Que Books, 0-7897-2356-5. $38

Networking For Dummies, IDG Books, 0-7645-0772-9. $22.

Peter Norton's Complete Guide To Networking, Sams, ISBN 0-672-31593-9. $30


Samba Primer Plus, Sams, ISBN 0-672-21932-2. $35. (Use Samba to share Windows and Linux files on the same network.)

Sams Teach Yourself Windows Networking in 24 Hours, Sams, ISBN: 0-672-31475-4. $20

This Wired Home: The Microsoft Guide to Home Networking, 2nd Ed, Microsoft Press, ISBN 0-7356-1158-0. $30

Understanding the Network, A Practical Guide to Internetworking, New Riders, ISBN 0735709777. $40

Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, IDG Books, 0-7645-0347-2. $30.


Credits

The graphic above the article index is adapted from artwork on Proxim Skyline Web pages cited in the Resources section of this article



Copyright 2000, 2001 -- MozillaQuest -- Brodheadsville, Pa..USA -- All Rights Reserved


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