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					                      DCS860A Wireless LAN Evaluation

                                             By Eddie Davis
Background

       Those of us involved with higher learning in Emerging Technologies today are

very fortunate to be studying the field at a time when the technological envelope is being

pushed to the limit. This became evident to me very early in my DPS Studies in many

ways but especially in the way that I was accessing the Internet. Being fully aware of the

demands of the DPS program, I invested in a new Gateway Performance PC as well as a

Gateway Solo 5300 Laptop to help me address my new expanded computing needs. At

the time when I worked remotely, I accessed Verizon’s internal network via IPRS with a

56K modem connection that my family also used to access our ISP, which was BANET.

I knew that Broadband access was available via cable modem in my area but I had hoped

that DSL would become available in the near future so my plan was to hold out in the

spirit of pledging allegiance to the company that I work for.

       The first sign of trouble came when I was unable to connect to the Internet on a

Wednesday evening when our class was meeting for an on-line chat session. Next there

was the time when my daughter wasn’t able to connect when she needed to do some

research for a school project and then there was the Sunday night when it took an hour to

connect while trying to submit one of Dr. Blum’s Quizzes prior to the 12:00 AM

deadline. The final straw came when I was unable to connect while working at home one

day to distribute a document that was needed for discussion on a weekly conference call

with one of my group’s primary client organizations.

       I knew then that it was time to look into getting cable modem Internet service run

into my home. For those who already have their homes wired for cable TV service, cable



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modem service is usually an easy addition. My home has a Satellite TV system so things

were different for me. To take it a step further, while every other room in my house was

pre-wired with RG-6 cable, I hadn’t gotten the home office wired because I hadn’t even

considered cable modem access as a possibility. I only had a phone line run for dial-up

access in the office and I thought eventually DSL. Fortunately, The cable technician was

able to run a line from the interface outside of my house through the garage and into the

home office by drilling only one hole in a garage wall adjacent to the office. The

connection and configuration of my ISP’s software was straightforward and in no time

the Workstation in my home office had been taken to the leading edge and my access

problem was solved.

       Unfortunately, while cable modem access resolved the access, reliability and

speed issues that we had in the past, it didn’t help with the contention issues between my

family members. First there is my wife who is pursuing her PHD and my daughter in the

seventh grade who needs to spend a good deal of time on-line doing research for

homework. Then there is my son who is in his second year of college and last but not

least there is me in the DPS. There were many times when all of us needed to be on-line

at the same time and prioritizing the access was difficult. We had one workstation and

two laptops but only one internet connection and no plans to spend $90.00 for 3 IP

addresses from my ISP. I hadn’t thought about wireless access until we started using it

during our Software Process Engineering class in our first year. After connecting via the

wireless network in class and having several discussions with one of my classmates, I

concluded that a Wireless LAN might be the solution to my problem at home.




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Selection of the Equipment

        There are many Wireless LAN products available on the market and most of

them seem to be designed and priced for Businesses applications.           My colleague

informed me that there was a very good INTEL product that had been on sale for about

seven or eight hundred dollars. When I checked into this, the sale was no longer being

offered and the INTEL configuration would have cost me more like a thousand dollars

and that was a little rich for my blood. My colleague also made me aware that Linksys

had two very affordable products that they were developing but they were not available

on the market yet.    After doing some additional research, and because the Linksys

products were not available, I decided to go for the 3COM Home Wireless Gateway and

two 3COM AirConnect 11 Mbps Wireless LAN PC Cards. At the time, the Home

Wireless Gateway was $349.00 and the two Wireless LAN PC Cards were $358.00

together for a total of $771.36 with tax and shipping. This was a substantial cost but I

went with 3COM because of their history and reputation. I ordered my equipment in

March of this year but the same products are currently available for $586.00.

Product Features

       Wireless Gateway

       * Automatically finds and connects up to 35 wireless clients within 91 meters.

       * No software required.

       * Configure through any standard Web browser.

       * 11 Mbps wireless connections.

       * Three high-speed wired connections.




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          * Virtual Private Network Support for secure remote access to corporate

networks.

          * Built in firewall protection, 40 bit encryption and a private network ID.

          * Wi-Fi certification.

          Wireless LAN PC Card

          * Mobile Connection Manager.

          * Load balancing ensures reliability.

          * Extended roaming allows users to maintain connections.

          * Supports the Power Saver Protocol.

          * Supports both 40 and 128-bit WEP encryption.

          * Wi-Fi certification.

Configuration Complexity

          Getting this 3COM Wireless router to work had to be one of the most difficult

configurations that I have ever done. I probably spent a total of 72 hours getting it to

work. There are many variables depending on your hardware, operating systems and

unique environmental characteristics. When you add to that the differences in the ways

that ISP’s provide access to their networks and the level of complexity becomes quite

high. I had to try a hundred different variations but the sequence of steps that ultimately

had to be taken in order to get the 3COM router to access the Internet in my environment

were:

          * Connect the router to my cable modem.

          * Bring up the cable modem, router and the workstation that was hardwired to the

router.




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         * Run IPCONFIG on the workstation to capture the IP address that my ISP

assigned for the session.

         * Logon to the router and enter the IP.

         * When the router got locked, all of the equipment had to be shutdown and the

steps above had to be redone.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate the complexity of configuring the 3COM equipment

at 10.

         Once I was able to gain access to the Internet, configuring the wireless cards was

not difficult.   It took approximately 1 hour to get one of the cards communicating with

the router and the Internet and I did the initial configuration in my home office right next

to the router. The problem that I encountered with the wireless connectivity was when I

moved my laptop to the point in my house where I planned to spend a majority of my

time accessing the Internet, my bedroom. By the time I reached my bedroom, I had very

little signal and was not able to connect. The distance is well under the 91-meter range

stated in the product specifications and this defeated the whole purpose of deploying the

Wireless LAN. My hopes for a wireless solution were crushed because my feeling was

that if I couldn’t achieve the required transmission levels with the 3COM equipment, I

wasn’t going to achieve it with anything else. Approximately two weeks had passed

since I received the 3COM equipment.

         Back when I had originally ordered the 3COM equipment, I also placed

backorders for the Linksys products that hadn’t been released to market yet.

Coincidentally, shortly after I hit the proverbial brick wall with the 3COM equipment, the

Linksys router arrived. Since I had nothing to lose, I decided that I might as well give the




                                              5
Linksys equipment a shot. The Linksys router that I selected was the Etherfast Wireless

Access Point + Cable/DSL Router with Printserver which cost $259.99 at the time. In the

interest of matching the router with the PC Cards, I purchased two Linksys Instant

Wireless Network Cards from Comp USA for $300.00 for a total of $615.00 with tax and

shipping. This is about $150.00 less than the 3COM equipment and the same equipment

is currently available for a little over $400.00 about $175.00 less than the 3COM

equipment costs now.

Product Features

        Wireless Gateway

        * Provides, Roaming, Best Access Point Selection, Load Balancing, and Network

Traffic filtering.

        * Supports Ranges up to 150 meters indoor and 500 meters outdoors. (This

feature is critical.)

        * 40 bit WEP Encryption Protocol.

        * Compatible with virtually all Major Operating Systems.

        * Supports IPSec Pass-Thru and PPTP (Still under investigation for my

configuration.)

        * Acts as a DHCP Server and a Print Server for your existing network.

        * Administrators can block specific Internet user’s Internet access filtering.

        Wireless Network PC Card

        * 11 Mbps High-Speed Transfer Rate.

        * Plug and Play Operation.

        * Operating range up to 120 meters indoors.




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          * Advanced Power Management.

          * Rugged Metal Design with Integrated Antenna.

          * Compatible with Virtually all Major Operating Systems.

Configuration Complexity

          Configuring the Linksys Wireless router was 360 degrees the opposite of

configuring the 3COM Router. I probably spent a total five hours setting up the entire

network and the transmission utilities. Needless to say, the 3COM equipment went back.

In order to get the Linksys router connected to the internet, I had to:

          * Connect the router to my cable modem.

          * Bring up the cable modem, router and the workstation that was hardwired to the

router.

          * Follow the relatively simple configuration instructions.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate the complexity of configuring the Linksys equipment

at 3.

          My Linksys Wireless LAN equipment is probably one of the most beneficial

advanced technology products that I have ever purchased. One of the nicest features of

the configuration is how the router dynamically obtains an IP address from my ISP. We

routinely have 2 to 3 PC’s accessing the internet at a time and the two Laptops with the

Wireless cards can access the internet from anywhere in the house. It is rare that we are

unable to connect when we need to and the connection speed is consistently fast.

Recently, calculations on the CNET Bandwidth meter website from the PC that is

hardwired to the router registered 437.1 Kbps. The calculation from one of the Laptops

accessing the internet from the master bedroom registered 893.4 Kbps. The wireless




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LAN has enabled my family to exceed any hopes and expectations that we had for

flexible broadband internet access.

       My experience has been so positive that I am constantly encouraging others to

explore the possibility of setting up wireless LANS if they are experiencing familial

contention for resources. I have strongly recommended the Linksys products to several

of my colleagues and friends and most of them have also had positive experiences. The

only thing that I have not been able to accomplish at this point is accessing the corporate

VPN via the wireless connection. Apparently, the VPN uses IPSEC that while currently

being advertised as a feature of the router that I have, is not an option on my Advanced

Options page. I am investigating this now and am hoping that maybe I need a firmware

upgrade. It is truly amazing to me that I am able to exceed all of my Internet access

needs with an affordably priced solution. The way I figure it, considering the $60.00 a

month that I have been saving by not purchasing two additional IP addresses from my

ISP since March, by the end of December my Linksys equipment will have paid for itself.

That’s what I call a good investment!!!!!!!!!!




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