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Ulfelder unplugged, Part 2

Aug 09, 20044 mins
MobileMobile Device ManagementRouters

Our hero swaps his undies for a clown suit - and gets his WLAN up and running

Our hero swaps his undies for a clown suit – and gets his WLAN up and running.

Last time, I began a long-overdue move from two separate cable modems to a modern 802.11g  wireless network. Along the way, I managed to get myself in a pickle; despite following my D-Link installation instructions to the letter, I was unable to get Internet access.

How did I solve the problem? Basically, by calling in the Marines. I know a guy who’s an IT pro at a local company. He moonlights helping folks like me. I heard about him through the grapevine and was sworn to secrecy – as with babysitters, my neighbors guard their under-the-table tech support jealously.

My advice: If possible, find yourself a local IT expert. You might get lucky, as I did, or you might need to try various local services until you find someone who doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. If your networking expertise peters out pretty quickly, this support is essential.

Desperate, I e-mailed the guru on a holiday weekend – and got a response within the hour, hallelujah. He dropped by during his lunch break the following day and started digging.

First, he checked my cabling. In particular, he wanted to make sure I didn’t have a bad Ethernet cable. I didn’t. Had I, however, I would have felt like a horse’s ass. Henceforth, I vow to have extra cabling on hand, and so should you. It could prevent you from doing the equivalent of disassembling a lamp when all you’ve got is a busted light bulb.

Then he checked the router’s configuration settings, where he promptly found the problem: By default, the D-Link router was set for a cable modem with a 100M-byte full-duplex Ethernet port. My cable modem, by contrast, had a 10M-byte port.

The tech guy said the 100M-byte default made little sense to him, as most of today’s cable modems have 10M-byte Ethernet ports. A D-Link spokesman said that while he wasn’t sure why the company went with a 100M-byte default, “it might be a forward-looking thing; we’re hoping that some day soon, we’ll all have real broadband.” To me, the sin isn’t so much the setting as the lack of any mention in the install guide.  

With that hurdle cleared, we were flying. My tech Sherpa made sure I’d installed the D-Link USB adaptor correctly on my wife’s PC, then checked rates and reception. In the process, he taught me a few things.

First, we changed the router’s SSID and channel from the defaults. A service set identifier, or SSID, is a sequence of characters assigning any wireless network a unique name. The reason is simple: Most people stick with the defaults, including your neighbors, in which case your data transmission will be slow or intermittent since you’ll be sharing the same frequency and/or SSID. It’s a good tip, and not one I would have thought of myself.

While I’m discussing defaults, I vowed in Part 1 to confess a major WLAN sin, so here goes. Like many IT journalists, I’ve been criticizing IT organizations for not enabling encryption when they set up wireless LANs. Sure, vendors turn security off by default, but that just underscores the importance of taking responsibility yourself.    

It was easy to write that kind of criticism. But I confess that during my initial install, I skimmed right past the encryption section. I’ve got many excuses, but they’re all lame. Fortunately, my tech guy raised a disapproving eyebrow when he noted my oversight, and promptly set things right.

It’s been nearly a month now, and I’m pleased as punch with the wireless network. My wife and I agree its performance is indistinguishable from that of our previous two-modem setup, and I save $19.95 per month on my cable bill, which amounts to a five-month return on investment.

I also learned that a good tech-support expert is worth his weight in gold. Don’t ask how to contact my guy; I ain’t saying.