Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II 5763

Wireless ways

By Mark Kellner | When it comes to wireless computing, how fast is fast? How fast must fast be? I guess the answer might well be, fast enough to get the job done.

There are, of course, a number of aspects to the wireless game that were not present say 12 or 18 months ago. For one, a "new" wireless standard, 802.11a, is making its presence known. It's actually an "older" standard, predating the widely know and used 802.11b. But dot-eleven-a, as it might be called, operates in the 5 Gigahertz radio band, which is relatively free of "cross traffic" from cordless phones and the like. Makers claim that 802.l1a radios can receive data up to 1,650 feet from a base station, and can transmit up to 72 Mbps of data.

The bad news is that it does not work with 802.11b equipment, of course, since the latter runs on that 2.4 GHz radio band shared with some cordless phones and the like. This lack of compatibility also extends to Apple's AirPort wireless network cards, which come in the basic 802.11b flavor and, now, in the 802.11g standard which is "backwards compatible." So, for the "a" user, it's tough sledding if you have a lot of "b" gear installed. (All of the new Tablet PCs have 802.11b radios built in, and so do many handheld devices, for example.)

I live - and work - in a mixed up world of both Apple Macintosh and Windows PC systems, so my first new wireless test has involved the 802.11g (stet) standard items. These computers run on 802.11b wireless cards, mostly, and so upgrading to 802.11g seemed to make sense.

Coming to my aid was Linksys, the Irvine, California firm acquired last week by Cisco Systems. Linksys' products are reasonably priced and have wide consumer acceptance. The firm's WRT54G wireless broadband router, $220 list, can be found for just under $130 at; the $117 list wireless PC card (for use in notebooks) is sold by the Internet retails for $69.95. These are good prices, far less than comparable 802.11b products were selling for a year ago.

Installing and configuring the wireless router, and getting it working with my Comcast cable Internet service, was not a problem. Things were up in a short amount of time, and I was happy to report success with both my Mac PowerBook G4 (using an old AirPort card) and my wife's Acer notebook, using a Cisco Aironet card.

Oddly enough - and I chalk this up to some quirk of the Acer's hardware design - the Windows notebook didn't like the Linksys 54G wireless card. All that means is that she's strolling along, wirelessly, at about 11 Mbps per second, instead of up to 54 Mbps. So far, she's not complaining. As I get another notebook set up for her, I might try again.

There are also, at present, no Mac drivers for the 54G card; a "hack" does exist, but it involves a level of programming and tweaking with which I'm not comfortable.

While results may seem inconclusive, I'd say that anyone with 802.11b gear might want to look at the 802.11g wireless router from Linksys for ease of installation and management, as well as "future-proofing" your network investment. I get better coverage in my home with the new Linksys product - from my home office to the bedroom to the loft - and tech support is also quite good. All that and the freedom to roam while computing - what more can you ask for?

Information on the Linksys products can be found online at, not surprisingly. A "Google" search on "802.11a" will also reveal some useful articles and resources.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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