Wire vs Wireless

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SUMMARY: Wired – for some, a preferred approach to the internet.

I’ve been using wireless for a couple of years now – no doubt it’s handy when you roam around the house with your laptop. However, as we’ve written about, wireless can be a bit of a pain, especially with Windows – our article on WiFi PC Cards – Frequent Disconnects Fix has resulted in a LOT of emails from affected users.

Once you get beyond Windows and things are working OK, then you have to contend with wireless routers which often seem to act more like beta-test products than finished goods. In my own case, my Linksys router can work fine for a couple of weeks, then go through a series of hard resets, sometimes daily for a week – very frustrating, especially when my wife is trying to email me and I’m on the road.

After going through another series of hard resets, I had enough and decided to hard wire my laptops. After thinking about how I’ve been using them (in one place, never roam around), I decided that a hard wire from the router to the family room was the only way to go. Luckily, I have easy access under the floors and I was able to run a cable in a couple of hours.

(As an aside, the hardest part was attaching connectors to the cable – after going through a series of connectors from Radio Shack (a mistake), I finally cut a six foot ethernet cable I had and soldered each end to the cable – flawless!)

I connected the router in my office to a Netgear Fast Ethernet Switch (FS105), hooked up two laptops and we are off and running, and about 60% faster than my wireless connection (wired – 7.8 MB/s) – nothing wrong with this picture!

Better than the faster speed is the router up-time – I have not had a problem for the last month since I wired up. I also disconnected the antennas to the router – security was always a concern as my area has a lot of wireless activity (I counted 6 access points, half of which were unsecured). For me, wireless security is not an issue anymore, nor are annoying hard resets.

I know that a hard wired connection is not always feasible for everyone, but as easy as wireless is, a hard wired connection has a lot going for it and, IMHO, is the preferred option.

I have also been thinking about upgrading my router to a SonicWall TZ150 – I’d appreciate inputs from anyone who has experience with it, or something similar.
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Email Joe

Ed Note: The following email, one of many I received on this topic, is a view “from the inside” that is worth sharing:

“I am coming from the perspective of having been part owner of a WISP
(Wireless ISP). I’ve known for years that wireless promises much that it
can’t deliver.

11 Mbps? Your throughput is only 5.5 Mbps. “Standards?” Only when you’re using
the same brand (it’s gotten much better though, except for “non” standards
such as those turbo 125 Mbps devices). Range? In your dreams. Reliability and
uptime? Almost as good as my Ford (that’s another story).

I can’t argue that wireless doesn’t have it’s attractions and uses, but I’ve
seen wireless implemented in many places where it wasn’t needed. One
business client added a notebook to her office and wanted it on wireless.
After using it for a bit, she started replacing all the hard-wired desktops
with notebooks on wireless.

See where this is going?

Speed went down because
instead of 100 Mbps, the 54g really gives 27 Mbps. Reliability went down –
normal with adding more clients onto wireless. The kicker? They spent more
on these notebooks to get smaller screens than they were using before,
smaller keyboards, a slower and less reliable network… while the notebooks
are still used on the same desks “wired” to the power outlet.

As for routers, their reliability has a lot to do with type and amount of
traffic you shove through them, multiplied by a healthy dose of luck. We’ve
had clients who routinely have to restart (power cycle) their routers. Some
have actually killed a number of routers – I don’t know how they do it but
the router would be dead, either not powering up or the lights are on but no
response (no DHCP, no response to ping). I’ve seen a few expensive units
die, but mostly it’s been the cheaper stuff. Then again, most of the ones
I’ve seen are the crap-sumer stuff, so who knows, maybe the ratio is the
same.

Besides with clients, I have personal negative experiences with them. I set
up some in-laws with a DLink DI-624 which was a higher end model from a few
years back and it died – did the “lights are on but nobody’s home” trick. No
response to factory reset either.

After seeing so many failures and
glitches, I bought an expensive unit for myself, a Netgear FVS318 for nearly
$200. It liked to lock up and restart itself (reading up at DSLreports
forums, not an experience unique to myself with those). It’ll even do that
when there’s no traffic going on. I can be doing stuff that’s not internet
related and then Windows will say “network cable unplugged.” I’ll look at
router and no lights are blinking. Then, after a bit, the lights will flash
off/on, then router restarts and everything back to normal. Well, at least
it restarted itself unlike other routers.

After having expensive stuff fail on me, I decided to go the cheap route – an AirLink+ (Fry’s Electronics “house brand”). That was the most
craptastic one yet. My games would get unplayable and then disconnect from
server. WTF? Okay, router lights are still good. Ping the router… WTF?
Ping in the four digits… then ping drops back down to normal (<10). After a while, ping goes back up. Power cycle will "cure" it for a day or two, or an hour or two. That's just pinging 192.168.0.1, let alone go out on the 'net.

My personal solution to this has been to use a computer as a router.

I’m
ashamed to say that my Windows computer has been far more reliable as a
router using ICS than any hardware router I’ve personally owned or purchased
for relatives. I just have to restart it once every couple of months,
instead of having to power cycle a router sometimes daily.

I can imagine
that if I went the Linux route I may be able to count uptime by the interval
between blackouts in my neighborhood. If you were to go the dedicated
computer route and had to buy one, perhaps get a mini ITX VIA solution in a
tiny case with the “HDD” as a CompactFlash card (all to minimize power draw)
and running one of the custom Linux router distros. That shouldn’t run too
much more than a “pro” router and IMO would be more flexible and reliable.

For wireless, I currently use a Buffalo AirStation HighPower wireless router,
with the routing disabled and with a high gain omni antenna. My one wireless
station across my condo (soon to be a second one in the garage as well) uses
a Zyxel PCI card with a high gain directional antenna.

Even so, occasionally
Windows will report that it has lost the wireless connection only to get it
back again in a minute or two. I’ve tried using the manufacturer’s client
and turning off Wireless Zero Config and such tricks, but haven’t pinned it
down to anything yet. Still, it’s been reasonably reliable compared to many
other wireless networks that I’ve worked on. Of course, most don’t want to
spend the money on “better” equipment and higher gain antennas.”

Ed note: An interesting hardware note – you’re going to see more network devices that piggyback on house wiring, an old idea that’s coming back strong; Panasonic has one in the market now, Netgear to follow shortly. How ubiquitous can you get?

Mike (AKA Zap)

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