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Wireless Networking Mini-Tutorial

Updated April, 2006


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Learn about wireless networks!

Welcome to our Wireless Mini-Tutorial. The page is broken up into the following sections:

 
Wireless Crossword Puzzle and Tutorial
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Test your knowledge by solving an intermediate level crossword puzzle of common words, standards, and protocols associated with wireless networking.

 

What Does Wireless Mean?

Types of Wireless: The major types of wireless that are getting the most attention these days include the following:

  • Wireless Local Area Networks (LANs)
    • 802.11b (sometimes called wireless Ethernet)
    • 802.11a, HiPerLAN II, and HomeRF (alternatives to 802.11b)
  • Fixed Broadband Wireless Multiservice Wide Area Networks (WANs)
    • MMDS and LMDS
    • Small Dish Satellite
  • Mobile Wireless (voice/telephony with increasing integration of data and video)
  • Wireless Personal Area Networks
    • Based on Bluetooth™ technologies

Wireless LANs are slowly but surely starting to take hold in homes, small businesses and corporations. An 802.11b Network Interface Card (NIC) costs about $100. When you compare that to the cost of wiring up a cubicle and the inflexibility of that wired connection, it is easy to see why people are gravitating towards wireless LANs. Performance ranges from standard Ethernet performance down to perhaps 2 Mbps if there is significant interference or if the user strays too far away from an Access Point. If the NIC and Access Point support roaming, a user can wander around a building or campus and the NIC will automatically switch between Access Points based on the strength of the beacon signal it receives from nearby Access Points. The strongest signal wins. Access Points cost anywhere from $200 to $800, depending on features supported. Access Points connect to the wired LAN so that users have complete connectivity.

A great trend being found with Wireless LANs is the establishment of Wireless LAN "hot spots" and community networks. Click here to visit our new page on hot spots and community networks.

If you're trying to figure out what you need for your wireless LAN, check out WiFiDirect.com's handy dandy network design tools. If you want an incredible wealth of links related to wireless LANs, click here to visit Network World's WiFi page.

Now shipping are wireless LAN products (802.11a and HiperLAN II) that increase performance to 54 Mbps and more. There's soon also going to be an 802.11g suite of products. Read about all of the variants of 802.11 by clicking here. There's also a competitor to 802.11 trying to capture the home networking market.

Fixed Wireless WANs: With the race on to be the access method of choice for that dreaded last mile of connectivity (sometimes also referred to as first mile and local loop), reaching into a home or office, wireless is fast becoming a viable alternative to (wired) DSL, cable, and fiber optic. Forget about getting the right of way from a central office into a house or office, and the nightmares of stringing wires (copper or fiber) across miles and miles of territory. How about just transmitting across the air, using tried and true technology like microwave? It could happen! Today, there are technologies emerging that take advantage of line of site transmission capabilities long thought out of date. Whereas line of site technology was more often than not "point to point," today's advances allow for point to multipoint, providing a much more cost effective service to be available. Some of these technologies can even support obstructed transmission paths, more common to typical communities. One of our clients, Aperto Networks, has a solution in this area. TowerStream has gotten some good press lately, offering services using Aperto's gear.

Another company called WaveRider also offers non-line-of-site solutions.

Point to multipoint fixed broadband wireless networks can literally run into some obstacles when trying to reach "non-line-of-site" receivers. While some companies like Aperto Networks overcome those obstacles with advancements in fixed broadband wireless technology, companies like Nokia are taking another approach, using meshed networks. With meshed networking, you get a line-of-site connection from the base station to one house or business in the community you want to serve, and then you hop a relatively short distance from that location to the next, rather than going from the base station to all subscribers. Check out Nokia's story on that.

For the subscriber, regardless of the approach the vendor takes, the solution looks the same from the subscriber connection. Just put in an antenna on the outside of a house or office, and a multiservice network access device inside, and you suddenly eliminate all the hassles of wires. Of course you need a basestation somewhere within some number of miles servicing all the home / small office antennas! That type of network is known as "fixed wireless" since the receivers are in fixed locations. It is sort of like cable TV without the cable! The set top box does not move. Some vendors have coined the phrase "wireless DSL" to refer to their service offering because they are able to provide fairly high-speed connections, similar to various flavors of DSL, at reasonable prices. Some vendors, like Sprint, also offer significantly higher-speed connections via wireless, still at DSL pricing.

Here are a few vendors of fixed broadband wireless StarTouch and Air2LAN.

Of course there are also lots of folks creating their own home-grown style of community networks where one member of the community pays for a high-speed connection to the Internet, and then shares that connection with his or her neighbors through WiFi (Wireless LAN 802.11b). They simply extend the distance of the typical wireless LAN Access Points and cards with external antennas. Of course, you can always hunt down an empty can of Pringles to create a community network access point.

The small dish satellite TV folks have also started offering Internet access. Many of these offerings provide downlink speeds (stuff coming from the Internet) of nearly 1 Megabit per second. Uplinks, in many cases, are provided via a separate telephone line at 56k speeds. The assumption is that much of the traffic is coming from the Intenret. The landline helps make up for the delay it would take for keystrokes and mouseclicks to travel all the way up to the satellite and back to the Internet.

Mobile Wireless: Another form of wireless involves the ability to move just about anywhere, while still remaining connected to the Internet or your company Intranet. Mobile phones are also becoming portable Internet terminals, with content specifically designed to fit into those little windows. Apply that same principle to a PDA or laptop and imagine the possibilities! People are already using mobile Internet access although the speeds started out as somewhat painfully slow (compared to LAN connections). Further along the road is something known as 3G (Third Generation) which promises mobile speeds of 300 kbps and higher.

One company that came and went, offering high-speed wireless data access for mobile folks, plus quite a few folks who just wanted an alternative to DSL or Cable Modems, was Metricom. They offered a service called Ricochet. Unfortunately, they could not get the financials to work and went under last year (2001). Today, Aerie Networks has acquired all of Metricom's assets and is "lighting up" portions of the Ricochet network much to the excitement of the old subscribers. Read about the story in the San Jose Mercury News.

Personal Area Networks (PANs): The newest term, Personal Area Network (PAN) is being used when talking about very small area low-power radio transmission-based networking systems like Bluetooth. At 1 Megabit per second or below, with distance limits measured in feet (33 or so), and incredibly low power requirements, Bluetooth chips at under $5 a chip will soon be found in virtually every kind of technology imaginable. Soon your PDA, mobile phone, computer, desktop phone, and watch will all be able to share schedule and contact information just by being anywhere near each other! Walk into an airport lounge, power on your PDA and check out all the services available in the airport and get instant updates on your flight. The possibilities are endless! Check out some great presentations on Bluetooth technologies from Xilinx.

Lots of folks are concerned about security of Personal Area Networks. Here's a great story about a proposed standard for PAN security.

Integrating Both Mobile and Fixed: The hope is that a person will be able to eventually walk around with a machine (laptop, PDA, phone, etc.) and no matter where he or she is, there will always be a connection to "the net." Imagine that you power on your laptop at home in the morning, and check your e-mail from work. At that point, you have a wireless connection from your PC's wireless card connecting through a Residential Gateway inside your house. It connects to a fixed wireless gateway with an receiver outside your window, which connects your house to an antenna on a hill somewhere in town. Since you are connecting to the office, a Virtual Private Network connection is created so that you can securely access your company LAN and your email. Now, you jump in the car and start heading for work. Well, there's a traffic jam and you are not moving at all. Power on that laptop (after pulling off to the side of the road please) and start surfing the web using one of the nearby freeway antennas for your mobile connection. Finally, hours later, you get into the office and once again use that wireless card in your laptop to connect to the company network. Now, you're inside the office so no VPN is needed. Amazing? Can it happen? That's where standards like 802.11 come in. We have a link to a tutorial on that below. Some day, mobile and fixed wireless will help you stay connected no matter where you are!

In fact, we're so excited about the potential of Bluetooth wireless technologies that we put together a word scramble puzzle for you to try. Click here to launch it!

On The Air Commentary: We just finished this Real Audio recording on wireless LANs if you'd like to hear our latest On The Air commentary! (You may even find it humorous as well as informative.)

WKMN Goes Wireless!

We liked the idea of having wireless connectivity around the office so we went out and bought an ORiNOCO (Lucent) Residential Gateway and a Farallon SkyLine Wireless PC card. We decided to get these two products from different vendors to evaluate how true the claim of interoperability really was.

InterOperability? We learned that the products are interoperable, but, reading the directions for the gateway and the card when they arrived gave us quite a laugh! Basically, the gateway documentation said that in order to configure the gateway, you had to have at least one wireless PC card installed and running. The wireless PC card documentation said that in order to get it working, you had to already have a gateway installed and configured! It turned out that the only way to get the gateway configured, in our environment, was through the wired LAN connection (Ethernet). If you have both the card and gateway from the same vendor, there is a logical process for installation and configuration. The moral of the story? Buy your first card and gateway from the same vendor. After that, you can buy wireless cards from anyone who is 802.11 compliant (at least it worked for us).

Our Network: We have a 10/100 Linksys Ethernet switch connecting our wired Ethernet PCs to an IBM/Whistle InterJet router. The InterJet is connected to an Alcatel 1000 DSL modem which is then connected to our Pacific Bell DSL service. The ORiNOCO Residential Gateway is connected to our 10/100 switch. Since our InterJet performs both DHCP and NAT, we did not need these services from the Residential Gateway. For small offices and homes, the fact that the ORiNOCO Residential Gateway does DHCP and NAT and basic routing functions, makes it an incredibly good value.

A Few Hours: It took us a few hours to get the PC and the Gateway configured. We captured the process of doing that in three demonstrations you can check out below.

RG1000 and PPPoE. When we originally installed it, the RG1000 only supported PPPoE (Point to Point Over Ethernet) in "Transparent Bridge Mode" and therefore only supported one user at a time. Since we already had a DSL router and were only using the RG1000 for wireless connectivity into our existing LAN, this was not a problem for us. Orinoco has recently released a new version of their software with more robust PPPoE support.

SMC PPPoE

One of the folks who discovered our wireless web page wrote to let us know that he found a PPPoE product that works and he said "I installed a SMC7004 wireless LAN/Nat/Router/Firewall/Print Server today and it does indeed work on PPPoE (at least the BellSouth version)."

Thanks to Joe Mehaffey for that news!

Dan Bricklin built his home networking using the Linksys product. Visit his outstanding page on his network and 802.11b.

Farallon's Wireless Gateway which is slated to begin shipping in February 2001 will, according to their data sheet, provide full support for PPPoE. Visit their web page for more information.

Sniff, Sniff, How do I sniff it? Just the other day, someone on a newsgroup was lamenting that he had attached a network analyzer to his network and could not decode the wireless packets with it. For a network analyzer to participate in a wireless network, it has to be configured to be part of the wireless network, when using security, with the right WEP code (Wired Equivalent Privacy). Network Associates just released the first analyzer on the market that sniffs wireless LANs. Here's a link to the story.

   

Setting Up The ORiNOCO Residential Gateway

The first step in getting our network up and running was setting up our Residential Gateway. Use the control panel on the right to view a demonstration of the process we went through to set this up.

   

Setting Up The SkyLine Wireless Card and Software

Next, we installed a Farallon SkyLine wireless PC card in our laptop computer. Check out the process of loading the software and setting up the card to work with our Windows 98 system.

   

Configuring the SkyLine Wireless Card

Check out the process for getting the SkyLine card configured to work with the ORiNOCO Residential Gateway. Remember, it would have been an easier process if we had bought both the card and gateway from one vendor, but we wanted to see how easy/hard it would be if we didn't.

  

Additional Resources and Books:

Finding the right resource on protocols really depends on what you are trying to learn. There are so many books and on-line resources that they can boggle the mind! Here are just a few of my favorite book recommendations and links. If you are looking for something special, feel free to send us a quick email. We may be able to point you in the right direction!

We also now offer a comprehensive introduction to wireless
networking that has received rave reviews.
Check it out.

Wireless Communications and Networks by William Stallings

Ask any college student or IT professional which author commands the most bookshelf space and William Stallings will probably win. This is an in-depth book on wireless which is very up-to-date.

Buy this book now and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

Getting Started with Wireless Networks by Adam Engst, Glenn Fleishman

Step-by-step instructions delivered in easily digestible chunks make it easy to get your own network humming. Along the way you'll learn about security, sharing Internet connections among multiple computers, bridging two Ethernet networks, and more. And if you do run into trouble, there's a handy troubleshooting guide to answer your questions.

Buy this book now and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

HotSpot Networks: WiFi for Public Access Networks by Daniel Minoli

Daniel Minoli is a prolific author of fine, detailed, and comprehensive technical books. This one covers a very hot topic!

Buy this book now and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

Bluetooth Revealed
by Brent A. Miller, Chatschik Bisdikian

An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to know what Bluetooth is about, application scenarios, and the standards behind Bluetooth. If you're intending to learn about, build, deploy, or market Bluetooth products, this is the place to start.

Buy this book now (save 15%) and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

Essential Guide to RF and Wireless
by Carl J. Weisman

A good introductory book about RF and wireless engineering concepts written for a non-engineer.

Buy this book now (save 30%) and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

High-Speed Wireless ATM and LANs

A good overview of the technological issues associated with Wireless LANs.

Buy this book now and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

Wireless Lans: Implementing Interoperable Networks
by Jim Geier

Buy this book now and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.

   

Wireless Web Development
by Ray Rischpater

Learn about WML and HDML - the markup languages for wireless and handheld devices.

Buy this book now and we donate WKMN's proceeds to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Ecumenical Hunger Program.
   

Buy any wireless books through our partner Amazon, and we donate all our proceeds to food programs. Click below to check out Amazon's latest best sellers.

   

 

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