Warp speed wireless

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1 April 2005 | 0

What’s so good about wireless? Well, first of all it’s fast now, with the latest 802.11g Wi-Fi standard offering transmission speeds up to 54Mbit/sec. As well as that, this technology gives you the freedom to move around with your laptop and access the Internet without
being tethered by cables to a fixed point.

Imagine this… In your workplace, armed with a new, Intel Centrino-powered portable from Toshiba you can roam from office to office and access your key business data wirelessly at speeds comparable to that of your office LAN. You can print directly to the network printer and send your presentations wirelessly to a projector so your colleagues and clients can view your work.

You can then walk outside the building with your laptop in hand and switch from your office’s Wi-Fi connection to a complementary cellular one such as GPRS or 3G provided by the mobile operators O2 or Vodafone. Both companies offer these data services via a PC
card which slots into the side of your laptop and through which you can access the Internet at speeds between 28Kbit/sec and 200Kbit/sec.

Popping into a café, hotel or train station, you can log off your GPRS or 3G connection and switch to a Wi-Fi network if there is an access point available — and increasingly, there is. With this password-protected connection, you can log back on to your office server and with true multimedia capability, create a virtual, moving office from where you can ‘Net conference’ with colleagues and clients, transfer high-resolution documents and get rapid access to your e-mail and web content. When finally you arrive home, you can finish off your work on your laptop in front of the TV and send it to whomever needs it courtesy of a wireless home network.

Connected through Centrino
Welcome to the world of wireless computing. Thanks to Intel’s decision to integrate wireless connectivity in one unit with a low-power microprocessor and chipset, under the brand name Centrino, notebook manufacturers such as Toshiba can now build slim notebooks with longer battery lives and the ability to connect to wireless networks.

Centrino-powered notebooks are facilitating an ‘always on’ and connected experience —  between home and office wireless networks, mobile data networks and public hotspots. The user retains the flexibility to choose how they connect to the Internet and access their business data. Toshiba has also added a set of software utilities to its notebooks that makes it a snap for the business PC user to connect to wireless networks, and switch from one to another just as easily.

ConfigFree comes pre-installed on the company’s Tecra and Portege series of notebooks, and allows the user to set up different profiles for different wireless connections. The software also provides a Wi-Fi locator which will pick up all available networks in the area
— this is very useful for a visitor to a foreign city looking to find a hotspot to get Internet access.

Troubleshooting Wireless
Wireless can keep you continuously connected to your office and your information but it isn’t a perfect technology yet. Coverage for GPRS and 3G signals over mobile networks can be weak or even non-existent in certain rural areas. Although 802.11g is the fastest
standard available with transmission speeds up to 54Mbit/sec, it is only supported by the latest Wi-Fi devices. Older ones support the slower a and b standards. The former is really slow at only 11Mbit/sec and the b standard is not much better at 22Mbit/sec.

The latest Toshiba wireless notebooks support both 802.11b and g, with b being the most widely available standard. To ensure that you get the fastest speeds from wireless, you should ensure that all the equipment you are using is from the same manufacturer and that it all supports the g or at least the b standard. If you mix and match a, b and g devices on your network, every one of them will work at the lowest transmission speed of less than 11Mbit/sec and your investment in the faster equipment will have been a total waste of
money.

 

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Wi-Fi wireless networks can be affected by physical obstacles and by interference from a neighbouring wireless network. Again, Toshiba provides a diagnostic utility in ConfigFree that helps the user troubleshoot their wireless connections and solve problems.
Common problems encountered with wireless networks include: slow speeds and dead zones; Windows glitches that prevent you connecting; interference that jams your network; and security gaps that leave your wireless connection and your important data
vulnerable to tech-savvy thieves and snoops. But they can be solved with a little patience and by using the tips shown below.

A notebook can speak to a wireless network within a range of 100 metres. You won’t be able to do much about interference caused by interior walls, floors or people walking around or sitting at their desks. In these situations, it can help if you move your gateway — the wireless access point that connects you to the network — to the most advantageous spot.

If you encounter a dead spot — a place where you should be able to use your notebook wirelessly but can’t — you should do a signal check. The problem could be solved by simply moving a chair or table in the room. If you have set up a Wi-Fi network in the home and are having problems with the signals, check the antennas on your wireless equipment; it could be that they are facing a wall or a
ceiling and sending their signal that way.

Make it secure
When you are using technology in business, securing your data is critical and wireless networks are no exception. When you are transmitting data through the air, you need to ensure that the network that carries it allows encryption. The mobile operators offer
bullet-proof security when you are using GPRS or 3G but often with a wireless network, the responsibility falls back on you or your company to manage it.

Early on, Wi-Fi earned a reputation as an insecure technology to link machines in a network because the first devices used the leaky WEP encryption, which allowed a hacker to do a statistical analysis of the network packets and easily decrypt the passphrase. Now, your first line of defence against outsiders who try and access your wireless network is to make sure that it is equipped with Wi-Fi Protected Access rather than WEP. WPA fixes all the broken parts of WEP, and it comes built in on any Wi-Fi certified device released since
September 2003. All of the latest Toshiba Centrino notebooks support WPA but make sure to ask your supplier for this feature before you buy. When you use WPA, you protect your network with a passphrase (a longish password, from eight to 63 characters in length.) You enter the paraphrase into a WPA configuration page on your gateway; thereafter, anyone who wants to connect enters the same paraphrase into the Wi-Fi card settings. Without the paraphrase, they cannot connect.

The MAC address is also an important feature on any piece of hardware. Every Wi-Fi device will have an assigned network identifier which the network administrator can use to assign network access to an individual device. It’s a great way of ensuring that only those laptops that should be on your company wireless network are getting access. MAC addressing creates an ‘unfriendly’ wireless network and makes for unsuitable security for hotspots that offer public Wi-Fi access.

Remember, if you are paranoid about security, Toshiba wireless notebooks offer a hardware switch which allows you to disable your wireless signal at any time. With Wi-Fi, you are broadcasting a signal and this can be detected by a hacker, so take the proper security precautions to protect your privacy, your bandwidth and your sensitive data.

Jargon buster
Wi-Fi — Short for wireless fidelity and is meant to be used generically when referring of
any type of 802.11 network, whether 802.11b, 802.11a, or the fastest 802.11g.

802.11a – The oldest and slowest Wi-Fi standard offering transmission speeds of up to
11Mbit/sec.

802.11b – The most widespread Wi-Fi standard offering transmission speeds of up to
22Mbit/sec.

802.11g – The latest Wi-Fi standard offering transmission speeds of up to 108Mbit/sec.

WEP – Older wireless security encryption which is highly insecure.

WPA – Wi-Fi Protected Access is a highly secure wireless encryption standard.

GPRS — Short for General Packet Radio Service, a standard for wireless communications which runs at speeds up to 115Kbit/sec.

3G — Third generation of mobile communications technology. 3G promises increased bandwidth, up to 384Kbit/sec when a device is stationary or moving at pedestrian speed, 128bit/sec in a car.

Centrino – Intel brand name for a combination of a low power microprocessor with integrated LAN capability and chipset. It provides mobile users with a light laptop that has a long life battery and is always connected to the user’s networks wirelessly.

Bluetooth – Short distance wireless networking between personal devices over a range of 10 metres.

26/10/04

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