2004-10-05 20:51 - Tech
Wireless networking has gotten big recently. There's all sorts of different flavors. It started with B, then came A, then G. B and G are very close, but G is faster. A is just as fast as G, but it uses a different frequency. It's been some time since I started getting my feet wet in the wireless world, and here's my story.
My first experience was with a no name brand, Proxim. I got an ultra cheap access point and wireless card bundle off of eBay. It didn't work right. It turns out that the AP was actually a Japanese model, and in Japan the legally licensed frequencies are different than in the USA. That means that the card which was running USA frequencies couldn't talk to the AP. Somehow I eventually got the card talking japanese too. Technically, I was breaking the law. But not for long, as the performace was horrible. This was a unit that uses 802.11A, and as I said above, A operates on a different, higher, frequency.
I thought this was just great initially. A operates in the 5.4ghz range, B and G in the 2.4ghz range. Everything operates in the 2.4ghz range, it is a popular unlicensed band. Companies need not pay fees to the FCC to use it. I figured things would be less crowded up at 5.4ghz. Maybe they were, but physics bit me in the butt. A higher frequency means a shorter wavelength, and a shorter transmission distance. I could get a signal all the way down the hall, but as soon as I turned the corner to my bedroom, poof, zero signal. I never used that unit much.
Eventually, I got a Linksys WRT54G access point, which is capable of handling both B and G signals. I also got an expensive B only card that used two small external antennas and coverage was great! I could carry the laptop out to my bedroom, lounge in bed, and still have access to all my network and the internet as large. Aaaaah. I had chosen the WRT54G unit because it's a very special one, it is Linux based, so both powerful and "hackable." A number of unofficial firmwares are available for the unit. This is very good, as the default firmware does not work so well.
I started with the default factory firmware version 2.02. With this, my wireless connection would just plain disappear every once in a while, for a few minutes, or for many hours. I upgraded to official firmware version 2.04 and things got a little better, but the connection would still mysteriously drop every once in a while. Then I finally took the plunge and went to unofficial firmware.
I chose Satori v4.0 from Sveasoft. It took a while for me to finally install it, but I'm now glad I did. First off, it's hard to find documentation for it, or even the download! You can download Satori 4.0 here and you can find some good official sveasoft documentation here. Once you install it all sorts of new functionality are available on the router. You can boost the transmitting power to what I think is 4x the default value. There's also a lot more complex functionality built in. I don't use a lot of it, but there are some very nifty things. A big word of caution though, turn off "loopback" mode, which you'll find under administration. It took me a long time to find this page but it pointed that out to me, in short a few things including resolving names for windows networking is broken if you leave it on.
Best of all, I have a solid reliable wireless connection now!