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Tech View
John Agsalud

Monday, June 20, 2005





Wi-Fi in Waikiki is a victim
of its own success

The recent brouhaha over Wi-Fi access in Waikiki is a clear indication that this technology is truly mature. As most of us know by know, Wi-Fi (short for wireless fidelity) networks provide data connections for computers without the need to be tethered to a cable.

The root of the problem in Waikiki, and in other areas, is that Wi-Fi networks nowadays all pretty much follow the 802.11g standard. One of the key tenets of this standard is that all Wi-Fi devices communicate at the same frequency -- 2.4 GHz, to be exact. Unlike radio stations, or private radio systems such as those used by the military or police, this is an unlicensed frequency. That simply means that any Tom, Dick or Harry can use this frequency for just about anything.

The founding fathers of Wi-Fi, while aware of this potential conflict, opted to use this frequency for several reasons. Chief among these is the amount of red tape you need to go through to obtain a licensed frequency.

It's interesting how things can change so quickly. When Wi-Fi networks first came out just a few years ago, the biggest fear was conflict between Wi-Fi and other technologies, such as cordless phones and even microwave ovens. Now the biggest problem is conflict with other Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi has become s a victim of its own success.

If you run a business or an IT department, however, don't let such conflict frighten you off. The problem in Waikiki is that there are lots of vendors competing for the same customer. Most of these vendors want everyone, regardless their location, to be able to access their services. If you are isolated to a single building, or even a campus-type environment, Wi-Fi networks can still be used effectively and without conflict.

The 802.11g standard supports 11 "channels" that your Wi-Fi gear can be set to. Most Wi-Fi network cards (and virtually every laptop sold today has a Wi-Fi network card) include utilities that allow you to determine if other Wi-Fi networks are reachable in your area, and if so, what channel they run on. So use a channel that your neighbors aren't.

Turn on the security feature! According to Tim Mondoy, an ISDI Systems Engineer "I truly cannot believe the number of non-secure wireless networks I come across in the field. If you're capable of setting up a wireless network, turning on security is a no-brainer." Both WEP, an older technology, or WPA, the current standard are more than adequate for most networks.

A somewhat more tedious, but still relatively simple security feature is MAC filtering. Simply put, a MAC filter prevents unknown Wi-Fi devices from accessing the network. If you have a large network, this can be somewhat of a pain, but it's pretty darn secure.

Because of the maturity of the 802.11g standard, interoperability between manufacturer's is virtually a non-issue. Popular inexpensive choices include Linksys (now owned by Cisco) and NetGear. For larger, more complex networks, Cisco is still your best bet.


John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail jagsalud@isdi-hi.com.



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