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banner Monday, 11 March, 2002, 11:21 GMT
Wires are for wimps
A wireless home, BBC
test hello test
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent
line
Why not go the whole hog and make your home a wireless techno-hub? Shouldn't be too difficult, right?
Good news. Telewest was going to be connecting me up to its Blueyonder broadband net service in a couple of weeks.

Bad news. My home PC sits in lordly isolation upstairs and I didn't want to festoon my house with wires running Telewest's cable all the way through to the spare bedroom.

Worse news. Nor did my wife, whose hatred of cables is matched only by her strong feelings for those who forget birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other significant dates.

There was no other solution: I had to go wireless.

Radio gewgaw

Surely, I reasoned, the best way to avoid trailing cables around your home was to have none.

First step in creating this wireless wonder was to buy the devices that would make up the network.

What it cost
Wireless hub - 160
Wireless network cards - 152
Network card - 30
Firewall - free
Total - 342
I needed a hub to act as a linking centre for the machines I'm networking, plus one wireless network card for each computer.

What complicates matters is that Telewest, like almost all Britain's broadband net suppliers, does not support home networks.

It insists on installing the broadband link to a single PC, using cables and a traditional, non-wireless, network card. My dreams of using wireless from the get-go were stalling.

To get around this I bought a Netgear network hub that links together PCs using wired or wireless links.

I was hoping that I could set everything up with wires, and then convert it to radio once it was working.

Usefully the Netgear hub I chose is also a router and so acts as a basic firewall that should protect me from some of the hack attacks becoming common on the web.

Pavement drama

The big day arrived and I moved the PC downstairs so the engineers could easily wire it up for broadband.

The Telewest engineers turned up at 10am, only to drive away a few minutes later after telling me that I don't have an access point outside my house.

Two hours later more men turned up, dug up the pavement, installed an access point and drove away.

radio antenna, BBC
Now that's what I call a wireless net
Towards the end of the day the original engineers reappeared and were soon drilling holes in walls and burying the broadband cable in the lawn. Two hours later and my web connection was blisteringly fast.

But now I had only two hours left to get the wireless link working and put the house back to rights. It started well.

I turned everything off, connected the cable modem to the Netgear hub and then linked that to my PC. Everything worked.

Networks and notworks

Flushed with my success I replaced the network card in the PC with a wireless one. I also installed one in an old laptop that I wanted to use as a portable web terminal.

I turned everything back on and although it all worked, my surfing speed had slowed to a crawl.

The radio connection between the PC, laptop and hub were fine and I could talk to the router and cable modem.

I went back to just wires and now nothing worked. I couldn't even call up the diagnostic pages for the hub or cable modem.

In less than an hour my wife would be home, and I was back where I started.

Disaster.

I went back over everything and realised I put the wire from the cable modem into the wrong socket on the hub. I connected them correctly and it all worked again.

listening to the wireless, BBC
No, not that sort of wireless
I quickly scouted around the web for advice and realised where I was going wrong.

Although Telewest does not approve of home networks, it will let customers register the identifying numbers, called MAC addresses, of up to five different network cards.

I found the relevant identifiers for the wireless cards and, using the DIY section of the Telewest website, let it know I wanted to use them.

Cost equation

With my heart beating and the clock ticking I turned everything off, put the wireless card back in the PC and tried again.

It didn't work. But when I tried the laptop it flew along.

I fiddled with the PC's settings to reassure it that it only had one network card onboard, restarted it and it worked too. Hurrah.

I did some last minute tidying, put the hub and cable modem out of sight and moved the PC back upstairs.

With my remaining few minutes I downloaded a firewall, and checked on Steve Gibson's website to ensure my PC was basically secure.

Now we effectively have net links all over the house and even my wife has become a fan.

She's taken to surfing the web with the laptop when there's nothing worth watching on TV. The fact that there is not a cable in sight makes her happier still.

All I've got to do now is tell her how much it cost.

See also:

17 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers take to the air
26 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Which broadband technology will win?
31 May 99 | Sci/Tech
Network computing comes home
31 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers to the honey
22 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Fighting zombie machines
19 Nov 01 | dot life
Is broadband working?
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