Sunday, May 13, 2007

To Wireless or Not to Wireless?

Wireless Networking… A popular buzzword used nowadays. People seldom know the details, but all wish to jump onto the bandwagon. It's accessible, convenient, and the price is reasonable. However, you should weigh the options carefully before jumping blindly. 8*) Let me first introduce the few standards of wireless networking, and I'll say a little on wireless security.

This popular standard has been around the longest and it's well supported and stable. Theoretically, it could reach speeds of up to 11 mega bits per second (Mbps). However, the speed is usually at around 4Mbps, due to interference from the surroundings. The range is around 300ft.

What are the disadvantages of using this standard? 802.11B uses the 2.4 GHz frequency range. The reason I mentioned this frequency range is because your cordless phones (Not all, but most), and microwave ovens are also using the same frequency. I guess you better think twice before implementing this standard if you have a lot of cordless phones, as it might result in you not able to connect to the wireless network. The next disadvantage will be security. This standard has been around the longest, so there are multiple tools available that is used to hack into this network.

This standard, which was finally standardized at around June 2003, is fast gaining in popularity as this standard is backward compatible with 802.11B, and the speed reaches up to 54 Mbps. Therefore, if you have a current 802.11B network in place, you could gradually phase out your network and use a mixture of 802.11B and 802.11G devices.

What are the disadvantages of using this standard? 802.11G uses the same frequency as 802.11B. Therefore, the disadvantages of 802.11B are also "inherited". In addition, it has a shorter range than 802.11B. I believe its around 200ft. Recently, there are also articles suggesting that if one of the 802.11G network users is using a slower network card (eg: 802.11B), it will pull down the speeds of all the rest of the users…

This standard was introduced after 802.11B, but before 802.11G. However, it did not really reach widespread popularity. One of the reasons may be because it is not compatible with 802.11B (or 802.11G). It is however, quite fast, with speeds of up to 54Mbps. It seems that you're also able to combine frequency channels to achieve speeds of up to 72Mbps. Of course, you will never reach those speeds. But even if you divide it by half, it's still relatively fast. It also uses a different frequency range, 5.8 GHz. As a result, there are fewer devices that will interfere with the network, and there are also fewer hacking tools designed to exploit this network standard.

What are the disadvantages of using this standard? There's no backward compatibility with the standards above due to the different frequency band. Hmm… That's about what I can think of for now. 8*p


802.11n uses a technology called multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), a signal processing and smart antenna technique for transmitting multiple data streams through multiple antennas. The result is up to five times the performance and up to twice the range compared to the earlier 802.11g standard. However, one has to take note that this is for pure 802.11n standard. Once you make it backward compatible with the other older standards, the speed and range will be reduced.

Currently, all the products now are all based on Draft specifications. Draft 2.0 is currently the latest draft. The latest Mac, Buffalo, Linksys, D-Link line of Wireless routers/adapters currently do have 802.11N line of products. All are firmware upgradeable. Meaning that once the specification is confirmed, all you need is to flash the firmware.

Note that if you're uncomfortable with flashing firmwares, it'll be wise not to get the 802.11n routers until the specifications have been fixed.

Security has always been the issue for Wi-Fi devices. It's relatively easy to hack into it as the devices' default settings are usually configured for optimal accessibility, not security. Enabling the security options will also reduce the speed of the network. Why do you need security? Unlike wired networks, it's easy to access the network as long as you're within range of the antennas. Even your neighbor could start using your broadband connection just by owning a wireless network card. Using an in-secure network might also result in difficulties in connecting to the network, or even encourage the use of your network to attack other networks. Here are a few tips in protecting your wireless network.

  • Antenna placement is quite important. The wireless access point should be placed in the middle of the area you want covered. Signals leaking out of the area should be minimized. Pointing the antenna straight up will lead to an even distribution of signals. Pointing it to a specific direction will increase the signal for that particular direction.
  • Many people has disabled the Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) as it affects the speed of the network. Although the WEP encryption is weak, it is still better than nothing. This basic encryption will render your data transmissions unreadable, at the cost of a reduction in speed. Currently, the recommendation will be using WPA and WPA2 encryption. It was noted that an alphanumeric password of 10 characters and above takes more than 10 years to crack. I will not talk about EAP, LEAP, PEAP and all those stuff. :)
  • The service set identifier (SSID) of your wireless access point is used to identify your point to initiate connections. SSID is usually set by the manufacturer and there's a default SSID used by different manufacturers. Hackers could easily hack into these networks by using these default SSIDs. Therefore, you should change the SSID to a unique number, and disable the broadcast of the SSID to minimize these situations.
  • Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP) is most popularly used as it promotes accessibility. However, this is not ideal for a wireless network. If possible, disable it, or control it by allocation a certain IP address to a certain MAC address, and restricting the number of IP addresses it issues. The safest deal will be to disable it totally and configuring your computers manually to access the network.

Hope that this article helps you in understanding wireless networks. The convenience is tempting, but still, weigh the advantages and disadvantages before choosing the type of network to use. Have fun…

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