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Getting Started with Wireless Network Technology



Part II: Connecting a Wireless Laptop or Notebook PC to a Wired PC Network


Mike Angelo -- 19 December 2001 (c)


Wireless Network Technology Makes Your Laptop or Notebook Fully Mobile


Editors's Note: In Part I, A Simple Wireless Computer Connection for Home, Office, or School, we connected (networked) a notebook PC to a desktop PC without using any wires -- a two-computer wireless network connection. Today, we connect a wireless laptop or notebook computer to an existing, wired, Ethernet network.


Do you have a wireless local area network (LAN) connection for your laptop or notebook computer? If not, you are not realizing the full mobility and convenience of that laptop or notebook computer.

Chances are that you drag your laptop or notebook computer from place to place in your home, office, or school environment. Chances are that there is an existing wired network at your home, office, or school environment. And it's likely that wired network is an Ethernet network.

Without a wireless network connection for your notebook or laptop computer, you must plug that portable computer into the wired LAN and then unplug it every time you move around with it -- if you want to have it connected to your LAN. Even worse, you might not have network cabling every place in your home, office, or school environment where you might like to use your laptop or notebook computer.

In like manner, you might not be able to plug your laptop or notebook computer into a modem for Internet access every place in your home, office, or school environment where you might like to use your laptop or notebook computer. Or, you might have to disconnect and then re-connect to the Internet every time you drag your laptop or notebook from one place to another.

What It Takes to Make the Connection

If you are a computer or networking novice, you might want to read Some Basics for Computing & Networking Novices before reading on here. That should help to get you up to speed about networking

All it takes to go wireless with your laptop or notebook computer is a wireless network PCMCIA card for the laptop or notebook computer and a wireless access point to bridge from the wireless network PC Card on your laptop or notebook computer to your wired network computers. These wireless network adapters and access points are very easy to install.

Neat Things You Can Do with a Wireless Connection to a Wired Network

Note: Please be careful not to confuse a local wireless network with a direct radio connection to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The sort of local wireless network discussed in this article has a radio range of only a few hundred feet or less and is meant for within-building use.

Once you have installed the wireless PC Card and wireless access point, you can take your laptop or notebook computer any place within range of the access point and remain connected to your wired LAN. Moreover, if you gain laptop or notebook computer access to the Internet via your LAN, your laptop or notebook computer remains connected to the Internet too as you move about with it. The combination of the wireless PC card plus the wireless access point is what makes your laptop or notebook computer a truly portable computer.

In the home this usually means you can be connected to your home wired-LAN and to the Internet whether you have your laptop or notebook computer in the den, living room, dinning room, kitchen, bedroom, home office, or just about any place in the home. You can move yourself and your laptop or notebook from one chair to another chair, to a couch, or even to your bed -- without ever losing your wired LAN connection or your Internet connection -- and all without ever having to plug or unplug a network cable or a modem cable.

Similarly, at the office you can move yourself and your wireless laptop or notebook computer from one desk to another desk, from your desk to a conference table, or from your office or cubicle to another office or cubicle -- and all without ever having to plug or unplug a network cable. The true mobility and freedom to move about with a wireless laptop or notebook computer that can access your wired LAN is amazing. Once you try it you likely will wonder how you ever managed without a wireless laptop or notebook computer connection to your wired network.

Wireless network devices use low power, line-of-sight, radio signals to communicate with each other. The radio signal power diminishes rapidly as the distance between two communicating wireless network devices increases -- even if there is nothing in-between the wireless devices. If you are more-technically oriented, you might recall the inverse square law -- that law governs the reduction of radio-signal strength in the best of radio transmission circumstances.

If there are any walls, ceilings, or other obstructions in-between the wireless devices, they will further degrade the radio-signal strength. Metal or concrete walls and obstructions will degrade the radio-signal strength more than plaster or wood will degrade the signal -- and the thicker the obstruction, the greater the signal-strength reduction.

Wireless network devices use low power radio signals to communicate with each other. Depending on radio range factors, you even can take your wireless equipped laptop outside and still be connected to your wired LAN and to the Internet. (Please see the sidebar to the right.)

How We Made the Wireless Notebook to Wired Network Connection

We already had a nice, hard-wired, 10/100-Mbps Ethernet LAN that runs very well. It has both Linux and Windows boxes. The LAN is connected to the Internet via a machine running Windows 98 SE and Windows ICS (Internet Connection Sharing).

In order to do the legwork for this story we installed a Proxim Skyline 802.11b PC Card for Notebooks to a Hewlett Packard OmniBook 6000 notebook computer running Microsoft Windows 2000. We also plugged a Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway into the existing Ethernet LAN -- as a bridge (access point) rather than as a gateway.

It works slick! No more Ethernet cable to plug in or unplug every time the HP Omnibook 6000 is moved from place to place within range of the wireless access point. With the wireless PC Card installed, the notebook is a 100% mobile computer. (Until it is time for a recharge, that is.)

About Access Points

The key to accessing a wired network with a wireless laptop or notebook computer is an access point (AP) device. A simple wireless networking access point is merely a radio receiver and transmitter (transceiver) that plugs into a wired network.

The simple access point is much like a wired Ethernet hub or switch that lets you uplink wireless network devices to a wired network. Hubs and switches are the special central electronic junction boxes where you plug in the network cables from the computers.

Wireless access points are merely radio-transceiver base-stations that bridge between wireless network devices and hard-wired networks. Generally, wireless access points are computer-platform independent.

Access points do not care if you have Linux, Macintosh OS, or Microsoft Windows based computers attached to your hard-wired Ethernet. Nor do they care if you have Linux, Macintosh OS, or Microsoft Windows based computers using wireless network interfaces. In a sense you can think of access points as cross-platform (XP) or platform-independent network devices.

That should not be so surprising. Access points play much the same role in a network that hubs and switches play. Network hubs and switches function independently of the operating systems (OSs) that drive the computers attached to the network. Likewise, access points generally function independently of the OSs that drive the computers attached to the network. (Continued on Page 2.)




Copyright 2000, 2001 -- MozillaQuest -- Brodheadsville, Pa..USA -- All Rights Reserved


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