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Troubleshoot and extend cheap Wi-Fi gear

Get those Christmas gifts working right.

Article comments

Sure, you're network IT professionals. But the problems you solve at work are nothing like those you face at home. Here, solutions must be inexpensive, easy to manage and quick to implement. Here are solutions to two tough wireless problems that recently landed in my in-box.

Getting WEP to work
If encryption is standards-based, then why can't I get a Netgear wireless router to connect with a Dell laptop with an Intel mini-PCI wireless adapter using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)? Products are all from big name companies. Netgear blames Dell, Dell blames Intel, and Intel doesn't care because Dell's providing support.
- Herman V.

WEP doesn't always work because vendors read the specifications in different ways. Things are getting better, but the trouble is that soon you'll upgrade your gear to Wi-Fi Protected Access and suffer the same problems all over again.

One option is to put upgrades to your wireless gear on your Christmas list. But because you paid for these products and rightfully expect them to work, try this:

  • Reduce the distance between router and laptop.
  • Upgrade laptop drivers.
  • Upgrade access point drivers.
  • Input the WEP key manually and use the same case on both systems.
  • Put a dollar sign ($) in front of the WEP key on the Dell.
  • Set the Maximum Transmission Unit size to 1450 (find it on the Advanced WAN Setup page).
  • Replace router with the same model.
  • Replace the mini-PC laptop adapter.
  • Have the retailer set up and test router encryption.

Getting wireless to the next building cheaply
I need to work from a vacation home without a landline. A neighbour with DSL will let me connect to his wireless net. At 300 feet, is it feasible?
- Matt H.

Yes, but you're right at the edge of the distance limitation for 802.11b and 802.11g, and too far away for 802.11a. But there are ways to boost the signal.

Have your neighbour put the access point/router in a window closest to you. Devices with dual antennas get better reception, so consider offering to upgrade the unit. If the router can't be moved, buy a radio frequency cable from an electronics store to extend the antenna to the window or check out optional antennas for home use.

All Wi-Fi vendors offer boosters and optional antennas, but D-Link Systems has the best selection I've seen.

If you need to buy new gear, products that transmit more power get better range. SMC released a "High Power" series of PC Cards and USB adapters last year that transmit up to 200 milliWatts, four times higher than average gear [these should be presumed to contravene the 100mW limit defined by Ofcom in the UK - Editor]. Ask vendors for mW settings when buying equipment. They don't make this info easy to find, so be persistent.


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