Working with 'WiFi' (wireless networking)

Question

I purchased a laptop that came with its own wireless networking card, but I can't seem to get it to work with my office network no matter what I try. Can you help?

- Chad

Answer

This question was answered on August 26, 2002. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

More and more of today's computing devices are starting to come with a built-in or optional wireless networking interface (often referred to as 'WiFi') There are several standards for wireless networking that all start with 802.11 and end with a letter such as b, a, or g

Since engineers at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) developed and named the standards, it can be very confusing for the general public to figure out which is what.

802.11b is the most common, least expensive and slowest of the current offerings, which is why it is the most likely type to be included with the current crop of laptops.

802.11a is a faster, more expensive standard that broadcasts at a higher frequency and is, in most cases, not compatible with 802.11b transmitters or 'access points' If either you or your office has version 'a' and the other has 'b', you may not be able to make them work together

802.11g is a fairly new standard (as of this writing, very little is available using this standard) and is basically designed to run at higher speeds like the 'a' standard but uses the same frequency as

the 'b' standard which is supposed to help with backward compatibility as things move forward.

As if that was not confusing enough, the various levels of security that can be implemented by various manufacturers will have a major bearing on whether you will be able to connect to your office network.

The security protocol that is part of the 802.11 standard is called WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) but different manufacturers have created proprietary security protocols for their equipment in order to do a better job with security This, of course, will cause major

compatibility problems if you try to use devices from two different manufacturers In other words, you may have to install (in your new laptop) the same brand of card as your office network if your system administrator invoked a brand specific security scheme.

Even though 802.11 is a standard, what is added to it by the various manufacturers is not, so the only time mixing brands on the same network works easily is when there is no security in place.

Since a wireless network with no security is not an option on a business network, you will need to check with your system administrator to see what type of security has been implemented in order to be able to connect to the network.

If you don?t have a system administrator and must build the network yourself, the easiest way is to make sure that all of the wireless networking devices work together is to buy the same standard (a, b, g, etc.) and most importantly, from the same manufacturer.

For anyone else contemplating the purchase of a new computing device for use on a wireless network, be sure to do your homework Be sure to contact the manufacturer to determine the brand and type of the built-in device before buying, so you won't be forced to disable it (if it is

even possible) and install a completely different interface.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on August 26, 2002