Monday, October 16, 2006

Wireless working

We’ve been working away on our laptops in a wireless environment for about three years. Everyone can access the wireless router and get on to the Internet, and everyone can share files. Because of our Macintosh heritage we still talk about “Transfer” files rather than “SharedDocs” in “My Network Places” – but that’s just us!

Obviously, all the new laptops come with wireless technology – either on the chip or on-board somehow, whereas our older ones have dongles hanging off the back to access the wireless network. The problem with our office is that we have walls!! You might have come across this problem yourself with your office. So suddenly the predicted distance doesn’t match with reality! In the past, we’d overcome this problem by using two metres of USB cable. One end attached to the USB port on the laptop, the other end hung down the stairs to with the wireless dongle attached. The result was that everything worked nicely – and no-one bumped into the hanging cable (so no need to start on Health & Safety issues).

We recently got our hands on the Netgear wall-plugged wireless range extender kit. This is clever piece of technology that makes use of the wired network found in every building – the electricity supply. In fact, it works in a similar way to some baby listening devices in that one “plug” is put in the wall socket in one room and another “plug” is put in the wall socket in a different room. For baby listening devices, one plug is put in the baby’s bedroom and the other is put in the kitchen or lounge, or wherever the parents are going to be. With Netgear’s extender kit, one end is plugged into a socket and also into the router, the other end is put in a socket in whichever room it’s needed. The wireless technology in the laptop talks to the ‘plug’, which relays it round the building using the cabling. The ‘plug’ at the other end then talks to the router. And, of course, the whole process can work in reverse – pages from the Internet (or whatever) pass from the router to the first plug, round the cables, out the second plug and wirelessly into the laptop.

Obviously it isn’t quite that simple, there’s a little bit of setting up to do. Luckily, the CD that comes with the extender kit runs a small program that makes everything work. The total set up time is about ten minutes – allowing time to read the simple instructions and run through the program. It’s simple enough for a novice to do. The signal can be encrypted in the usual way, so you’re not setting up a wifi hotspot for other people to make use of. The two plugs are different – one has an Ethernet cable connection so you can connect to the router (XE102), and the other one doesn’t (WGX102). Our IT people also tried using the plugs through extension leads – which it says in the instructions not to, and we still found that the connection worked. I assume that the data transfer rate would be lower going through an extension lead, but we never actually tested that. It seemed OK at displaying Web pages – that was our test!

Of course Netgear aren’t the only people selling this kind of extension kit, there’s similar products from Devolo, eConnect, and Solwise. We just tested and used Netgear’s product and found it to be very useful. If you’ve got problems with walls or distance, then this is a very easy solution to the problem - which is why I thought I'd pass it on.

In a future blog I hope to look at some hints and tips for improving CICS performance. If you have any that you’d like to share with the wider CICS community then drop an e-mail to TrevorE@xephon.com.

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