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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Review Broadband is the future of home and small business Internet access - the difference between slow dial-up and fast always-on speeds differentiating those that can from those that can't. Better still, stick a wireless ADSL router on the end of your Broadband connection, then not only do you get fixed line access, but also wireless access all behind a firewall. In my case, I've just been implementing the 3COM Office Connect ADSL wireless 11g Firewall Router: so how does it measure up?

How hard can it be to get this little box to do the business? OK – Let’s start at the beginning – way before we even get to putting the 3Com box in place. Through my trusty ISP I ordered my ADSL connection. All seemed to be going well it estimates that it should be installed and fully functioning seven – ten days after ordering.

Three days after ordering, my phone line goes dead - BT apologises and suggests it might be something to do with its ADSL commissioning. In the meantime it will redirect all calls to my mobile phone – free. Four hours later I am still not receiving diverted calls and my phone is still dead. BT apologises again, and explains that the engineer must have forgotten to reapply the divert after testing the line. Unfortunately it can’t fix the problem today but will try to fix it within two working days of the fault report, which will be Monday.

The weekend comes and goes, then as promised the BT engineer turns up first thing Monday morning. Two visits later and my telephone is restored and the broadband connection is apparently on. Now the complicated stuff is resolved it should all be fairly simple to get it all working - surely? Now we get to the fun bit – the 3Com ADSL router/ firewall/ wireless access point.

After a final check I try to connect again, and it works - my desktop PC can surf the Web at broadband speeds over my wired Ethernet connection. All I need to do now is configure my Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook Tablet PC to use a wireless LAN connection. You would expect it to be a little harder than just plugging the cable in, but not that much harder; so little did I know.

Security guards

Having spent a little time reading up on wireless network security, it seems to me that wireless security is still relative, rather than absolute. Apparently, hiding your SSID and using MAC address filtering is not much of a deterrent to the determined hacker. And all things being equal, WEP of any security level can be cracked in about an hour with the right kit. Since WPA as yet has not been cracked (apparently) you have to wonder why the Wi-Fi Alliance is releasing WPA version 2 later this year.

With this in mind I dutifully setup my router with WPA-PSK encryption. Next, I go to the laptop to enter my ‘shared secret’, except it only supports WEP. Thinking WEP is better than nothing, I downgrade the router encryption to WEP 128bit, back to the laptop and now I’m told my key is too long. Once again, back to the router and downgrade to WEP 64bit encryption, back to the laptop and at last it works.

Satisfied that this is at least vaguely secure I start to appreciate the benefits of wireless computing. Except... every five minutes or so, Windows (in its infinite wisdom) offers to switch my wireless connection between my router and my neighbour's. Of course, while I can see my neighbour's connection I am unable to use it. So every 5 five minutes, Windows suspends my connection while I make a decision on which network to use.

While reviewing what to do about this, I decide to pursue this WPA business again.

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