WTF has my Wi-Fi network gone?
WLAN standard reaching its limits?
Hardware Headaches I own a Linksys WRT54G wireless router, and in the four years I've had it, I've connected it to two Macs, two PCs, a Nintendo Wii and a host of handhelds. It's been a joy to use, more so than the Proxim box I used to own. Until now. Over the last month or so, it's begun to drop connections randomly and without warning. Parts of my home once in reach of its transmitter have mysteriously become dead zones...
Judging from the activity in a number of Mac-centric online forums, my experience is shared by many Wi-Fi users and owners of a wide array of access points from almost every vendor. To fellow sufferers trying desperately to connect with a Mac, I'd point out that PCs are no better, sometimes worse if you use Windows XP itself to connect rather than third-party tools like the utility Intel ships with its wireless products.
Netgear rather kindly passed one of its travel wireless routers my way, a smart, easy-to-use way to share a broadband internet connection when you're out and about. I tried it at home in place of the Linksys box, but the results were the same: excellent coverage and connectivity most of the time spoiled by unexplained link losses.
Now, when I installed the WRT54G, it detected maybe four nearby WLANs. When I put the Proxim in there weren't any at all. Now, the number's up to eight. A new one, clearly maintained by an Apple AirPort Extreme base-station, appeared for the first time last night. All this in a fairly typical London street.
I started out on Channel 1, moving to Channel 11 when I installed the Linksys. I upgraded from WEP to WPA at the same time. Since then, I've shifted to Channel 6. While most other WLANs are using 1 or 11, more are starting to use 6 as their owners perceive they may get a less crowded frequency. The open source tool iStumbler reveals just how busy the 2.4GHz band is becoming around me.
So what's the problem? What's causing me to (metaphorically speaking) tear out my hair trying to figure out what's going on, and making my other half loudly complain (literally) that she has a crucial deadline to meet and can't connect to send email?
The weight of similar stories posted online suggests my circumstances are in no way uncommon. So what do we have here? Is the Wi-Fi standard simply incapable of coping with a certain density of access points at a given location? Is there an issue with the longevity of the hardware? Are pre-802.11n products indeed hindering the ability for older 802.11b and 802.11g hardware from connecting correctly?
Whatever the problem, users have a case the Wi-Fi vendors and standards-setters must answer. We're clearly running up to the limits of the technology, not in terms of data throughput speeds, but how many WLANs can co-exist and still operate efficiently. If they don't they're in serious danger of badly disappointing consumers who've either splashed out on new wireless hardware or been led to believe it's the best thing since sliced bread by service providers.
I'm in Wi-Fi range of more than eight houses and apartments, and if the adoption of domestic WLANs continues at the current rate, no one's going to be able to connect soon. Wi-Fi has gone beyond early adopters like me as ISPs and TV services have pitched wireless networking to consumers, all on the assumption that the user will be the only one with a WLAN in the vicinity.
It's only going to get worse, as more folk are encouraged to use wireless technology to pump HD content around the home.
Maybe I should ditch all this wireless kit and start plugging in powerline Ethernet adaptors - like the ones offered by Netgear and Devolo - around my home. I lose the freedom of movement wireless provides, but at least I'll be sure of a connection.
Hardware Headaches of your own? Then let us know