Wireless networking kit

WRT54G Wireless-G Router, WPC54G PC Card

For the uninitiated, ‘G’ in these new Linksys products stands for the latest IEEE wireless specification, 802.11g.

The well-established 802.11b stand­ard, otherwise known as Wi-Fi, offers a maximum speed of 11Mbps and broadcasts at 2.4GHz. For broadband Internet access and simple file sharing this is plenty of bandwidth.

This improved with the recent release of 802.11a, which offers a maximum speed of 54Mbps and broadcasts at 5GHz. The down side is that it isn’t backwardly compatible with 802.11b. Hard on its heels comes 802.11g, aka 54-G. This also offers a maximum speed of 54Mbps but operates at 2.4GHz and so is backwardly compatible with Wi-Fi — at least, it is in theory.

Until 54-G is formally ratified, there can be no guarantees about 802.11b and 802.11g interoperability. The ultimate brow soother, however, is the presence of the Wi-Fi badge, which ensures compatibility and compliance, though at the moment that badge is a relatively rare sighting.

Linksys’s first 54-G offerings are based on an initial draft of the 802.11g standard. These early devices find themselves in the same boat as pre-V.90 56Kbps modems — until the V.90 format was ratified, there were significant interoperability issues. However, like early 56Kbps modems, all 54-G devices are firmware upgradable, which means they can eventually be made fully 802.11g-compliant when the time comes.

At the front, the Wireless-G Router is festooned with bright status LEDs, while the rear of the case features four 10/100Mbps autosensing Ethernet ports plus an extra one for your wireless Internet connection and two adjustable rubber antennas.

Linksys has simplified install­ation. The setup wizard checks your present broadband connection settings and suggests any necessary configuration changes. It then tells you to insert the router in to the Ethernet ‘chain’ between your PC and ADSL modem while it pops the configuration data it has gleaned from your PC into the router’s setup.

This works well for stand-alone PCs, both with static and dynamic IP addresses, but it was less successful at coping with an existing network that had Internet connectivity. That doesn’t matter too much because it’s possible to configure the router via its Web-based interface, a pretty common sight on routers these days.

Installing the PC Card was easy. One point to note: this is a Cardbus PC Card and so, unlike the slower 802.11b PC Cards, it won’t fit in older PC Card slots on notebooks.

What about performance? As with all network connections, wireless and cabled, you only get a fraction of the maximum bandwidth in real-world use. In terms of 11Mbps 802.11b, this translates to an effective data transfer rate of roughly 5Mbps.

Now 802.11g has almost five times the bandwidth of 802.11b, but in reality this is more like three times faster. You’ll get about 15Mbps out of this Wireless-G device, though, interestingly, some reports suggest that network bandwidth rises to as much as 20Mbps once the wireless clients have “warmed up”.

The early arrival of 802.11g kit looks likely to leave 802.11a dead in the water. The WRT54G offers a significant speed improvement, making it a good buy for offices looking to upgrade existing 802.11b networks. n

In brief: Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G Router, WPC54G PC Card
This kit’s ease of setup, decent performance and high-end features will appeal to novices and network administrators alike.
Price: Router $400; PC Card $200
Distributor: Bluechip Infotech
Phone: (02) 8745 8400
Distributor: Multimedia Technology
Phone: (03) 9837 2500
URL: www.linksys.com

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Roger Gann

PC World
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