Fed up with the hype and poor reliability, Jon Honeyball puts Wi-Fi in its proper place: the bin.

Jon Honeyball
11 Jul 2007

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It's time to call a halt and put this dreadful Wi-Fi nonsense behind us. Every aspect of this technology has been hyped beyond belief, has claims made that go beyond the credible, and brings out the worst sort of ignorant reaction from the technically illiterate. Is there any aspect of Wi-Fi that's actually worth this nonsense?

I'm happy with the case for Wi-Fi in public spaces such as airport terminals and coffee shops, both of which serve oversized and overpriced paper mugs of burnt, bitter coffee beans. In this space, you might want to whip out your laptop, pretend to look like a power executive just closing that multibillion dollar deal, before you jump onto your plane. (Real people don't do this, of course. Such antics require you to pay for your online time, because such a facility is deemed as an opportunity to charge rather than provide a public service.)

In the home, however, Wi-Fi is a disaster. The range through a few walls is poor and extremely unpredictable. Find it doesn't work when sat down in the lounge? Try the other end of the sofa, you might get a signal there.

Worse still are the products themselves. It's hard to find a group of products with such nasty setup and configuration routines as these. First, some require you to change the IP address of your desktop in order to find the default configuration of the device. Then you change the device and try to follow it through IP-space back home. Then you discover that all the vendors have a particularly unpleasant self-centred view of the world. You'd think they'd look at the IP address given out by the network onto their Ethernet port and make sensible judgements based on that. Well, you might, but they don't. If it sees a private IP address like 10.x or 192.168.x.x, it still cheerfully turns on its own NAT and firewall and bounces everything to another range. No consideration is given to whether you might already have NAT running.

Naturally, this leaves the user thoroughly confused. If they connect their laptop via wired Ethernet, they might get a 192.168 address from their ADSL router. Connect via Wi-Fi and it's a 10.x address. Worse still, they might have managed to get their ADSL router set up well enough to allow video conferencing to work. But try via the Wi-Fi and the second, completely unnecessary firewall in the Wi-Fi box has another go at scrubbing the data. Is it any surprise users want to scream at this point?

Then we have the happy neighbours problem. Naturally, you'll want to get the best from your new shiny Wi-Fi box, so you ensure transmit is set to maximum to get the best range. Actually, on most boxes, you can't turn down the power at all. It just runs flat out, with no consideration of who might be next door. Want to get some really good speed going? Turn on that Turbo mode, use all the available channels and to hell with your neighbours.

Now we've reached Wi-Fi World War II. Everyone within shouting distance has a Wi-Fi box, and all are set up for maximum power, probably all on the same channel, too. Quality of service is laughable: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Even more amusingly, none of the boxes I've looked at recently force you to set up any sort of security - not even the WEP nonsense, which can be cracked in mere seconds. No, they're wide open. So in a fit of pique, your laptop might decide to jump onto the nearest strong base station and connect to Number 24 down the road. Naturally, when you do this, you can't see the music collection on the lounge PC any more, because you're outside your first firewall. Not only that, what you've just done is probably illegal according to the recent court cases. The fact that from your sofa you can only see Number 24's router because of all the interference is no excuse. So you buy another base station to fill in the "dead spot", the RF levels go through the roof and the situation worsens for everyone else.

2. Epilog

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