Well, that didn’t take long. Just three months after moving into my new flat, I’ve finally got my wireless network up and running reliably again.


Wireless is a funny combination of anticipation, pleasure and pain, not necessarily in that order. It starts with the anticipation: all those wires you can get rid of; thoughts of putting the printer in the airing cupboard or somewhere else suitably inconspicuous; the ability to surf the Web on the laptop while you sit on the sofa. Everything clean, tidy and clutter-free. It’s a marketing Nirvana of healthy-living, Habitat-furniture-buying, beautiful twenty-somethings, relaxing in the bay window with a pair of khakis, a chai latté and a King Charles spaniel while booking their next trip to Krakow on

Then comes the crushing realisation that, in fact, all wireless does is get rid of the wires. Some of them, anyway: as your six-way mains adaptor fills with the plugs from routers, access points and affiliated bits and bobs, you start to appreciate that wireless actually means one less wire per device. But since the number of devices actually increases, the total wire count increases too.

After that, the worst part. It’s the sheer unpredictability of the bloody stuff. One minute everything is fine: the PC in the study is successfully talking to the wireless router in the hallway, you’ve got five big blue bars on the signal strength meter in XP SP 2’s spiffy new wireless networks control panel. You hover the mouse pointer over the network icon in the task bar: ‘Connected at 54Mb/sec. Signal strength: excellent.’

And then it disappears. Huh? And then it pops back. Oh. And then it disappears again. Frustration is far, far too mild a term.

But wait! Don’t stop reading! Because eventually, eventually you figure it all out. Eventually it works okay. It takes far more time, money, patience and effort than it should. But you manage to pick out the little foibles of your hardware and go through the indignity of bobbing up and down with the router then scampering back to the PC in the bedroom to see what the signal strength is like. The main thing to bear in mind is that you absolutely must upgrade the firmware of all your wireless devices if you want it to work. And unfortunately it’s all much easier if everything’s bought from one manufacturer, which of course shouldn’t be the case.

On top of that, a huge problem with wireless access in Europe is that our houses are too solid. Pop over to the US, where the average residence is made of wood, and you’ll get far fewer problems. But, as was the case when I moved house, the solid brick walls and iron studs over here play havoc with range. It’s the reason Microsoft cites for its failure to release wireless g Media Extender devices for Media Center Edition 2005 PCs, which would allow you to access and control your videos and music from anywhere in the house. They’re available in the US, but the customer return rate if they were released in this country would likely make the whole endeavour a disaster.

Range isn’t the only problem though. With 802.11b and, in particular, 802.11g, the wireless manufacturers have shot themselves in the foot: by adding proprietary features they’ve driven consumers away. It bears a strong resemblance to the browser wars of the mid-to-late 1990s, when Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator were the only two browsers of note. Both Microsoft and Netscape took the basic framework of the HTML standard and mangled it beyond recognition to try and make their browser do better things than the other, too impatient to gain market share to wait until proper standards were agreed. The result was websites that looked terrible, took more than twice as long to develop in order to accommodate the foibles of individual browsers and didn’t always work properly with one browser or the other anyway.

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