Vendors turn WiFi into a total disaster

Vendors turn WiFi into a total disaster

Summary: I have to be honest with you, despite being someone who makes almost daily use of WiFi, it's a technology that never fails to disappoint me. Partly the disappointment is down to the limitations of the technology and the rules of physics, but most of the disillusionment is down to the gulf between the marketing hyperbole and reality, which is now so vast that it sometimes reads like sci-fi.

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TOPICS: Wi-Fi
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I have to be honest with you, despite being someone who makes almost daily use of WiFi, it's a technology that never fails to disappoint me.  Partly the disappointment is down to the limitations of the technology and the rules of physics, but most of the disillusionment is down to the gulf between the marketing hyperbole and reality, which is now so vast that it sometimes reads like sci-fi.

There isn't an aspect to WiFi that hasn't been hyped to the point of insanity Let's face it, WiFi has always been far from perfect.  Over clear open spaces, WiFi works, sort of.  But put a wall, ceiling or other obstruction between you and the WiFi box and things become unpredictable.  The more walls and ceilings you put between you and the WiFi box (and adding a microwave oven for good measure) and the more unpredictable the technology becomes.  You can try compensating for this by adding more access points and repeaters, but even then acheiving good coverage is tricky.  What's the difference whether you're tethered to sitting with your notebook in one particular spot in your living room or office because that's where the Ethernet cable comes out of the wall or because you have to sit there as it's the only place where you can see the WiFi box?  Either way, the end result is that you're tethered. 

One thing that you can be guaranteed of with WiFi is that there are no guarantees.

OK, so WiFi is  flawed.  Big deal.  Show me a technology that isn't.  But what makes the flaws in WiFi so much bigger and so much more annoying is that there isn't an aspect to WiFi that hasn't been hyped to the point of insanity.  Read through almost any piece of sales or marketing literature related to WiFi and you'll find it crammed with ridiculous claims relating to range, speed, reliability, security, performance and ease of use.  In the words of Scotty, "Ye canna change the laws of physics!"

If you manage to get past the WiFi hype and become comfortable with the limitations of the technology (and of the laws of physics), the very next thing that you discover is just how badly designed and implemented WiFi is by almost all the vendors.  Want examples?  Here are a few: 

  • Why do you almost always have to fiddle with the IP address of the PC that you use to configure a WiFi box? 
  • Why most WiFi boxes allow you to set them up with no security whatsoever?
  • Why isn't it mandatory that the default password is changed during the setup process?
  • Why do most vendors assume that the WiFi box is at the center of any network universe?

I could go on ...

But things are getting worse for WiFi.  Back when your WiFi box was the only one of the block, that meant that it had complete freedom of the airspace that fell within it's range, and you could either see and connect to it or not.  But as more people start using WiFi that means that there's more competition for the available airspace.  You might be sitting in your lounge or office and unable to connect to your router but be able to clearly see your neighbors WiFi box (and more than likely you'll be able to connect to it as well because chances are that it's not encrypted).  Now we have a situation where every WiFi box is operating at full power, and, more than likely, all competing on the same channel.  Even if you do manage to reconfigure your WiFi box onto a quiet channel, this offers you no protection from someone who's switched on the Turbo setting on their router and is hogging all channels.

And things are set to get worse.  As more and more devices are now WiFi-enabled which means that the already crowded airspace is going to become painfully overcrowded.  This is going to mean problems for everyone using WiFi.

The main advantage of WiFi over Ethernet is the fact that you don't have to drill holes and install cables.  In every other respect - speed, reliability, security, performance - 100Mbit Ethernet beats WiFi hands down.  Upgrade your network to support 1000Mbit and WiFi feels primitive.

Thoughts?

Topic: Wi-Fi

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65 comments
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  • I dream of the WiFi Tower

    They've had cell towers for years. I know that the technology isn't available yet to make it really fast and reliable, but I look forward to the day when all internet is wireless, you buy the subscription from a carrier, and your computer is the receiver. It is totally possible now, but the speeds and data capabilities are sub-par for serious browsing. But one day maybe...*sigh*
    laura.b
    • WiFi Towers -- a reality in some neighborhoods

      Some places in the Midwest actually have the WiFi "towers" you dream of. I put this in quotes because in many cases, the tower in question is a grain silo or an unused room of house on high ground. Do a search on "WISP" (Wireless Internet Service Provider). I hope we have this available someday in my rural MD location but I'm not holding my breath. Until then satellite will just have to do.
      mark@...
      • Not here - not for a long time

        Because you live in the flat grounds...i live in the mountains. It's more difficult in the hilly places because the signals get distorted. The technology has to improve before the mountains, hills, and even dense cities can take advantage of it. Most cities that have WiFi in downtown (Tampa has this - and I just moved back from there) rely on super-powerful routers, and the connection is spotty at best when you're not outside.


        The technology wil have to improve quite a bit before they are ready to take this one on. Even satellite isn't good enough - in the hills you lose the XM signal if you're too deep in them. Sirius is a little better because they have more satellites, but they get lost too. They'll come up with something someday. They always do.
        laura.b
    • Reality Here in Texas

      I recently to moved to a rural area of Texas and had DSL through the local phone provider, Windstream. Due to distance and other factors, my 1.5mbs service was delivering 300kbps max. I switched to a wireless ISP and now get 1.2mps down and 900+kbps up. (I could get even faster for a higher subdcription fee.)

      These towers are a reality in places and I hope one makes it to your area soon!
      BillMillerinDallas
    • As soon as the "powers that be"

      (You know who they are, right?) perfect a
      method of bleeding every penny possible out
      of the public, your dream will come true,
      providing you can cough up the dough to
      cover it.

      The technology has been here for many years.
      I remember international radio transmissions
      over fifty years ago, and an electronic
      pulse traveling through the air is a signal
      is a signal is a signal is a signal.....
      whether it's voice, video, or digital.
      Ole Man
  • Misplaced Spend

    Dell and othrs have long added "value" to their boxes by installing wifi as standard. Most router/modem makers also install wifi as standard.

    Why?

    It doesn't bloody work; don't they get it? They are making us pay for something that has no functional reliability and hence no value.

    Nobody lving in any sort of modern construction with concrete slab floors and/or supporting walls can use wifi unless their system and the router are in the same room. In which case they might just as well plug it it. They need to know this before they spend days trying to install a wifi network.

    They don't bloody work.
    brian.smith@...
    • Having problems?

      If you have difficulty getting WiFi signals at your computer, I'd suggest adding an external antenna to your router or network card or both. Many times the antenna that comes with the network card is stuck behind the computer, and it is effectively shielded from the signal coming from your router. Buy an external WiFi antenna and place it on the desk or attach it to the wall behind the desk but visible and your connection will improve dramatically. Buy the antenna online for less than $25, including a coax cable. Hope this helps!
      elpfan@...
      • Worked for me.

        I was in exactly that situation, with my generic box PC 2.5 rooms away and the computer effectively shielding its own WiFi antenna from the router. I bought in indoor, directional antenna and increased my signal strength by over 40 dB, which translates to a signal over 10,000 times as strong as before.
        OK, that doesn't help traveling notebook users, and security still sucks, but my only bandwidth bottleneck is the DSL connection now.
        kidtree
    • Ever heard tell of "antennas"?

      Or Satellite Dish?

      Why do you think everyone had TV antennas 40
      feet in the air begfore the age of cable and
      dishes?
      Ole Man
      • Ever heard tell of "antennas"

        had mine for homebase cb.
        tgardley
    • they don't work??

      That's an interesting comment. I live in a house built in the 50's with concrete block walls. The room my router is in, is in an addition built in the 70's outside the original block walls. I have two computers in other parts of the house running just fine on wifi. One has two walls between it and the router, both are studs and drywall walls. But, the other computer is on the opposite side of the house with a stud and drywall wall and the original concrete block wall between it and the router, and it works just fine. Now, please tell me how wifi will only work within line of sight!
      Oh yeah, my provider is basically wifi too since it is a wireless signal beamed from a tower 40 miles away to a receiver on my tower.
      boilers78
      • If it works throughout the house, you are lucky!

        The writer did NOT say that WiFi only works within line of sight; what he said was, "But put a wall, ceiling or other obstruction between you and the WiFi box and things become unpredictable." We have a relatively small house, built in 1991, with thin drywall, and the WiFi in inaccessible in half the rooms of the house even though the router is in the center of the house and we spent $40 for special antennas intended to increase the range of the signal. If you have no problems, consider yourself fortunate.
        dingleberry32
  • WiFi doesn't work???

    What's with all the whining? I've had a wireless network installed in our home for two years now. With the exception of an outage from our ISP, wireless has worked great. The router is in the lower level, with a wireless laptop upstairs; a floor and wall between. No problem with the signal OR speed. Even outside, with a concrete wall between the router and laptop, signal and speed are no problem.
    TTGIT Guy
    • WiFi doesn't work

      You've had a certain amount of luck.
      WiFi does work well for most people, but when it goes wrong, the average person doesn't have a clue what to do.
      I don't like setting up WiFi networks because I know I'm going to get calls and, in most cases, I won't be recompensed.
      I've dealt with three outages in the last two days from three different people, and I don't deal with all that many installations.
      I get disconnects at home occasionally, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.
      WiFi has a long way to go before it's reliable.
      hughva@...
      • We've had a recent flurry of Sunspot activity

        And eruptions, which has a humongus effect
        on any wireless service.

        Most people don't know or even think of such
        problems, but they are real. There are also
        many other factors that effects electronic
        signals which manufacturers, software
        distributors, and IT techs have no control
        over. This is why I haven't embarked on the
        wireless journey just yet. Wire and cables
        are dirt cheap now (due to the rising
        popularity of wireless), more reliable, and
        without the inherent problems of wireless.
        Ole Man
    • and your neigbours ?

      I assume you do not have any neighbours and there is also no other technology in that band in use: e.g. Wireless Video, Bloothooth or even your microwave oven. I?m sorry, it is clear that you dont use wireless while the oven is working ;-)
      Be happy with the technology. And it fails especially where it is needed mostly.
      jokl-123
    • It Works

      period.

      If not, it is a HW problem or most probably user problem.
      adelacuesta
  • Not just the router

    You have to have a decent wireless card in your laptop as well. My experience with Ubuntu wireless has taught me that the drivers and firmware are everything. In other words, you get what you pay for and Linux is not ready for prime time. The biggest problem I had with Linux (other than configuring WPA2/AES encryption) was setting up multiple profiles as I roamed between home, school, and other APs I regularly used. Waiting for the script to scroll through each profile, in order, [b]DROVE ME CRAZY!!!!![/b]

    I used to live in a high rise condo and could see no less than 17 APs from my condo!!!! However, my Windows load always connected to the [i]profile[/i] I had setup for my router instantly and I never had a problem with the card getting confused by all the others or which profile to give priority when I roamed.
    Cornhead
  • Ahem. My experience has been different.

    Dec 2001, bought Apple iBook dual USB. Feb 2002, installed Apple Airport card (11b) in it, piggybacked Linksys WAP11 access point on Linksys BEFSR41 wired router - first in neighorhood to have WiFi. 2003, retired WAP11, replaced with Apple AirPort Express (11g). iBook G4 (11g) and MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo (11n) using WPA2/AES, AirTunes music streaming to home stereo from multiple computers including Dell PowerEDGE server in basement running Win2K3 Enterprise. Linksys WRT54G is our backup but have never needed it. Our AirPort Express just works. When we travel we plug it into hotel Ethernet and get the same SSID and encrypted WiFi wherever we go, with ZERO configuration, we just open our laptops and auto-reconnect.
    victorpanlilio@...
  • WIFI worked well from Seattle - LA & back

    Having recently completed a trip to southern CA via automobile and returning safely to Seattle I used my laptop to access the web for eveything from Dodger tickets on Craig's List in LA to google map directions from Ashland, OR to Santa Cruz, CA. I found free Wifi hotspots in every town we visited and every rest stop in WA on I-5. My wifi works well in the house allowing me access to the web and email in every room; up and down on both computers! Don't rain on my wifi, please. It works well for us. Even my wifi cell phone allowed me to check email at every free wifi hotspot bypassing the T-Mobile $20 charge for Starbuck's T-Mobile spots!
    blakephillip@...