Joe and Jack's comments on various commercial 802.11 (a, b, and g) equipment we have used. 

(Listing is far from Complete.. There is lots more wireless gear out there.)
rev 1/3/2004

0) Installation and Site Survey tips for 802.11 Wireless LAN Installations.

1) Orinoco (Lucent) Wireless 802.11b Residential Gateway.  This unit is a well designed and functional unit which includes a Lucent GOLD card,  56kbps telephone modem,  ethernet port all in one unit.  It can be connected to a phone line (in a hotel or beach cottage for instance) and then when you attempt a connection over the wireless link,  the Gateway makes a phone call to your local ISP, makes the connection and allows you to communicate over the wireless link.  This unit is NOT designed to be a standard access point and "handoff" to another unit cleanly as you move about a building.  The unit can also be connected to a wired LAN and the LAN can be used to access the internet instead of the modem.  OR.. You can access the internet via the built in modem from the wired LAN connection if you wish.  This is a very versatile unit and I have used it "portable" in a lot of places.  Range is average+, reliability has been excellent.  Support has been excellent as well. Throughput under optimum conditions is about 5.5Mbps.  I have had no operational problems with this unit.

2) LinkSys WRT54g Wireless Access Point (54Mbps data rate),  Router,  NAT, 4 port switch, all in one unit.  This is a new (January 2003) unit.  Range of the unit (at lower speeds has been about 1.5 times longer than 802.11b units I have used and evaluated.  In addition, the 54g models can operate up to 54Mbps whereas the older 802.11b speed is 11Mbps.  However you only get the max speed at short ranges such as 50 to 100 feet.  The early firmware lockup problems (when power interruptions occurred) have been partly corrected  in the latest (as of 9/03) firmware update.  Overall,  I rate this as a superior unit.  LinkSys also has an AMPLIFIER for their 802.11b equipment which also (actually) works well with the WRT54g unit.  With the amplifier,  the overall range (at 5Mbps) is over 1000 feet when the unit is located in a household attic space.   I think the 802.11g equipment will shortly be the standard and replace the older 802.11b equipment for new installs.  This unit would fully cover my home without the amplifier and no other unit I have used would do this. Throughput under optimum conditions is about 22Mbps.  This access point was not compatible with BayNetworks 660 (old 802.11 standard) cards.  It also would NOT interoperate with older SMC 2632W cards in ENCRYPTED mode. The unit had a firmware update in Sept 2003 which REDUCED the frequency of lockups due to power glitches remarkably, but they still occur.

3) SMC 2755W Wireless Access Point offers up to 72Mbps data rate.  I had two of these 5Ghz models.  Unfortunately,  this model proved to be  a) very short range (with TWO units I could not fully cover my home) and b) very unreliable.  I had three failures of my two access points in just 6 months.   I was able to demonstrate throughput of about 37Mbps which is quite exceptional.  I noticed this model was much more likely to be "blanked" by a brick chimney than any other model we tested.  This is due mostly to the 5Ghz operating frequency.   This model is NOT inter operable with 802.11b or g model wireless cards.  This was not my favorite.

4)  SMC 2655W  802.11b Wireless Access Point offers up to 11Mbps data rate.  I had two of these units and they performed well.   They proved reliable and they were easy to install and maintain.   This AP was not compatible with BayNetworks 660 (old 802.11 standard) cards and had slightly less than average range as compared with LinkSys 54g, BayNetworks 660, and Orinoco Access Points. Two units DID give full coverage of my home.

5) SMC 7004AWBR Wireless Access Point/Router/Firewall.  This inexpensive system has a WAN port for connection to a DSL or Cable Modem and three LAN ports for direct computer connections.  This unit has apparently low power output in the 30mw range but operates reliably and had average range in a house of 100+ feet.  The system has 64 and 128bit encryption capability.  Curiously,  when we updated the firmware to the latest version,  we found that the default address to access the setup program had been changed to by the that the (great thinking) programmers at SMC.  Overall,  this router has a pretty simple router,  but it works well, is easy to setup and we had no problems with it other than the struggle with the setup access address change.

5) Dlink 900AP+ 802.11b+ Access Point/Client/Repeater/Bridge/Multipoint Bridge:  I have used up to  four of these units in service at one time in my home hotspot application.  This inexpensive unit is sort of a "jack of all trades".  It sells for less than $80 and has a respectable 50mw maximum output power.  As an access point and client it performs very well indeed.  As a REPEATER, it performs fairly well and can extend the maximum range of a wireless system perhaps 50%.  (Note:  The 900AP+ has been found to repeat signals from another 900AP+ when the Router/Nat unit was a "standard" hardware router such as the LinkSys WRT54g or NexLand 800Turbo.   However, it is not able to repeat signals originating from HotSpot controller NoCatAuth prior to version 0.8.  It can repeat signals from Mikrotik Hotspot systems if the Universal Client feature is disabled.)  We tried, but could not get the 900AP+ to work in the multipoint BRIDGE mode.  We understand Dlink is working on the Bridge problem.   The unit worked as a wireless client just fine to another Dlink 900AP+ and to a LinkSys WRT54g.   Joe used one of these as the "central node" of a local Free HotSpot site until November 2003.  It works well as the central AP.  As a wireless client,  I have had intermittent functionality of the 900AP+.  Especially on weak or multipath prone connections it would lose connectivity and not be able to recover without cycling power even though the signal strengths were adequate.    Sometimes it seems to be unable to link and then again it works perfectly.  Seems to be a software hangup.  I have had much better results with the LinkSys WET11 as a client in these more difficult locations.  (see more below).    Overall the 900AP+ gives lots of functionality for the $$, good hardware reliability, good range,  and it has 22mbps capability when communicating with some Dlink Wireless cards.   NIC connection has no reverse  capability and may require a crossover cable.  After using the Dlink 900AP+ for about 8 months as a long range central hotspot radio in my experiments,  I found that replacing the unit with a Cisco AP342 eliminated the sometimes 20% packet loss rate on two difficult circuits through trees to sites about half a mile away.  When the Dlink 900AP+ client units were then after replaced with LinkSys WET11s and the central site 900AP+ was using a Cisco AP342E2R,  the packet loss on both circuits went to virtually zero and has stayed there.  Still, for normal good signal conditions,  the Dlink 900AP+ is a lot of "bang for the buck".  My central site DLink 900AP+ operated from about 5F up to about 120F ambient without problems.  (120F was in sealed NMEA box in the sun.)

6) LinkSys WET11 wireless Bridge/Client unit.  This small 50mw 802.11 radio functions only as a wireless bridge or wireless client.   However, in these two applications, it is an exceptional performer.  I now have six of these units in service.  Five are  operating as a simple wireless clients, some replacing Dlink 900AP+ units.  The other is being operated in a bridge arrangement  connected  with a standalone  Senao 200mw AP.  This pair operate to "repeat" wireless service into an otherwise inaccessible location.  These units are easy to install and have proven 100% reliable at maintaining a connection once put into service. Price on the web is about $80.  NIC connector has manual reversing switch on rear of unit.  One user tells me that you can install a Senao 2511 PCMCIA card (200mw) into the WET11 and in the center of the band you will likely get output in the range of 250mw.  I have not tried this.  The latest 1.5.4 firmware has a signal quality and strength indicator.  Also,with latest firmware, the WET11 is now compatible in encrypted mode with Cisco APs. 

7) Senao Long Range Access Point (200mw) model 2611AP3-PLUS is a (relatively) small AP about 4x6x1.5 inches with a single non-removable antenna.  This unit performs very well and would be really nice for Wireless HotSpot use except that the antenna does not have a connector and the mini-pci wireless card inside has the antenna soldered on.  (Don't let this stop you!)  The unit has both Access Point and Client features,  but we could not get the Client features to work with anything except another Senao unit.  Senao says they have no plans to improve on this.  Nice unit.  No problems with hardware,  small,  good lights.  No signal strength readout on connected clients (like most others except Cisco).  NIC connection  does not reverse.

8) Cisco AP352/AP342/BR342/BR352>  These "enterprise" models are all 802.11b units and they are really quite superior to any of the "consumer grade" 802.11b Access Points we have tested.  They are more flexible and more reliable than the consumer models and have proved to have higher  data rates and better range for a given power level than most of the consumer models.  These models ran from $600 to $1200 when new.  Now on eBay,  you can find a AP342 for about $100 and an AP352 or BR342 for about $300>$400 and (when you can find one) a BR352 runs about $700.  For details on these units,  see our article HERE.

1) Orinoco (Agere, Wavelan) GOLD 802.11b card.  This 30mw card has proved to have the longest range to any  compatible Access Point of any card tested with the exception of the Senao 200mw card to a 200mw AP.  In addition,  this card has proved extremely reliable and offers an EXTERNAL ANTENNA connector.  This card (uniquely) interoperates with every 802.11b/g access point we have encountered.  It also works in every computer we have tried it in.  I think the Lucent people did their engineering very well and very carefully.  Thruput speed and range are both at the top of the class of 802.11b cards.  We like this card a lot.  It has good range coverage even if it is only a 30mw transmit card.

2)  SMC 2632 802.11b 11Mbps card.  This card proved very reliable with average throughput. Worked with all 802.11b cards and worked Un-encrypted with LinkSys WRT54g 802.11g access point.  Would not work ENcrypted in 128bit mode with several APs including Orinoco, LinkSys and Dlink but this is an older card and has not had its firmware updated in more than a year.  Would not interoperate with old 802.11 (Baystack 660) access point.  Range was slightly less than Orinoco Gold card.

3)  LinkSys Wireless-G 54g cardbuss PCMCIA card.  This card has proved reliable and with exceptional throughput.  Interestingly, maximum  range with this card is about 20% less back to the LinkSys WRT54g AP than is obtainable with the Orinoco GOLD card to the same 54g AP.  This card is 802.11b/g compatible and interoperated fine to all access points excepting the BayNetworks 660 (old 802.11).  Will not allow automatic mapping of network drives during system boot up as it uses parts of the configuration manager (loaded as an application after system boot up) for communication.  I do not recommend this card over the other 54g cards.

4) Dlink DWL-G650.  Very nice card in computers that it works with.  Seems to have problems with some TI CardBuss chipsets and Dlink (unlike LinkSys) does not have a special driver for TI Compatibility.  Will work in Dell Inspiron 1100 running Win XP.  Would not work in Dell Inspiron 3500/3800/8200 models running Win2K.  Dlink had no solution for this problem.  G650 had good thruput and range and interoperates nicely with all APs we tested it with.

5) Senao 2511CD PLUS EXT2 802.11b cards.  These cards have NO internal antenna but do have two antenna connectors for diversity antennas.  The right connector is Tx/Tr (looking from rear of card when it is plugged in) and the left connector is diversity Rx only.  Power output is 200mw and with an antenna on the roof of our car,  we have been able to operate to higher power "Wireless Hotspot" systems out to at least 2500 feet.  Senao has their own drivers but with the Dell Inspiron 8200, Senao had to furnish me the "Generic" Intersil drivers for the Prism chipset which worked just fine in the 8200.  No performance problems, good range, easy install, and  Reasonable price of about $60 for a 200mw 802.11b (only) card.

6) Senao 2511CD PLUS 802.11b cards.  These cards are essentially identical to the card in item #5 EXCEPT that these have INTERNAL antennas and no external antenna.  They work well but with  as above noted, Senao has their own drivers but with the Dell Inspiron 8200 running Windows 2000, Senao had to furnish me the "Generic" Intersil drivers for the Prism chipset which worked just fine in the 8200.  No performance problems, good range, easy install, and  Reasonable price of about $60 for a 200mw 802.11b (only) card.

7) Horizons 1500  by Direct2Data Technologies is, by a wide margin, the longest range card we have tried to our 800mw station on our Ham Radio tower.  The vendor claims this is because of improved antenna efficiency and not because of increased power beyond 100mw.  Whatever the reason,  we find the range of the card is about twice as far as even the Senao 200mw cards noted above.  The Horizons 1500 has no external antenna port capability and has a GUI that is a bit tedius to operate,  but overall,  it is a quality performer and the system range cannot be beat.  The price of this card is $100.

Speed Tests

THEORY:  The maximum theoretical  file transfer rate for a 54 Mbps system is actually 27 Mbps (Considering 10 bits per byte in transferring files).

Wireless Speed Tests
All our tests were with the LinkSys 54g Access Point (upgraded to 1.04.4) in the Mixed mode -plus an amplifier.
*PC Magazine Mar. 25, 2003 p. 42 (Apparently their tests were not made in the Mixed mode that we used).
The Mixed mode's Protected mode (in order to also use "b" cards) causes about 10 to 20 percent reduction in
the transfer rate, according to the magazine.

NOTE:  Apparently one cannot use the supplied LinkSys Client drivers with Win-XP (which supplies it's own drivers),
or they will conflict with each other and defeat any encryption.

All the following were transfers from desktop via wired LAN to AP then by wireless to a laptop computer.

SHORT RANGE: -About 12 feet
PC Magazine*, with an unknown file size and operating system, reports 22 Mbps
Transfer to a LinkSys 54g card on a Win-2000 OS: 100MB in 1:12 Min or 14.2 Mbps
Transfer to a LinkSys 54g card on a Win-98 OS: 23MB in 0:18 Min or 12.8 Mbps
Transfer to a LinkSys 54g card on a  Win-XP OS: 23MB in 0:30 Min or 7.7 Mbps
Transfer to a Orinoco "b" card on a Win-2000 OS: 100MB in 2:46 Min or 6.1 Mbps

Transfer using Xcopy (no encryption) to a LinkSys 54g card on a Win-2000 OS: 100MB in 0:42 Min or 24.2 Mbps
Transfer using Xcopy (128bit encrypted) to a LinkSys 54g card on a Win-2000 OS: 100MB in 1:02 Min or 16.1 Mbps
(Here encryption has a heavy overhead)

MEDIUM RANGE -About 40 feet
PC Magazine* with an unknown file size and operating system reports 17 Mbps
Transfer to an Orinoco Silver "b" card on a Win-98 OS: 23MB in 0:38 Min or 6.0 Mbps
Transfer to a LinkSys 54g card on a Win-XP OS: 23MB in 1:14 Min or 3.1 Mbps
(According to the above tests, there may be an incompatibility with Windows-XP.  Tests using the
LinkSys 54g PC card shows considerably faster speeds with Win-98 and Win-2000 than with Win-XP)

LONGER RANGE -About 50 feet and to a different level in the Jack's house:
PC Magazine* with an unknown file size and operating system reports 10 Mbps
Transfer to a Orinoco Silver "b" card on a Win-98 OS: 23MB in 1:00 Min or 3.8 Mbps
Transfer to a LinkSys 54g card on a Win-XP OS: 23MB in 6:05 Min or 0.6 Mbps
(Here the Orinoco card is six times faster than the LinkSys card.)

VERY LONG RANGE -Outside on a 'hill' at about 100 feet
PC Magazine* with an unknown file size and operating system reports 3 Mbps
Transfer to a  LinkSys 54g card on a Win-XP OS: 23MB in 1:20 Min or 2.9 Mbps

Notes: These results are not perfectly reproducible as layout of  the house and how many walls the signals pass through has a LOT to do with how long the range will be in a particular case with 2400mhz signals.  Joe has achieved 1,000 ft range routinely at 2 to 4 Mbps using an Orinoco Gold car back to the LinkSys WRT54g Access point IN THE CLEAR with an amplifier.  Just one wall can cut this a lot.  A brick wall can get you down to 100 feet.  The Linksys amplifier is able to fill in the gaps and make range more usable in difficult floor spaces.  BUT,  If the signal is down 40db+ because you are separated from the AP by a brick chimney or metal household siding,  an additional 10db from the amplifier is not going to help much.

We have noted that one home where we tested had vinyl siding and aluminum backed sheathing all around the house, under the siding and under the roof.  This home had very little 2400 mhz "leakage outdoors" compared to a similar house lacking the aluminum covered sheathing. 

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