Tech 101

Wireless networking has, in a notably short time, gone from being a minor miracle used only by the geeky elite to a mainstream technology, thanks to falling prices, newer, faster standards...

Wireless networking has, in a notably short time, gone from being a minor miracle used only by the geeky elite to a mainstream technology, thanks to falling prices, newer, faster standards, and the ubiquity of broadband connections. Going wireless is cheaper and easier than ever, and the latest devices are fast enough to handle heavy-duty tasks like large file transfers and streaming audio and video. — Becky Waring, PC World.

The “geeky elite” was definitely on to something when it began to adopt wireless technology, an innovation that has been lauded as a technological miracle for its ability to connect multiple devices, share files, offer boundless portability, and most importantly, eliminate the need for the ubiquitous and oh-so-annoying mess of wires jutting from the back of your computer. What’s more, the capabilities of wireless networks extend beyond Internet access without wires and cables, and into the realms of digital audio and video players, game consoles, printers, and more. According to Ashish Arora, Vice President of Product Marketing for Retail Pointing Devices at Logi-tech, the most important reasons to make the switch to a world without wires are simple: portability, synchronization of information, and flexible computing.

The Pitch for Wireless Computing

Portability can’t be emphasized enough. With wireless technology, activities like paying bills online, creating presentations, and sending e-mail no longer leave PC owners stuck in one room—or even indoors for that matter. “With a mobile computer and wireless home network, you aren’t chained to a network cord. You can work on your couch, on your porch, or wherever in the house is most convenient for you,” writes Bradley Mitchell, author of the column “Your Guide to Wireless/Networking.” Arora agrees, adding, “People are becoming more and more used to the idea of portable computing.”

The second benefit, says Arora, is the concept of the personal area network. With wireless computing, people who use mobile phones, PDAs, and computers are able to synchronize them and share data among devices, creating what he calls a “clear benefit of compatibility and synchronization of systems.” In addition, users in homes with multiple PCs can also share files using the home network to save copies of important files on a different computer, and share access to the Internet without having to set up multiple accounts.

Finally, the most obvious advantage of wireless computing is the fact that it “eliminates the jungle of wires” that traditionally has cluttered the area behind, beside, or in some cases, all around the PC. This aspect, says Arora, “is really the most relevant, because it deals with the simplest yet probably also the biggest problem, and that’s the proliferation of cables and cords in the home.”

So, What’s the Catch?

Most experts believe that wireless networks are the wave of the future, and that it’s only a matter of time before they start to dominate the world of personal computing. There are however some aspects of wireless technology that raise concerns among users, primarily, the issues of power and battery management. “The moment you go cordless, you get into this whole battery management issue,” says Arora. Where power is concerned, it’s a matter of users getting used to the fact that they are no longer plugged into an unlimited power source and learning how to control and ration that power.

"The ability to control power is crucial,” says Arora, who points out that many cordless devices, including all of those in Logitech’s catalog, come equipped with a “sleep mode” that puts them into a position of rest when they aren’t being used to help preserve battery power. Logitech’s cordless mice, according to the company’s website, “have been engineered to intelligently alternate between sleep and awake modes.” These cordless mice also feature four different levels of brightness that are designed for optimal performance/power consumption ratios, along with a battery detection system that warns users in ad-vance when batteries are running low, preventing the “surprise factor” that causes users to lose unsaved data.

The V200, the newest cordless mouse offered by Logitech, offers a combination of battery management and power that makes it an ideal tool for busy PC users. Geared toward people who are on the go and often transport their laptop from one location to another, this innovative device is the first wireless product built to last for up to 12 months. “If you’re a doctor running a practice, you can carry information from your office to your home with the V200,” says Arora. “Wireless computing is the ideal solution for physicians and other busy professionals, as it implements three important factors: power control, 12 months of battery life, and battery indicators that give users up to a week’s notice before the battery runs out.”

Setting It Up

Once you’ve seen the battery-powered light and decided that wireless technology is for you, all you need to do is get your system up and running. The first option is to purchase a wireless system like the Cordless Desktop MX 3100 from Logitech, a high-performance, keyboard-and-mouse combination that comes equipped with “laser-tracking mouse technology and the most powerful navigation controls available.” However, if you already have a wired PC and aren’t quite ready to trade it in, the good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch in order to enjoy the benefits of wireless technology. You will, however, need to purchase a wireless router. According to PC World, “the router is the heart of your wireless network: It connects your network to the Internet via a cable or DSL modem, shares Internet access among multiple PCs or other devices, and controls who can access your network.”

One popular choice is the NETGEAR WMB521 Wireless Router and PC Card kit. This package thoroughly guides the user through each step of the router and card setup, using NETGEAR’s patented Smart Wizard technology to automatically detect the ISP connection type and adjust accordingly (). Another option is to “add a wireless adapter to a desktop PC as an internal PCI card or as an external USB device,” according to the PC World article entitled “The No-Hassle Wireless Networking Superguide,” which includes more extensive information about installations of routers and adapters. Readers who have recently purchased notebook computers are in luck, as most new notebooks come equipped with built-in wireless capability; those that do not can connect through a PC Card adapter that can be used to make the transition to wireless.

After an access point has been established, the real fun starts. For a quick but helpful tutorial on how to set up a wireless network, take the Sony Vaio Wireless tutorial.

Once this is completed, the possibilities are virtually endless. Wireless network users can connect to printers, handheld devices, game consoles, media servers, and more. For more information on multimedia and other extras, visit Extreme Tech’s “Go Wireless” page. For information on other relevant topics, including range, security, and more, please see the Q&A with Ashish Arora, as well as the additional resources offered in the sidebar.

Wireless technology is indeed a minor miracle for tech-savvy (and not-so-tech-savvy) users, offering them invaluable benefits like portability, connectivity, and synchronization, all of which will ultimately save them time. With so much to offer, it’s all but a given that wireless technology will soon be the only way to operate. Score one for the “geeky elite.”

Q&A With Ashish Arora, Vice President of Product Marketing for Retail Pointing Devices

Does FastRF cordless technology work as quickly and effectively as a USB mouse? Is there a delay in response time?

A USB port can receive up to 125 reports per second. Several years ago, Logitech implemented a technology called FastRF, and the protocol was to send 125 reports per second, which is the same as a USB port.

Is interference an issue for wireless technology users? If so, what can be done about this?

Because people with notebooks travel a lot and use their computers in crowded environments, we need to make sure our wireless technology does not have any interference. With 2.4 GHz, we eliminate interference issues. To date, it’s not a big problem and people don’t need to be conscious of it, but going forward as we experience some of these interference issues, we need to make sure we have the appropriate solutions for them.

Is security an issue for wireless technology users? How does Logitech work to protect against security breaches?

That’s a very good question. What we’ve done is offer encryption and security in how we implement wireless technologies in our keyboards. That’s where users enter data (the mouse just sends click signals), so our keyboards feature secure encryption technologies. It’s more important to have the security feature in keyboards because that’s where you’re entering passwords and credit cards, and that kind of information.

In your opinion, is wireless technology the future of home computing?

The fact that people can take computers with them now is a big plus, in addition to the fact that people can connect to input devices with their computers and use multiple wireless devices all together. A lot of people get into the debate of what wireless technology is better: Bluetooth or WiFi or 27 MHz, etc. But I think what is happening—and what we always need to worry about—is that it’s all about the environment and lifestyles. At the end of the day, it’s about competing technologies that are actually complementing technologies. There’s a right technology for every lifestyle.

Can physicians benefit from wireless technology?

Absolutely; my brother is a doctor, so I can identify with that community. These are people who I think are technologically advanced. They may not have all the time in the world to research everything, but they clearly appreciate and are up to speed on the latest trends in technology. They want to buy the best-in-class products. The V500, our flagship cordless notebook mouse, incorporates an ultra-sleek design with the latest technology, and I would say that this product would resonate to physicians not just for its design, but also for the fact that it offers a tremendous amount of functionality and features.

Additional Resources

Apple Wireless — Airport Express

Link Code: a7381

Bluetooth.com: Connect wirelessly to your world

Link Code: a7382

Computer World: Mobile & Wireless Knowledge Center

Link Code: a7383

eWeek Wireless Buyer’s Guide

Link Code: a7384

Logitech: Everything You Should Know About Cordless Technologies

Link Code: a7385

Netgear: Glossary of Wireless Terms

Link Code: a7386

PC Magazine: Wireless Networking

Link Code: a7387

PC World: The Ultimate Wireless Guide

Link Code: a7388

WirelessReview.com

Link Code: a7388