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Fast Forward: WiFi Explained

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, April 26, 2004; 2:00 PM

Personal tech columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to talk about the Sunday Business section's special report on "WiFi" wireless networking technology. A transcript follows.

Read Rob's column on WiFi, or access the rest of the WiFi special report from the lead story on WiFi signal problems.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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Rob Pegoraro: Yesterday's WiFi package didn't flood my inbox with all that mail, but that's apparently because you all were busy submitting questions here. From looking over what's arrived already, I can tell I'm going to have a busy hour.

Fair warning: some of the more technical WiFi queries here comfortably exceed my own knowledge... but I'll try to be entertaining as I struggle with them. Let's get started!


Crofton, Md.: i'm submitting early before reading your article, so forgive me if i ask something you've covered. ok, i keep reading about the "thousands" of coffeehouses, bookshops, etc., that are offering free wifi as an enticement to bring in customers, but i can't find a single location within 50 miles of my house. i have tried all the wifi locator web sites, including cawnet, but to no avail. i DID find out that panera bread co offers it, but it seems to only be available in their n.va. stores and an e-mail to them was answered with a "we have no idea" response. at $6 an hour, its hardly economical to use, (starbucks,borders,et al)but for less, or better yet free, it would be a wonderful thing. ok, i guess i don't really have a question, but if anyone out there knows of free locations or good web sites to identify places......

washingtonpost.com: Check out these two articles from the Sunday Business section spread on WiFi: "Getting Online, On the Road," and "Getting Connected With Hot Spots."

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the links to those stories; the sites we mentioned go beyond listing the name-brand commercial sources of WiFi access, and should be able to uncover a few hot spots in Crofton. (I just checked on WiFiMaps.com, and about two dozen show up there.)


Virginia Beach, Va.: Does an access point router negate the need for my cable/DSL modem or do I need both?


Rob Pegoraro: Some WiFi access points do incorporate a cable modem, but I haven't seen any that include a DSL equivalent. This is because the cable industry actually did what it promised and settled on one standard for its hardware, while DSL continues to require provider-specific equipment.

(In either case, if anyone's not clear on this, you do need the cable/DSL connection itself--WiFi can't replace that.)


Golden, Colo.: I'm a member of a wireless internet cooperative: Magnolia Road Internet Coop (MRIC.coop). We are located outside (W) of Boulder, CO in the foothills. Wireless is allowing the mountain dwellers an opportunity to have broadband internet service, where other options are less functional (satellite is limited in one way broadband access) and cable companies can't cost-justify cable in the mountains.

We offer equipment at cost and no installation fee and share our technology at no cost from links our website. We offer community through "connectivity."

My question is: do you see more cooperatives starting up in the future? It's a less expensive option for users and surely getting broadband internet use to the public is a great result.

Sharon Nichols

Rob Pegoraro: Good question. There have been a few Internet co-ops in the D.C. area before, but I'm not aware of any currently active. If anybody here knows otherwise, please let me know...


Baltimore: I set up my Wi-Fi network with Netgear SuperG router, but it seems the speed of connection slow down a lot on HP laptop. Just want to know why.


Rob Pegoraro: I'd guess that your laptop only has an 802.11b WiFi receiver, which is about five times slower than your 802.11g router.


Fairfax, Va.: Can a firewall stop a hacker from accessing my files through my 802.11b wifi card?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. But you were using a firewall before you ever set up WiFi, because those hackers could just as easily try to break in over your regular Internet connection... right?


Washington, D.C.: Rob, you wrote in Sunday's paper, "Few people would go to the trouble of connecting a computer to a stereo ..., but with WiFi those scenarios are eminently possible." We have been considering for about a year a way to do this, specifically the Turtle Beach AudioTron. It looks like stereo equipment, & replaces your CD player with a link to your computer where all music is stored. With it we can get rid of hundreds of CDs in our living room & play any of them on our stereo immediately. But the AudioTron was a bit expensive - was $300, plus about $250 for the wireless gear (G router & bridge). Now the AT is $200 and the wireless gear about $200, so we're more serious about it. But the AT, while it was groundbreaking, is now 3 years old, Turtle Beach is apparently dropping development of the AudioTron line, and their bulletin board suggests there are better alternatives. I have seen boxes from Prismiq, Gateway, Slim Devices but they don't look as good. We don't need this box to connect to TV, only to our stereo. What alternatives should we look at, or is the AudioTron still best? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: I hadn't heard that the AudioTron was being dropped... I've looked at a few of these media-receiver products in the past and will probably take a fresh look in the coming months. I've heard a lot of compliments about SlimDevices' hardware, and the Roku SoundBridge and Prismiq's media receiver seem promising too.


Alexandria, Va.: Stupid question: What's the difference between Bluetooth, 802.11 and WiFi?

Rob Pegoraro: 802.11 = WiFi. Bluetooth has nothing to do with WiFi except from sharing the same wavelength and the same basic cable-replacement mission. But where WiFi replaces Ethernet, Bluetooth replaces USB--it's something you use to connect peripherals, such as printers and cell phones, instead of to share an Internet connection.

Bluetooth also transfers data much slower and uses less electricity than WiFi (an important consideration in any portable gadget running on batteries.)


Washington, D.C.: i'm in an internet cafe offerin' free wireless, where are you?!

Rob Pegoraro: And I'm at my desk in the office. Somehow I feel like I'm getting the worse end of the deal...


Great Falls, Va.: Rob, I've been thankful that WiFi vendors and DSL/Cable modem service providers have worked together to make it easy to have Internet access from a wireless LAN at home. One other thing that I really like is the high speed (approx 500k/second) wireless service the Verizon (and soon Nextel) provide through their cellular networks. These new services allow you to connect your laptop to the Internet using a PCMCIA card.

Is it possible to use these PCMCIA cards for 3G wireless cellular services as the WAN connection for a home WiFi LAN? Since the Verizon 3G wireless service cost $80/month, I'd like to get rid of the cable modem service that costs me about $45 a month.

Rob Pegoraro: Insightful question from Great Falls, who has been keeping up with the news about Nextel and Verizon's wireless-broadband services. What GF seeks is certainly doable; it's worth noting that Nextel, unlike Verizon, offers a standalone receiver unit instead of just a PC Card receiver, so you wouldn't need to keep one laptop running full-time to dial into the wireless-broadband service.


Frederick, Md.: Hi Rob, my question is a bit off topic but I hope you'll pick me!; I bought my wife and MPIO (sp?) MP3 player this weekend and I've also begun using I-Tunes. If I got the gist of things right last week, in order to make an MP3 that's usable on her player I need to burn the I-Tunes files to a CD then rip them as MP3's. BUT - the packaging on the MP3 player suggests an "add-in" feature that will allow the player to recognize the I-Tunes format. No luck finding said "add-in" on their web site. Does this sound right to you, or do you think I'll have to keep ripping them? What a pain.

Rob Pegoraro: I think you'd need to continue to rip those tracks off freshly burned audio CDs--assuming you're talking about files you've bought off the iTunes *store*, as opposed to those ripped off your existing audio CDs with the iTunes *program.* The latter lets you choose between AAC and MP3 formats, while the former offers downloads only as copy-protected AACs.


Waldorf, Md.: Do I have to enable WEP to be secure, or should I feel fairly secure by just enabling the access by MAC address?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd keep WEP on as well. It won't stop anybody from eavesdropping if they really want to, but that's not always the point: You don't have to be bulletproof, you only have to make yourself a more difficult target than somebody else on the block.

FWIW, at home I have WEP enabled but not access by MAC address (i.e., only allowing designated computers to log on, as identified by their WiFi adapter's Media Access Control hardware address)--I have too many strange computers going to and from all the time.


Washington, D.C.: Rob - You say security matters when using WiFi--what exactly would you want to avoid doing while using WiFi? Or, would you conduct business as usual (bill-paying, banking, etc.) while wireless?

Rob Pegoraro: The financial tasks you mentioned are safe even if you're *not* using WEP at all with your WiFi--those Web sites already encrypt all the data sent to and from your computer (as evidenced by the little padlock icon that appears in your browser window).


McLean, Va.: I use a Linksys Notebook Adapter for WiFi in the house. Does this mean I can go to a Starbucks with this laptop, sit down and log on? Realize there may be different providers out there but my question is : Will my Linksys adapter work with these other WiFi providers?

Rob Pegoraro: It absolutely should! Pricing may vary, of course.


Alexandria, Va.: The one thing I haven't found to be answered yet: Will wi-fi create a noticeable "drag" on my connection speed? Or does it zoom along like with a physical connection?

I keep hearing about how 802.11g is SO much faster than 802.11b, but I still don't understand how this will correspond to a home network connection that never reaches 54 Mbps.

Rob Pegoraro: There should be no drag at all--even a slow 802.11b connection will have more than enough bandwidth for a full-tilt cable-modem connection.


Reston, Va.: I am the I.S. Manager at a law Firm. We discourage WiFi use for security reasons. Are we too paranoid? Is WiFi security enough yet? How should we advise our attorneys working from home, or on the road about WiFi use?

Rob Pegoraro: WEP security, as we've written, is relatively weak, and if the kind of data going in and out of your partners' computers is sufficiently interesting, people would find it worth their while to try to snoop. WPA, however, hasn't had any such flaws reported.

Personally, I'd say that it's unrealistic to expect lots of technically uninclined employees to refrain from using perfectly functioning parts of your PC. You'll have better luck by requiring WPA encryption.


West End: What are the ethics of using someone else's personal WiFi access. If I live in an apartment building and can pick up someone else's personal signal, is it ethical for me to do it instead of creating my own signal?

Rob Pegoraro: Do you know that they wanted to make that signal available? Unless you do, you're on shaky ground. I recognize that briefly borrowing a signal is something that a lot of people will do; I've done that myself.

OTOH, if you find a random signal and decide to keep using that as your Internet connection instead of getting your own, then, yup, that's just theft.


Arlington, Va.: I have a wireless Sony VAIO laptop (running Windows XP - Home Edition), connected to DSL over an Apple Airport (802.11g) node and a wired (Compaq Presario) PC running Windows 98 SE. The Airport node and the PC are hooked up to the DSL modem through an old 3com 10/100 base switch that "splits" the signal to the PC and the wireless node. It works great and I've had no problems with it so far. BUT, how do I share data between the PC and the Laptop?

Rob Pegoraro: You'd have to set up file and printer sharing on both desktop and laptop and bind that to your WiFi network connection.


Washington, D.C.: I'm so glad that the Post ran this article. But, I'm still a bit in the dark when it comes to using wireless.

I just got a new computer from Dell and it already had the wireless card (the 802.11b or whatever you call it). Sometimes when I'm in my house, I get a notice on my computer that says that I'm getting a strong signal for wireless - perhaps my neighbor has it? In order to get wireless, then, do I only need to purchase a router? If my computer is already picking up the signal, then shouldn't I be able to log on through my neighbor's connection? I feel like wireless web is within my grasp, but I don't know what I need to do next.

Rob Pegoraro: This is kind of a different version of the question I just answered. The neighbor probably does have a WiFi connection up, but unless you know that they allow public access, you'd be wrong to use that for your own access. Rather, what you'll need to do is to buy a WiFi router and plug your own Internet connection into that.


802.11G vs 802.11b: Rob - i bought my first 802.11b access point about two years ago, I recently changed to 802.11g because I moved into a new place and 802.11b router just seemed to "die" whereas the G worked fine - from a IEEE standpoint, coverage should be the same just transmission should be the higher..right or should coverage and transmission be higher in "G" Land?

BTW - I bought a Netgear 802.11G access point and it worked great for about three weeks and then it went dead - just tell your readers out there there are several versions of this router out on the market (look at the box and make sure you are getting v3) if not, you are hosed.

Rob Pegoraro: 802.11g uses the same frequencies as 802.11b, so you shouldn't see a major difference in range that way. But not all WiFi products have the same quality--two years is a lot of time for vendors to get the hang of making good, reliable WiFi routers.

Thanks for the tip about Netgear.


Washington, D.C.: Do I need a router and/or an account with T-Mobile or similar wireless carrier to get on the web at a hotspot?

Rob Pegoraro: Only if the hotspot you want to use is run by one of the wireless carriers that have gotten into the WiFi business--and even then, you can get a hotspot account without also needing to use the carrier's cell-phone service.


Brunswick, Me.: I'm thinking of installing a small home network for up to 3 computers connected to a cable modem using a wired/wireless router that uses the 11-B standard. Will this standard be outdated soon, or will it still be functional for a couple of years? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think 802.11b will be around for many years for two reasons:

1) all the existing hardware isn't going away anytime soon;

2) it does what it needs to do just fine.

802.11g only becomes useful when you need to send lots of data between the devices on your home network. For just sharing an Internet connection, 802.11b is sufficient. Do, however, make sure whatever b hardware you buy supports WPA encryption.


Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I have spent a small fortune on Apple's Airport Extreme and all of the antennas to enable a WiFI connection in my home. The more software updates I download, the worst the connection becomes. I want to know if any other hardware providers do a better job that the Apple Airport Extreme?

Rob Pegoraro: Silver Spring has gotten burned by some of the same firmware updates that I've written about. From what I've seen, I'm afraid the answer is, yes, Apple is worse than average in this regard. I would have thought that the company would have learned its lesson after the 5.1 firmware debacle, but the latest update seems to be going pretty badly as well.


Sterling, Va.: (1) Greenberg's review of WiFi routers made reference to his broadband connection. Is there any reason an access point shouldn't be used over a dialup connection? -Assuming not] (2) I currently dialout using an internal modem on a desktop computer. I'd like to setup a home network that would include a laptop (using WiFi) and a printer. Would my first step be to replace the internal modem with an external one?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you can use WiFi with a dial-up connection--many WiFi access points include their own internal modems.

I'd discourage this unless you have no broadband options, though. Having WiFi will get you in the habit of going to whatever computer is handy to look up info--this technology is all about instant gratification--and the wait for the modem to dial up is really, really, really going to annoy you over time.


Chapel Hill, N.C.: Hi Rob,

From your web discussion last week and your e-letter today, I want to point out one piece of information that I feel is beneficial to readers with a similar question to one asked last week - how to convert digital formats without actually burning songs onto a CD.

There is a free app called WireTap and a free/inexpensive app called AudioHijack for OS X that will record sounds played on/through the computer. Users can play a Real (.rm) file (or .wma) and record it as an .aif, and then reconvert it to whatever format they want in iTunes. I frequently record .rm files as .aif - this with NPR streams that I want to keep in my iTunes library - and then encode them as ACC files in iTunes. Someone could do the same thing with a protected ACC file. I don't know what solutions there are for Windows as I gave up on that OS some time ago in favor of my Mac, but I'm sure there's something that does a similar thing.

There is also a new piece of software called PlayFair that will unprotect .mp4 files if you own them, but Apple's legal dept. has been chasing sites that host it and making them take it down.

Rob Pegoraro: One non-WiFi posting... I mentioned PlayFair in my column two weeks ago and we reviewed WireTap a while back. Haven't tried AudioHijack myself, though.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob. I was a bit confused by the tag summary of the wifi article "... but finding a wifi spot isn't always easy."

Actually, finding a WiFi spot in DC is TOO easy, for all the wrong reasons. My Palm (Tungsten C) has built in wifi and a sniffer program to locate open wifi networks. I can't make it more than a two blocks in downtown DC without hitting an open wifi network--and often there are multiple open networks on a single block.

That's great for a free access point to check my email and web surf, but it's dismal security on their part. A bit of spilled net bandwidth here and there isn't a big deal, but I'm confident that a good number of those networks would also allow me access to shared file resources and printers. Not good.

DC should do two things to help local businesses:

1. Help increase awareness of open and vulnerable private networks.

2. Provide truly public wifi access--either through corporate partnerships or cajoling utility monopolies. Areas to target: touristy spots (mall, etc.--make our public lands gateways to our public internet); downtown; all DC libraries; and perhaps dense residential areas (particularly lower-income spots where individual purchase of broadband isn't feasible but would be really useful and needed).

BTW, large areas covered by wifi isn't unique or difficult. Universities are moving over to it. And downtown Bethesda has--or has been working on--a business partnership providing public wifi in the main downtown area.

-- John

Rob Pegoraro: John's got a good follow-up on the issue of borrowing open access points: Of the APs left open unintentionally, a lot of them probably lead to computers that are themselves left wide open. And in those cases, Very Bad Things can happen.


washingtonpost.com: Restrictions and Price Remain iTunes Turnoffs (April 18, 2004)


San Diego, Calif.: Hi Rob!; I don't have a laptop (and my company won't provide one) but I do have an iPaq 3850. My iPaq has an SD slot and I have a Compact Flash add-on expansion pack. What is the best and what is the most cost effective (as I'm sure they aren't necessarily the same) way to connect my iPaq to a WiFi network at a hotel (or other hotspot)? Thanks!;

Rob Pegoraro: Buy a WiFi card for the CF slot on your iPaq (if the SD card is actually SDIO and supports peripherals as well as storage, you could pick up an SD card as well). Either one should be pretty cheap, maybe $50-$70.


Washington, D.C.: I have an "infrared port" on my laptop. However, in articles about WiFi I do not see "infrared ports" mentioned. Can this port be used for WiFi access, or do I have to get a new card in order to access wireless networks?

Rob Pegoraro: That infrared port does nothing for WiFi--wrong kind of wireless. You'll need to go shopping for a PC Card or PCMCIA Card receiver (same thing, two different terms of art for it). Budget $50 or so for that.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: Our house has two laptops (IBM ThinkPad, PowerBook G4) and a WiFi connection through a NetGear access point. Sometimes when I wake one of the PCs from sleep, it "can't find" the WiFi signal. Rebooting almost always fixes the problem. (When it doesn't, unplugging and replugging the NetGear point does.) What's going on, and is there a way to reset a WiFi card without rebooting?

Rob Pegoraro: Try disabling it, then re-enabling it from Windows (in XP, you can do this from either the tray icon or the Network Connections icon... the ThinkPad I have at home sometimes does this as well, so I've gotten pretty familiar with the drill).


Silver Spring, Md.: Rob,

Just a quick illustrative note to add to your point about WEP and bullet-proofing. I was at a business associate's house in southern Prince George's County. I simply turned on my laptop -- didn't attempt to log into anything new -- and my normal startup routine brought up three of his neighbors' personal networks. I have WEP enabled and that doesn't happen when the tables are turned on me.

Bill Carr

Rob Pegoraro: What this guy said...


Springfield, Va.: Wi-Fi is a great technology I feel. But something I haven't seen mentioned nearly as much is the emergence of "Powerline" networks. I had an 802.11b router networking my house, and recently ran into some interference from somewhere. So, I picked up a powerline bridge and it's faster then it ever was. Do you see any potential drawbacks to this?

Rob Pegoraro: Excellent point--one of my co-workers was talking up powerline networking. The technology has apparently come along pretty far; it really does work, and prices are dropping. The biggest drawback, to me, is that you can't take it with you--you can't take a laptop with a powerline adapter and expect that adapter to be any good outside your home.


Falls Church, Va. off topic but useful: I got the MS security CD and installed all the updates and downloaded the newer ones from the web. Smooth sailing until I found a conflict with the driver for my GeForce 2 graphic card. The "free" support from Microsoft for problems after installation of the security CD worked great. Only problem: i will have to get a new monitor...the new driver is asking more of my old Dell( 1997) than it can deliver. Boo-hisss. Tina

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the update, Tina... she's talking about the security CD-ROM that Microsoft is offering, with free shipping, on its Web site. It includes every bug-fix through last October for Win 98 and up. So--to continue to beat this topic into the ground--if you've never downloaded any of these updates, YOU NEED THIS CD. NOW.



New York: My question that I sent earlier was not that technical of a troubleshooting question. It had to relate directly with your article. In a configuration window when a SSID is selected and locks on to the desired router, to then uncheck a box at the top of the window to prevent Windows XP (maybe other versions too) from roaming on to another router or WiFi basestation. Did you try this procedure? Is it a well documented tip? Is it valid?

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry I missed your query before... what NY NY is trying to do is to make sure his/her computer doesn't latch onto competing networks, which is something that can easily happen in Windows. What I do in these cases is to right-click on the wireless-connection icon in Network Connections, select Properties, then select Wireless Networks. Under the "Preferred Networks" heading, I delete any networks that I don't actually use.


Fort Belvoir, Va.: I want to purchase an IBM Think Pad with Centrina Technology. What Model do you recommend that isn't skyhigh in cost and is compatible with the routers discussed above.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm a big fan of the Penni M processor used in Centrino laptops, but until recently the Centrino WiFi chipset was limited to 802.11b. Now it supports 802.11g as well, so that's one less thing to worry about.

Assuming you're looking for a general-purpose ThinkPad--not something you'd use as a supplement to your regular computer--the one I'd buy would be the T series.


Washington D.C.: << OTOH, if you find a random signal and decide to keep using that as your Internet connection instead of getting your own, then, yup, that's just theft. >>

I gotta say, I disagree. I didn't ask for their signal to come into my home. They didn't ask my permission to send it there. Once it's there, I think I am within my rights to do anything I want with it.

Rob Pegoraro: Be careful about how far you take that analogy. First, you're assuming a conscious decision on the part of the other party to share the signal, and no such assumption can safely be made (given the current lousy state of WiFi configuration-management software).

Second, if you're going to start complaining about other people's wireless signals trespassing on your property, you are going to find yourself arguing with most of the rest of the world.


Parkville, Md.: Rob, I've had WiFi in the house for a couple of years, and just bought a Compaq tablet PC with built in WiFi (it was on closeout). It's a great combination!; Now reading my morning paper at the breakfast table is just like it was in the 50s; how techno, yet at the same time, how retro!;

Rob Pegoraro: Great story! Thanks for sharing it.

As usual, I'm going to stick around for another 20 minutes or so to address some interesting questions I see in the queue. So stick around if you can...


Minneapolis: I installed 802.11b network in my girlfriend's house but the signal is VERY weak upstairs in her room. Is there anything I can do (aside from moving the router, it can't be moved) to boost the signal?

Rob Pegoraro: If the router can't be moved and can't be replaced, you should look at the receiving end of things. Does your laptop have good or bad reception in general? It would be cheaper to replace its WiFi receiver upstairs than to buy a new router downstairs.


Washington, D.C.: Hello,

I'm wondering if WiFi could be the answer to my DSL problem. I live in a pre-war (as in WW I) coop in Northwest DC. The previous owners had a dedicated DSL line installed that runs from the junction box in the basement to the apartment (3 floors above) through the dumbwaiter shaft. From that shaft, which is in the kitchen, the line runs through the walls to the back bedroom. I have a phone line from that bedroom to an adjacent room where my computer is. I've noticed that my DSL service, which is Verizon, tends to be okay during the day but more erratic after dark - particularly between the hours of 8-11pm when I virtually never get a signal. I'm wondering if I might improve the reliability of my service by installing a wireless access point where the line comes into the apartment and broadcasting the signal to the back room. I have a Macintosh computer.

Rob Pegoraro: DSL through the dumbwaiter--I love it!

I'm not sure that WiFi is necessarily the solution here, though; the quality of your wiring doesn't seem like it could cause that pattern of dropouts. Try plugging your DSL modem in at that entrance point during those hours where you normally lose the signal. If things do work in that situation, go ahead with WiFi. Otherwise, you might have to get Verizon to fix its DSL before you start investing in extra networking gear.


Arlington, Va.: Rob: Thanks for the article on Wi-Fi and especially the security aspects. I just purchased a DLink DI-624 that advertises the WPA security. I looked on the DLink's support pages and found little documentation on set-up, especially "shared key." Is "shared key" adequate for the home user? What are your recommendations and if you have a web address for DLinks instructions it would be most helpful.

Thanks, Michael

Rob Pegoraro: It should be enough (based on my recollection of the last WPA primer I read, which might not be completely accurate :)

D-Link's Web site seems to say that the shared-key approach is the only one they support on that model:


Washington, D.C.: I have a WiFi setup at home (suburban Maryland). I recently tested out its reach and I could still connect on my wireless laptop a long distance away from the house (almost up to 70 feet). How can I tell if anybody else might be using it and therefore presumably tying up my connection?

Rob Pegoraro: If you don't have WEP or WPA enabled and you've got neighbors closer than 70 feet, then people are most likely borrowing your connection.


Ashburn, Va.: I've started hearing about a new standard emerging called 802.16 or "Wi-Max". I understand this is an extremely large coverage version of wi-fi (something like 30 miles) and sounds very promising. How does this tie into my home wireless network (if at all) and if not, will this be something that might someday replace my cable modem and (hopefully) give us true broadband internet access in my car/cell phone, etc?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, WiMax looks extremely promising. Unfortunately, it's not quite here yet--it's too soon to worry about buying hardware with an eye to WiMax compatibility. But if I could bet money on the future of Internet access, I'd put a fair amount of cash on the odds of this and other next-gen wireless technology seriously challenging cable and DSL.


South Riding, Va.: If WiFi is a standard that's become a generic service name, then what's the common name for the "wireless broadband" services such as EvDo?

Rob Pegoraro: Uh, wireless broadband? There really isn't a settled brand name for them, mainly because only two services worthy of the name exist.


Fairfax, Va.: How do you see government regulation of WIFI increasing?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't, since WiFi uses unregulated spectrum.


Arlington, Va.: Because I have WiFi in my home (and Apple Airport), I realize I am slowly EXPECTING that I will be able to access my computer anywhere. I just got back from a trip where I stayed at a small guesthouse in the Keys with WiFi and a hotel in Miami with the same technology. I got so used to being able to check headlines and e-mail everywhere that I went, that I had to stop myself in the airport from killing time by checking the computer.

Do you think that this expectation of WiFi--especially free WiFi--will drive demand even more? Do you think there is a giant market for paid access, or do you expect that places like Starbucks will be forced to offer it free since it is available everywhere else?

Rob Pegoraro: I think there's a market for paid access. Giant? Not sure. Are there that many traveling businessfolk who can afford to expense their hotspot bills?

You're definitely right about WiFi corrupting your expectations of instant access. Even to the point where people will willingly stay in their rooms while on vacation at the beach to check their e-mail :)


Columbia, Md.: Daniel Greenberg's column in the TechNews section of Sunday's Washington Post discusses some of the difficulties finding WiFi points while on the road. Is there a way to locate hotspots using a cellular phone with wireless internet capability?

Rob Pegoraro: Not that we've seen yet.


DVD convert in Fairfax, Va.: I just switched over to component cables from rca cables. I noticed a more clearer and sharper picture and colors seem to be more vivid. Some dvds seem not to be affected as much like the old Blondie concerts. While others show more detail: seeing Terri Nunn from Berlin sweat on stage or the fields come alive as Robert Deniro makes his run away from the cops in "Heat".

I watch dvds on a 2 years old flat screen with 1 year old tuner.

Rob Pegoraro: Taking a break from WiFi to answer a few other questions. Yes, component-video cables are supposed to provide the very best analog video quality in business, followed by S-Video, following by composite (aka RCA) cables.


Santa Cruz, Calif.: Rob, you're way off base. You say "I should add that a big chunk of these DVD and CD players are also compatible with Microsoft's WMA (Windows Media Audio) format. They can't play WMA songs bought off sites like Napster, but Microsoft is working to make that possible. So I have to ask: Just how big of a hint does Apple need here?"

Well, you can play FairPlay tunes on iPods, and you can burn them to CDs, and if you want to, you can rip the CDs and play them ANYWHERE. You can't do any of that with WMA files from Napster, etc. Microsoft is "working to make that possible"? MSoft may be telling you it's raining, Rob, but you might notice that it's warm and smells funny.

Apple has licensed the iPod to HP, put iTunes on Windows, and makes the best MP3 player, PC jukebox, AND e-store. AAC sounds better than MP3, and FairPlay is less restrictive than WMA. Quit bashing Apple--they're doing it right. Give them credit for a home run.


-Steve Gulie

Rob Pegoraro: Steve, sorry, but you're wrong about those other services. The WMA files you buy off Napster, or Musicmatch, or Wal-Mart or whatever can all be burned to CD, then re-ripped into the format of your choice. This is a standard feature among all the music-download services still in business.


Woodland Hills, Calif.: I've owned an XM Radio for nearly two years and an iPod since Christmas and think both are amazing products. I was wondering if the two companies are planning on doing anything to support each other's products? I find myself buying a lot of music that I hear on XM for the iPod. And it would be nice to be able to buy some of the more obscure stuff, the live and unsigned artists. Have you heard anything along these lines?

Rob Pegoraro: No, but that would be a neat cross-marketing arrangement, not least since there's an XM receiver you can plug into a computer (the bundled software is Windows-only, but there's open-source software for Mac OS X and Linux).


Worthington, Ohio: Someone mentioned the Netgear SuperG wireless router WGT624 firmware as being buggy. It is true. However, there are only two versions (v.1 and v.2), not three (as listed on their website Support pages). Version 2 seems to be ok and works well for me.

Rob Pegoraro: Followup on one earlier posting from the start of this, in case anybody's wrestling with their Netgear router.


Arlington, Va.: Rob, I am going to hook up a DSL connection to my Windows 98 computer in my basement, and I'll hook up a wifi transmitter to that computer so my laptop upstairs can pick up the signal. Will I need to leave the downstairs computer and monitor turned on all the time for my laptop upstairs to get the wifi connection? Also, will my DSL and wireless connection be slow since I am using an old Windows 98 computer?

Rob Pegoraro: If you get a regular WiFi router, you won't need to plug your DSL into that computer downstairs--the DSL plugs right into the router, so the performance or stability of that Win 98 desktop isn't an issue. You can then plug the desktop into the router with Ethernet cable. (Although, to revisit something that somebody else just reminded me of, the WiFi gurus we talked to recommend putting a WiFi router as high up in the house as possible, not in the basement.)


Detroit: Broadband wireless is a dream come true. But Verizon only offers it in Washington and San Diego. Any idea how long it will be before they have it in fly-over country?

Rob Pegoraro: They say they'll be rolling it out across the country over the next year. I'd imagine that major cities would come early on in that period.


Orlando, Fla.: Rob...

I bought my desktop computer, a HP Pavilion in 1999 and it has recently started to make a click sound every so often, and sometimes when I start it as it is loading windows, it gets stuck and I have to restarted it.

My question is, I have heard that this tends to mean that my hard drive is about to crash... is that what you think and is there any way I can prevent this?


Rob Pegoraro: I don't know that it means you've got an imminent hard-drive crash, but five years is very old for any computer. And whenever something on your PC does break, it won't be worthwhile to repair it. So you'd be best off getting in the habit of backing up your data as you set aside money for a new machine.


Springfield, Va.: How does one go about installing a firewall on a home 802.11B network put something like Zone Alarm on each PC on the network, or do you have to put it on the DSL router itself?


Rob Pegoraro: The router itself should function as your firewall (its management software will let you open ports in it if necessary for online gaming or whatever).


Washington, D.C.: I notice people in coffee shops looking at porn. I don't mind some of it, but some is downright hard core. And I wonder about people that have children....

what are the laws regarding lookin' at porn in public places?

Rob Pegoraro: Believe it or not, but I've seen this query come up before--there have been cases of people watching porn on their cars' DVD players, much to the consternation (or amusement, I'm not sure) of the drivers next to them at stoplights. Some laws have been proposed, but I don't think there's anything on the books specifically addressing this. Who would have thought they would be necessary?


Washington, D.C.: Saw Arlington, Va.'s question about a home network/file sharing...

How DO you set up file/printer sharing in Windows XP/98SE with a wireless connection?

Rob Pegoraro: I was hoping nobody would ask that follow-up :)

This site has a tutorial that seems to cover the basics: http://www.homenethelp.com/web/howto/net.asp


Rob Pegoraro: OK... it's now almost 3:40 and I have to return to my day job. Thanks for a *lot* of great questions. I had fun. I'll be back in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime you can always e-mail me at rob at twp.com.


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