Clearing Hurdles in Wireless Home Networking

While moving and relocating my home office, I've come across what I'm sure is a common problem: pulling cable through the walls of a 100-year-old house, a task not for the cowardly. In fact, the difficulties of doing so made me decide to implant a more serious wireless infrastructure than I'd been using.

Previously, I ran my wireless network as an afterthought because I'd already pulled Category 5 (Cat-5) cabling throughout my former home. This time around, though, I decided it would be far more cost effective to use wireless and wired networking equally. My existing wireless equipment was a mix of Belkin and NETGEAR wireless adapters and Access Points (APs). I added to that a Linksys Wireless-G router (http://www.linksys.com), which I picked up because it was inexpensive, had a decent reputation, and was on sale at an electronics store in a nearby mall.

Setting up the router was simple, and all of my existing wireless equipment worked fine with it, so I was pretty satisfied until I decided that I wasn't willing to run a network cable from my second-floor office to my first-floor family room. I didn't need the wired connection for any computers; I needed it for my Voyetra Turtle Beach AudioTron (http://www.audiotron.net), a nice little device that integrates my home stereo system with my network and lets me play back my music library directly from the music server on my wired network.

Because I'd already decided I didn't want to pull cable, the obvious choice was to get a wireless Ethernet bridge. After doing a little research, I settled on the NETGEAR WGE101 54 Mbps Wireless Ethernet Bridge (http://www.netgear.com). This wasn't a price-based decision; I chose the product because it was the only one whose vendor explicitly claimed that you could attach a network hub to it to let you connect multiple wired components on the other side of the bridge.

Setting up the bridge seemed simple enough: Plug it in, install the configuration application on a computer that can see the bridge, preconfigure the bridge, and manage it through a browser. The only problem was I couldn't get the bridge to work with my existing wireless network. The bridge recognized the appropriate network, but when I tried to configure it to talk to my network, it never found the wireless router, constantly telling me that it was scanning for a network while displaying the existing network in its setup screens!

I tried all the tricks I could think of--manual configuration, disabling security, setting up a small separate network--nothing worked. So I broke down and made the call to tech support. After a 10-minute wait, I spent an hour on the phone with a tech who didn't seem to believe I knew what I was talking about and insisted on walking me through all the steps I tried before. We finally returned to the point where I'd started (I could ping the bridge from the wired network it was attached to), and the tech support person declared the problem solved and wished me a nice day. Alas, we hadn't even addressed the actual problem: enabling the wireless connection to work on the wireless side of my network.

I called tech support again the next day. No wait this time, but we wasted another 40 minutes going through everything we did the day before. When the bridge still failed to work correctly, the tech told me that he'd escalate the problem to level-two support and I'd get a call back within 24 hours.

Well, 24 hours came and went. I then did something most customers can't do--I called the vendor's technical press contact and requested assistance. Not surprisingly, the PR folks got back to me quickly and set up a call for the next day with a product engineer. The product engineer called me on his cell phone and said, "Download the latest firmware."

That was it. Problem solved. And the most annoying thing about it was that the updated firmware had been available for at least two months, yet the level-one tech support people were completely unaware of its availability or that it could fix my exact problem. I probably would have found the firmware update on my own, eventually, but like any consumer, I expected a new product, fresh out of the box, to be the current product. If I'd had been a typical electronics buyer, chances are I'd have quickly given up in frustration and exchanged the product for one of its competitors.

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