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Solving 3 Wireless Networking Problems

I was reminded that no good deed goes unpunished when I got a series of phone calls from a friend whose wireless network I had helped set up in his new office space. He had purchased a beautifully restored 17th century building in the historic downtown area of a small town. It had been used as a medical office prior to restoration, and my friend found it perfect for his small business: plenty of room for his dozen employees, high windows, great ambience, and a good location.

Faced with the need to set up a network across three floors without tearing the place up, he had decided to go with wireless networking. It seemed simple enough. After looking at the property, I talked him through the setup. Of course, given that his building is a townhouse, it wasn’t surprising that from his network he could see four other wireless networks, plus an open, unsecured wireless network that the coffee shop across the street was running. I gave him a checklist of steps to lock down his network and was confident the process would go pretty smoothly.

His first phone call was the “My network keeps disappearing” call. Figuring that the problem was being caused by electrical interference, I discovered other wireless communications devices in use in his office, most noticeably wireless telephone handsets, which work on the same frequency as wireless networks. A change in phones, along with moving the primary Access Point (AP) out of the break room in which an antique microwave oven lived, seemed to solve the problem. (The new fluorescent light fixtures located only a few feet away from the wall-mounted AP hadn't helped, either.)

His second call was the “Why is my network so slow?” call. It turned out he was running 802.11g for most of his users but had a couple of notebooks with 802.11b networking built in. When these notebooks were in use, the entire network slowed down. Adding 802.11g cards to the notebooks and disabling the onboard wireless networking solved that problem.

The last call was an interesting problem I hadn’t heard before. My friend had decided to add some dedicated storage to the network and went out and bought a small NAS device. When he got back to the office with the device, he realized that he had no way to connect it to the network: The wired/wireless router had only four network cable connections, all of which were in use. In addition, he wanted to keep the NAS device in his office, which had no wired connections. Fortunately, this problem was easily solved, although it did take me a good twenty minutes to explain what a wireless networking bridge was and how to use it. I supplied and configured the bridge for him, and so far, I haven’t gotten any more requests for support.

The moral of this story is clear. Regardless of how simple we in IT believe wireless networking has become, for non-technical business users, there are still quite a few hurdles to overcome in understanding the technology.

Tip--While I was on a business trip recently, my notebook developed the annoying habit of displaying an “Autocheck program not found” error message every time I booted the system. It turns out that this is a known problem caused when the autochk.exe file, which runs at startup and checks the hard disk, is corrupted. Fixing the problem is simple but requires access to a Windows XP installation CD-ROM. Take the following steps:

1. Open the Windows XP installation CD-ROM. 2. In the \i386 folder, find autocheck.exe. 3. Copy autochk.exe to your \system32 folder. 4. Remove the XP CD-ROM and reboot the computer.

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