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Belkin Networking Stuff

Greeting once again from the Secret Hardware Labs in Silicon Holler. Today we are taking a look at installing a wireless network, using a couple of Belkin components. These are the Belkin Wireless Cable/DSL Gateway Router Model # F5D6231-4, and the Belkin Wireless USB Network Adapter Model # F5D6050. These units will transfer data at up to 11Mbps.

Belkin Networking Products

Let me give a bit of background first. A few years ago, I built a separate garage from my house, and included a large room for a home office when I built it. Therefore, my home office is located in a separate building from my wife’s computer (physically about 80 feet away). When I built my garage/office about five years ago, I thought I had a lot of foresight and placed an RG6 video cable and Cat3 phone line in underground conduit to tie between the two building. I wish I had installed an extra 4-pr cable but didn’t see the need at the time. Due to some additional following construction, I can no longer pull additional cables between my home and my office.

When I signed up for broadband, I solved this dilemma by having my cable provider install two separate cable modems for my two primary computers. Since I’m moving to DSL because of reliability problems (Charter Communications, are you listening?) I am unable to have two DSL modems and needed to install a home network. After considering options and rehashing the cable pulling problem, I decided to go with an 802.11b wireless network. I purchased the two Belkin units at Staples and feel like I came out OK…$49.94 for the wireless router and $39.94 for the access point after rebates. Many kudos to the guys at my local Staples, they treat me very well!

First, I installed the software for the wireless router on my primary computer. The box advertised that there is a 3 minute installation wizard, and this is about right! It was very easy and simple. I have two computers in my office, so once the router software was in place, I simply plugged in the power, LAN cable from my broadband modem, and the two LAN cables to the computers. The router recognized everything automatically. Please note that the Install Wizard generated the standard protocols and setup files – there are a lot of flexible options to consider, more on that later.

Belkin Router

Here are some specifications for this wireless router:

-802.11b standard (up to 11Mbps, auto-rollback to 11, 5.5, 2, 1 Mbps)
-Range: up to 1800 feet, typically reduced somewhat for higher data transfer rates
-Encryption: 64/128 bit WEP
-Ports: 4 auto-sensing LAN ports, 1 WAN input port
-Dimensions: appx 6 x 10 inches, 1.5 inches tall (4 inches including antennas)
-Wireless: I couldn’t find a spec but was told up to 64 access points
-Components: comes with power adapter, RG45 cable. Manual, software CD, vertical stand
-OS/Platform: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Linux, Mac

Once I got the wireless router installed and working for my primary computer via LAN cable, it was time to install the wireless access point on the other computer. Sooooo, I traveled inside the house. And I now interject the proverbial statement “And that’s where the problems began…” The USB wireless access adapter is self powered through a USB connection. Once again, the software is installed first and then the USB wireless adapter is installed. Once the software was in place, my wife’s computer recognized the new equipment immediately. And then….NADA. Nothing happened. Gloom. Despair.

Belkin Wireless Adapter

Well, I am neither as brave nor as technically skilled as our resident networking expert, KingKash. Somehow,I didn’t expect that Mrs. KingKash would appreciate a call after 9PM on a holiday weekend, so I scrambled to find the tech support number. Nope, not in the manual. Nope, not the corporate main number. Nope, not the sales number. Oh, maybe I can try that one printed on the outside of the box with the big sticker that says “Lifetime Warranty and 24 Hr. Free Technical Support”!

At this point I’d like to insert a little bit of commentary and hopes that the editor lets it stay in this article. When I called Belkin’s technical support, I was rerouted to a foreign country for live assistance. Please understand that the gentlemen I spoke with were VERY savvy in regards to knowing the ins-and-outs of these wireless networking products. Ultimately, they solved my problem. But, it took quite a bit longer than necessary because of their skills were lacking in the English language. This is not a technical issue per se, but one of corporate cost-cutting – Belkin has attempted to save a little by pushing tech support off-shore. I have no problem whatsoever in the technical ability and end results – I simply wish for the following: If a company targets a primary market, the appropriate technical support should have conversational and fluent language skills for that target market. This isn’t a USA/English issue but is indicative of a generic problem. Soapbox mode OFF.

After spending some time walking back and forth between the two buildings and working on each computer, we determined that the MAC address of my computer needed to be cloned to the wireless router to make my broadband modem “see” the end device properly. The Installation wizard for the wireless router does not clone the MAC address automatically – this is something you have to do manually. I’m sure that this is well known to all you network gurus out there, but there’s not a lot of information about this in the router manual, only that it can be done, not the “why”. Once this was corrected, the tech support guy was kind enough to stay on the phone and walk me through setting up encryption and other features.

Here’s a screenshot of the Wireless Router setup page that can be accessed through a browser:

Wireless Router Setup

This router has some nice features that I really didn’t pay too much attention to when I bought it. Specifically, the built-in NAT and SPI firewall, ping blocking, etc. This router can be used as an access point only as well. One nice feature I liked was the flexibility and control offered over the access points associated with your network. For example, you can disable the firewall for a particular point if you wish; this can be helpful in particular for online gamers. Encryption is not automatically enabled but can be easily set. Additionally, you can enable access points by time. For example, say you have a child who has their own computer – you can easily enable online activity between 6 PM and 8PM…or any other times you care to set. Of course, the router setup program is also protected by a pasword to prevent mischief.

Here’s a screenshot of the software manager for the Wireless USB Network Adapter:

Network Adapter Setup

Note the all important signal strength meter. I was worried here a bit – the distance between my router and access point is appx 80 feet (appx 25 meters) and the signal has to travel through three walls, one of which is brick with a metal garage door. I wasn’t too concerned about the overall speed – yes, I know that an 802-11g network would have a stronger, clearer signal – but would also be twice as expensive if not more. Besides, my broadband connections is about 1Mbps – about the equivalent of the lowest setting possible for the 802.11b Wireless USB adapter. When I finally got it up and running, the difference in speed and transfer rate were not noticeable and seemed quite fast.

One placement note, you should place both the router and access point as high as possible. In the picture above, I set the access point adapter on top of my wife’s scanner in order to take a picture. In daily operation, I have it placed on top of a bookshelf beside her computer, about 6 feet above floor level For the wireless router, I have it placed on top of my computer (electromagnetic interference doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, at least for my situation) and the “line-of-sight” towards the access point is through a window. The manuals say that it is always best to have the dual dipole antenna pointed vertically for both units.

In conclusion, setting up this wireless network wasn’t difficult – but the manuals could have been a bit clearer. Technical support was adequate but could have been improved with better communications skills. The features were exceptional and the lifetime warranty and 24 hour technical support were appreciated. In the end, I am very pleased with the final results.

Pros:

  • I felt that the features were very solid if not exceptional
  • Lifetime warranty
  • 24 hour technical support
  • Even though it is an 802.11b system, the range is no problem and the signal is strong
  • Inexpensive, only $90 for both after rebates from Staples

Cons:

  • The technical support staff were adept but their communication skills were poor
  • The system works fine under XP, but the software/docs are confusing since they were designed for 98/ME/2000
  • A support call was required because of this confusion but the details were quickly resolved

Added: July 7th 2003
Reviewer: Insulglass
Score: 9  
Related Link: Belkin
Hits: 11216
Language: english

  

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