Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jumping on the Broadband Wagon

Believe it or not, we used the same dial-up service at home for almost ten years. Until about a year ago, this was just fine. We didn't need more bandwidth. Like most things in life, the situation became untenable by degrees. It's amazing how we tolerated the slow loading of web pages and the glacial speed of retrieving mail messages stuffed with (often unsolicited) digital images. That wasn't a huge problem. The straw that broke the camel's back was the unavailability of our phone service while connected to the Net. With the phone tied up for an hour or two each day, there was no denying it. We had a (gasp) bandwidth problem.

I considered subscribing to digital cable and adding high-speed Internet to my cable service. One look at the monthly rate and I changed my mind. Instead we went with DSL. At least in my area, Verizon Online DSL is much cheaper than cable. Verizon shipped my DSL modem a few days after I placed the order. Just a few days after that, they enabled DSL service. The installation was incredibly easy. The Verizon installation disk includes very simple, audio setup instructions. We were connected in less than an hour.

Part of my motivation for getting broadband, was to have faster access to my company's Virtual Private Network (VPN). Getting to the VPN over DSL proved to be a little more difficult. When I authenticated with the VPN, my client went into an endless loop supposedly "exchanging keys with the VPN server". After googling for help and coming up empty handed, I finally consulted some colleagues at work. The solution was to upgrade my VPN client and switch from IPSec to SSL. I don't understand all the trade-offs of IPSec vs. SSL, but it's clear SSL is compatible with more DSL modems, cable modems and wireless routers.

So I am up and running. Broadband will make it possible for me to work more hours from home. When I'm not working, my family and I can now enjoy educational videos like Einstein Robot. This is progress? The only thing better would be to have a wireless router so I can work and watch streaming videos from any room in the house. I can't wait. If you can recommend a good wireless router, please let me know.


Bob said...

I've had good luck with Linksys routers. My current router is a Linksys WRT54G wireless/wired model that works great. It does 802.11g (as well as 802.11b) and has four 10/100 MB connections on the back. Shop around at CompUSA, Staples, Office Max, etc. you can usually find a pretty good price. You can take a look at the manual on the Amazon page:

One caveat: as with most things related to computer hardware, you'll hear the usual bi-modal distribution of opinions from "got it working in five minutes" to "this piece of sh*t still doesn't work after much struggle". So you mileage may vary, no matter which router you choose. And one reason to buy local is that if it doesn't work, take it back and try a different one. The biggest issues with wireless routers are usually:

1. Channel interference with other devices that use the 2.4 GHz spectrum -- sometimes the culprits are 24 Ghz cordless phones, sometimes a neighbor's wireless setup.

2. Configuring a VPN. Sometimes this "just works" and sometimes (rarely) it's a head scratcher.

Sylvain Galineau said...

I got a D-Link DI-524 after reading an Extreme Tech benchmark on gaming-capable wireless routers. It seems a pretty cool product except...the one I got was defective and died on me after a few weeks. I've returned it and am waiting for a replacement.

It handled IPSec, which seemed more responsive than SSL for VPN access. I also learned the hard way that with some providers, you have to let your router answer pings of they just recycle your DHCP address after a while. Some routers are smart enough to renew it.

If you're interested in running a server at home, you might want to make sure your router can handle Dynamic DNS.

Dave Delay said...

Bob & Sylvain,

I took a quick look at the specs for the WRT54G and the DI-524. It looks like either one would be fine for my needs. I appreciate the tip about buying locally. At these prices, there's no sense struggling for hours to make something work when you can run to the store and try a different model.


Bob said...

Another thing worth mentioning is that it's pretty inexpensive to WiFi enable just about any desktop computer as well -- easier than running wires. We bought a WiFi USB dongle for an Dell desktop and it works great. Only caveat is that if you go the USB route, it's ideal if the computer supports USB 2.0. USB 1.1 works too but it limits network speed quite a bit.