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ORiNOCO's wireless network: Avoid its sticky setup problems

If you are looking for an industrial-strength wireless solution, ORiNOCO might be your answer. Setting up this product, however, is not for the impatient tech or home user. Read our review to find out why.


Setting up a wireless network shouldn't tax your problem-solving skills, but that could be exactly what happens if you opt for the ORiNOCO solution from Lucent Technologies.

Figuring out the setup problems is well worth it in this case, as the ORiNOCO solution, once it's installed, functions as well as its advertisements claim it does.

In this review, we will fill you in on ORiNOCO's quirky setup software as well as some of the lacking documentation, which understates some of the most important elements of the installation. After reading these pointers on the ORiNOCO business solution, you should be able to perform a hassle-free installation for your enterprise.

The equipment we'll discuss here is:

Our wireless network
We installed all of this equipment using Windows 2000 Professional on Dell and Hewlett-Packard computers that were connected to a test network. Our building is a particularly difficult environment for wireless technologies because its construction is such that cell phones typically lose service connections within the walls.

Even with the constraint of an unfriendly building, once installed, the ORiNOCO equipment was able to see the access point from various distances. The farthest point before the signal was reduced significantly was approximately 140 feet. The signal depreciated even more until it finally died at about 280 feet.

When the quality was still in the acceptable range, network traffic stayed close to 11 Mbps, but when the laptop got more than 200 feet away from the access point, it dropped to around 5 Mbps.

While the equipment performed well once it was installed, getting to that point took some work. Much of our aggravation stemmed from a lack of experience with this hardware and software. To avoid this during your installation, make sure you have the most up-to-date drivers for your systems. We ended up with three or four different install CD-ROMs and while they seem to be updated on a regular basis, if the date is older than six months, it may be worth a trip to the ORiNOCO Web site to download the updates.

One other general oddity that needs mentioning is that we were never able to get the Access Point 500 to access our test network through a 3Com hub. It would work fine when directly plugged into the test network, but not being able to use the hub complicated our setup and implementation. After completing this review, we found that our problem was because the port on the Access Point 500 is 10 Mbps and the particular hub we were using was only 100 Mbps.

Of course, in all the client computers, the network properties had to be configured after the client device (card or USB client) was installed.

Accessing the Access Point
The ORiNOCO Access Point 500 is a small beige box that contains an ORiNOCO Gold PC Card on a circuit board with an AMD computer chip.

On the bottom of the box is an RJ-45 port, a power cable port, and two inset buttons for resetting or reloading the configuration on the access point (see Figure A).

Figure A
The ORiNOCO Access Point 500 connects the wired and wireless networks.


The instructions indicate that when the access point powers up, it should have a set of default settings that will allow you to access the configuration file in order to customize settings, like its IP address, from the included AP Manager tool.

Configuring the Access Point 500 from a wired network requires that the AP Manager tool be installed on the administration machine. Our situation was complicated by the fact that the access point would not go through our hub.

The obvious solution was to stick a PCMCIA card, the ORiNOCO Silver PC Card, into a laptop along with the AP Manager program to access the Access Point 500 (see Figure B).

Figure B
The ORiNOCO Silver PC Card provides the connection to the access point.


To install the PC Card, the documentation recommends installing the Client Manager software first and then inserting the PC Card into the PCMCIA slot on the laptop.

Before inserting the card, we installed the Windows 2000 driver, which is a separate button under the Install Software portion of the Install CD. When we inserted the card, the Plug and Play feature in Windows asked us to find the driver, which we did by browsing on our hard drive until we found the driver in the ORiNOCO folder in the Program folder.

Hint: If the Wireless Network Control Panel applet doesn't show up in the Control Panel, you won't be able to configure your PC Card to find the access point.

We had to uninstall the driver and reinstall it before we were able to access the configuration file for the PCMCIA card.

Another hint: The Network Name on the PC Card and the Access Point 500 has got to be the same, or they will never be able to talk to each other. By default, they are supposed to be the same at original startup, but ours differed.

Our access point was essentially isolated because we couldn't get to it via wireless connection or through the wired network because the hub was preventing a network connection.

Our solution was to read the AP Manager documentation, which described setting up the access point through a direct cable connection through a hub. As the hub was not working for us, we ended up using a crossover cable directly between an onboard NIC on the laptop and the access point.

In the AP Manager, it is helpful to know that if there is any doubt about the settings of the access point, you can download the access point's configuration file under the Access Point menu. It allows you to save the file as another name and then view the contents of the file by going under the File menu to Edit Local Config File.

From the copy of the access point configuration file, you can then make sure you use the same Network Name for any other client access configuration files.

Setting up other clients
Along with the laptop and PCMCIA client combination, we set up both a USB client and a PCI adaptor client on our wireless network.

The ORiNOCO USB Client was the easiest device on the network to install (see Figure C).

Figure C
Compared to the rest of the installation, the ORiNOCO USB Client was a breeze to set up.


After installing the Windows 2000 driver and the Client Manager program from the CD-ROM, the Add New Hardware sequence began after plugging in the USB Client. The instructions indicate that the driver is on the CD-ROM, but we found that we had to browse to the machine's hard drive to find the driver that we installed earlier.

The PCI Adaptor was as difficult to install as the USB Client was easy (see Figure D).

Figure D
More problems cropped up after the installation of the PCI Adaptor.


The first thing we did was install the Adaptor card in a PCI slot on the computer. Then we started the machine, went to Add/Remove Hardware in the Control Panel, and added the PCI-1410 CardBus Controller.

Note: If you are installing the PCI card in a Windows 2000 machine, ORiNOCO warns that you must first make sure that you have updated to Service Pack 1 or higher.

Next we installed the Windows 2000 driver and then plugged a PCMCIA card into the adaptor. After doing this, the Add New Hardware sequence should begin, the appropriate driver should be selected, and then the Client Manager properties are supposed to be set.

Again, we had to uninstall and install the driver to get the Control Panel applet to show up so that it could be configured. Then we went to set the network properties on our new wireless NIC.

Surprise! When we hit OK on the properties, our computer rebooted immediately. It did this several times before we discovered on the ORiNOCO Web site a registry hack that needed to be downloaded and installed.

We then uninstalled and reinstalled an updated driver for Windows 2000 that we downloaded at the same time.

Only then were we able to set the Network Name for our PCMCIA card to find the Access Point 500.

Have you set up a wireless network?
If you've set up a wireless network, did you have trouble getting all the parts to work together? What was the problem? What did you do about it? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.

 

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