A solid wireless option for SOHO environments

Why the WET11 bridge is both effective and economical

Networks have been around now for more than 20 years. But in the small office/home office (SOHO) community, I've seen that many networks today aren't exactly networked. Here's an example. I have a client who has a small Windows 2000 domain running with one DC and about a half dozen clients. These machines are all relatively close to each other—close enough to run Cat 5e cable and tie them together using a 100-Mbps switch. These computers have good network connectivity with each other and all is well. But add to this mix two Macintosh OS 10.2 computers and two Windows XP computers that have been placed 100 feet away. Now we have a quandary. How will we get these four additional computers on the wired LAN affordably? Enter the Linksys WET11 Wireless Ethernet Bridge.

Buying the bridge: Cost justification
Now I know what you are thinking. Why not just give each of these computers a wireless network connection? After all, AirPort cards for the Macintosh can be found in the $80 to $100 range, and several vendors—including Microsoft, Linksys, NetGear, and SMC—offer low-cost USB network adapters for Windows PCs that are in the $50 to $80 range.

But after you've spent $260 to $360 or so on wireless network adapters, you will still need to get a good access point. Again, you have many choices, so let's just keep it simple and use the Linksys WAP11 as an example. You can grab one of these for about $80 to $110 just about anywhere. So our total cost is now in the range of $340 to $470 dollars to bring these four computers onto the network. That's pretty hefty and will continue to grow as we add more clients in the future. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

The price tag on the WET11, as of this writing, was between $100 and $130. Add that to the $80 to $110 cost of the WAP11, plus the EZXS88W 8-port 10/100 switch at about $45 to $55, and you have a total solution in the $225 to $295 range. So you've already saved money—always a good thing. And you're supporting only two new network devices (the WAP11 access point and the WET11 bridge; the switch requires no support) instead of five new network devices (the WAP11 and four wireless network adapters). Any time you can minimize the number of devices you have to support and configure, the better off you are. So it certainly looks like implementing the WET11 wireless bridge with the WAP11 access point and eight-port 10/100 switch is going to solve the problem and make my job easier. With all the pieces in place, let's set it up and see how it goes.

Building the bridge
Out of the box, the WET11 comes with everything you need to get going. It includes the bridge itself, a power cable, a standard Ethernet cable, a removable antenna you can change out if desired, a CD-ROM containing the configuring utility software, and a quick start installation guide that should be all you need to get the WET11 installed and operating. A detailed user's guide is available in PDF on the CD-ROM, as well as from the Linksys Web site. Figure A shows the contents of the box.

Figure A
The box includes everything shown here.

What's my mode?
The first thing you need to do is to figure out how you will be connecting the WET11. Will you be connecting it directly to a computer or other computing device (such as an XBox or PlayStation 2) or will you be connecting it to a hub or switch? You'll need to configure the WET11 to operate properly (in cross-over or straight-through mode) depending on how it will be used in your network. As you can see in Figure B, the markings on the back of the WET11 are simple enough. Move the switch to X for cross-over (to connect directly to an Ethernet device, such as a computer or PlayStation 2) or to II for straight-through to connect the device to a hub or switch. In our case, we will be using a switch, so we need to move the switch to the II position.

Figure B
Don't forget to select the bridge's mode of operation here first.

Connecting the pieces
After you've configured the bridge to operate in straight-through mode, you'll need to connect its various parts. This is also a good time to get your clients connected to the switch and get the switch powered up. You'll want to make sure that you connect the Ethernet cable from the WET11 to the uplink port on your switch. If you don't, clients won't be able to connect through the bridge to the access point.

Beam me up, Scotty!
Well, we're finally ready to get down to the business of using the WET11 bridge. What you do next depends on whether you've already gotten your access point configured and operating yet. Figure C shows the pertinent configuration information you will need to know about the WAP11. The WAP11 includes a fairly easy-to-use setup wizard if you need to get it set up.

Figure C
Here's some information you may need to be aware of.

When configuring any new wireless networking device, you'll want to keep in mind:
  • The IP address you will be assigning to the access point. It's a good idea to statically assign this just the same as you would with any other infrastructure device.
  • The default gateway IP address.
  • The subnet mask value.
  • The network SSID you will be using for your wireless network. This is essentially equivalent to the Windows workgroup name but should not be easy to guess.
  • The channel that you want your wireless devices to operate on. Which one you choose in a small environment with only one access point does not matter; if you have multiple access points, you will need to be concerned with channel overlap and should consider using channels 1, 6, and 11 only.
  • The WEP status (either off or on) and the keys in use.

For the WAP11 specifically, you will need to ensure that it is configured for Access Point mode. The WET11 bridge will simply be acting as a normal wireless network client, as far as the WAP11 is concerned.

After connecting everything, you'll need to place the included CD-ROM into one of your computers so that you can begin the bridge setup. The best choice is a computer that has a wired connection to the bridge through the switch. If the setup routine doesn't auto-run, start it by double-clicking the Setup.exe file on the CD. You'll be greeted with Setup Wizard screen, shown in Figure D.

Figure D
When you start the WET11 Setup Wizard, you'll see this screen.

Clicking Setup will prompt the Setup Wizard to scan for the WET11. After the scan is complete, you will be presented with the results page, which should look similar to that shown in Figure E.

Figure E
These settings will need to be changed.

You will need to run through the rest of the Setup Wizard to change the settings to match those of your wireless network before you'll be able to use the WET11. A problem that I've noted with all Linksys wireless network hardware is that it does not automatically change the channel to the one in use when placed in Infrastructure mode (as any wireless infrastructure device should). As a result, you will need to run around in a circle for a bit to get things straightened out. From the Mode Settings screen shown in Figure F, you'll need to select Ad Hoc mode and click Next.

Figure F
Choose Ad Hoc mode when you first see this screen.

In the Basic Settings screen shown in Figure G, you can now configure the correct SSID, channel, and device name settings. Click Back to return to the page shown in Figure F, select Infrastructure mode this time, and click Next. You will be brought back to the Basic Settings screen again, but this time, you'll notice that the channel selection is grayed out—the reason why we went in a circle.

Figure G
This is your only chance to configure the channel during the Setup Wizard.

Finally, you will be presented with a summary screen showing your configured settings, such as the one shown in Figure H. This would be a good time to record this information for future reference. Click Yes to save your settings. You will be prompted to unplug the power cord from the bridge for a few seconds and then plug it back in to enable the settings to take effect. I found in my installation that the settings took effect instantly and clients could surf the Web immediately.

Figure H
The last step is to verify the settings and save the configuration.

Bridging the gap
Overall, the WET11 bridge is a solid solution for a SOHO environment that needs to connect computers to the wired network without the hassle of running a new length of Ethernet cabling. You can also easily connect your XBox or PlayStation 2 to the Internet using the Bridge. After all, not too many people have Ethernet near their PlayStation 2. The setup is pretty straightforward and should be complete in about 20 minutes or less.

As with all wireless network connections, you should seriously consider implementing WEP protection on the transmissions. Although it is true that WEP has been cracked, to not use it is really just asking for someone to penetrate your internal network.

My only real complaints about the WET11 are the standard issues that Linksys products have with selecting the channel number and the fact that it does not have the same standard form factor as most of the other network products Linksys manufactures. Because of this, it does not stack well and may tend to get knocked around or slide around. You will want to place it in a location where it is not subject to being bumped. And as soon as you can, be sure to go back into the browser-based admin panel by entering the IP address you assigned the WET11 and change the password to something a bit more secure than the default of admin.

The WET11 Wireless Bridge presents a good solution to a common problem many people may have. Best of all, it does it at an affordable price.

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