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Keeping with the momentum of our hectic lives, Microsoft recently decided to make our lives even speedier by releasing a new, faster version of its broadband networking product for Wi-Fi home networks, the Microsoft Broadband Networking Wireless G Kit (MN-820). Upgrading last year’s Wireless B Kit (which is still available), the new kit offers the 802.11g specification for wireless connectivity at 5x that of its predecessor (54 Mbps). Do the latest wireless devices out of Redmond live up to their signals? Read on to find out.
So to newbies in this area, you may be wondering what the heck is 802.11g? 802.11 is a standard for wireless transmissions set by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers). The two specifications you have to worry about are 802.11b and 802.11g. Last year’s model, the Wireless B Kit (MN 720), was built off the 802.11b standard which allowed connection speeds between 5.5 and 11 Mbps (megabits per second). The Wireless G kit uses the 802.11g standard which allows up to a 54 Mbps connection speed. The confusion does not end there: 802.11 devices either use 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz radio frequencies. Both 802.11b & g devices use 2.4 GHz, which allows for greater range but is more susceptible to interference from other devices (2.4 GHz cordless telephones, etc.).
One of the beauties of Wireless G networking is that the hardware is compatible with 802.11b devices. For example, since the majority of wireless connectivity is 802.11b, you could still use your Wireless G notebook adapter on a Wireless B network, and vice versa. However, if you using your Wireless G notebook adapter on a Wireless B network, you will only achieve maximum transfer rates of 11 Mbps. Standard users will not notice much difference for standard e-mail, Internet, etc. However, power users who transfer major multimedia files, large files (such as AutoCad files), will enjoy the increased transfer rates. The wireless devices support WEP (Wired Equipment Privacy) at 64-bit and 128-bit and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) up 256-bit encryption (which is the stronger standard now). See the chart below for more “technical” specifications.
The main base station is the same size as the Wireless B kit, about 1.2” x 5.3” x 6.8”, however is a darker shade of gray. There are seven LED lights in the front; one for power, one for modem connectivity, one for wireless connectivity, and four for LAN connectivity on ports 1-4. The base station weighs in at eleven ounces, so it is not very heavy. The product sits upright on a translucent plastic base, which can be removed if you’d like lay the product on its side. There is a 2.5” semitransparent dark gray plastic antenna coming out the backside of the product.
The wireless notebook adapter weighs 3.5 ounces and measures up at 2.1” x 4.5” x .3”. There are two indicators on the end, one for power (self powered) and wireless activity. The card is clearly marked and is greed rather than orange so you do not confuse the G cards with your B cards.
Setup & Installation
The setup and installation of your Microsoft Broadband Networking wireless network is surprisingly easy. Unlike most Microsoft products these days, Microsoft has included a sufficient “Quick Start” guide and a very in-depth 90 page product manual for those of us who like complexity.
Microsoft recommends that you don’t hook up the hardware before installing the software, which goes against many techies’ intuitions. Anyway, you install the broadband networking CD and run the Setup Wizard. You choose you’d like to setup a product then choose which you are installing (the software works for B products as well). The software installs on your computer, and takes up a mere 11 MB on XP Pro. The wizard then directs you to start installing the wireless hardware.
This part is relatively simple. First, you unplug the Ethernet from your cable modem and plug it into the base station. Then, you use the patch cable provided and connect the base station back to the cable modem. Once all this done you plug in the AC adapter to the base station and return back to the computer to complete the next step.
Click “next” and the setup wizard will detect your base station and detect the connectivity of your “Internet” connection. You also have the option to save your settings on a floppy for transferability to another computer (provided).
Now we will go install the notebook adapter on a laptop. Just pop in the same software CD, follow an abridged setup, and install the card into the PCI slot when prompted. You now plop in your floppy with your saved settings and enter your base station password. Voila! Your laptop is connected the Internet. Now that you are connected, if permissions were granted, you can share printers, files, etc. and other standard network sharing features. As far as standard users are concerned, you can be done at this point. Note: My laptop did not have DirectX 9.0b installed, which the setup wizard installed before I continued with the setup.
To check up on your wireless broadband network, open up the Broadband Network Utility which can be accessed from the programs menu or in your icon tray. Here you can see the network status, important ip addresses, signal strength, connected devices, etc. This program is very handy, simple program to use for standard users. The software (if you allow), will automatically check for software updates from Microsoft.
To access advanced features, we delve into the Base Station Management Tool (BSMT). This ican be accessed from the Broadband Networking Utility or by opening your browser and going to the address: http://192.168.2.1 . You can change this default address in the BSMT. The default password for the base station is “admin.”
In the base station management tool you can change your password, establish your Internet settings, establish your wireless settings, customize your network settings, configure your computer, and test your Internet connection. In the Internet Settings section, you can choose between static IP, dynamic IP, or PPPoE (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet). Note: Most users shouldn’t touch these settings. In wireless settings, you can designate your wireless network name (SSID -> service set identifier). In addition, you designate if your hardware is all g, or mixed b compatible to get the best optimization for your network. In the wireless security section, you can set your encryption strength (or to have it at all), if you do not want unauthorized users on your network. For WEP you need a 26 character key which can be generated in the random key generator the software provides. Finally, you can set your TCP/IP properties if you do not want the setup wizard to automatically set them. In addition, you can set parental controls to block specific IPs, domains, etc.
If you already have another router, base station, etc. you can set your new base station as an Access Point for wireless connectivity for other computers. Note: if you use the base station as an access point you automatically disable its router and network address translation capabilities.
The strength of the wireless network is
quite strong. I took the laptop out in the yard (in the snow), in the car,
in the basement, all considerable distances away from the base station, with
obstructions, and in all cases the signal remained strong and the
connectivity effective. Because of the strength (I live in a fairly rural
area), you should set encryption on your network so others don’t steal your
Internet connection (particularly in Urban areas), or access your shared
files. The transfer rate between computer and laptop for large Autocad files
(several hundred megabytes), varied distinctly between the two different
protocols. The file on the Wireless G Network transferred in roughly 1/3
time as the Wireless B Network. In both cases, wired Ethernet connections
would be fastest, but that defeats the purpose of going wireless. The
Wireless G Network is also best suited for the Xbox Wireless G adapter for
making your Xbox wireless. It is important to note the notebook adapter
workers with non-Microsoft hardware, which is beneficial for those of you
who don't have Centrino processors to access wireless hotspots throughout
To conclude, Microsoft Broadband Networking Wireless G Kit (MN-820) improved significantly the speed in which data is transferred over wireless networks, as the speed at its maximum (even though it may not achieve it) is 5x as fast. The device comes with plenty of documentation for everyone from novice to expert users, and is a breeze to set up. For users who already have the previous Wireless B Kit, and who are standard everyday Internet users, I would not recommend the upgrade. However, for power users and those who do not yet have any networks in place the new Microsoft Broadband Networking Wireless G Kit is the way to go!