802.11b wireless networking has become a standard making wireless connectivity easy and convenient. Some people may complain that the 11Mbps speed is a bit slow for them, but then again, remember when we thought the new 56k modems were fast as could be?

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Texas Instruments has released the ACX100 chipset, doubling the throughput on 802.11b devices to 22MB with the new PBCC transmission protocol. This means that actual throughput on these devices can now reach nearly 7Mbps. Two major networking players, D-Link and US Robotics, have already released their product lines based on this new chipset, and real-world testing of these units proves them to be most functional.

Being the tech geek that I am, I have been running an 802.11b network in my home for over two years due to the physical structure of my home not allowing cable runs everywhere – the kitchen and the living room — plus who doesn’t like to surf the web while sitting by the pool? In these two years, I have used a steady stream of 802.11b access points from a myriad of manufacturers. Their data transfer rate was enough to satisfy me, connected to my broadband connection and sharing all wired and wireless resources seamlessly.

When 22Mbps was announced, I had to have it right away. Both manufacturers released a simultaneous release date, and I was waiting. First, I obtained the US Robotics 22Mbps access point and found that faster speed was really achievable. (full review) Setup was simple enough and compatibility with existing 11Mbps client cards in the network was a reality. For the security conscious, this new chipset also provided a 256-bit encryption level, but I’ve never been one to believe that WEP is really necessary for my home. Quickly I upgraded all my wireless client cards to the 22Mbps speed.

D-Link’s product landed on my doorstep next, and they went the additional step of actually building a complete 22Mbps router with three additional wired LAN ports (which of course is important to incorporate your existing wired network into the mix, and plugging in a couple switches is all you really need to do). D-Link has been aggressive in marketing their 22Mbps products, promoting lower prices than even their existing 11Mbps products. I have previously used the D-Link 802.11a products as well, however their incompatibility with the 802.11b standard kept me at arms length.

The sleek, high-tech design of the D-Link combination router/access point provided everything you would need to fully manage your network as well as your wireless clients. Impressively, the D-Link access point also provided a performance increase on the existing 11Mbps clients, boosting their throughput nearly 20% over connections to the old 11Mbps access point. Their 22Mbps throughput was equal to that of the US Robotics product, but is much “sexier.” (I guess packaging isn’t everything, but it sure is pretty!)

Next year, we should all be waiting for the release of the 802.11g standard, and the ACX100 chipset based products provide a great stepping stone to the 56Mbps promises of 802.11g. Best of all, 802.11g will provide compatibility with both 11 and 22Mbps 802.11b devices – so the PC cards won’t become leg shims for the patio table. All of these standards operate on the 2.5GHz frequency range and some interference may be caused by the microwave, cordless phones and other home devices. Generally, if it causes any interference at all, it may just be a sign you are too technologically advanced in your home.

If you haven’t yet taken the wireless networking plunge, now is the time. If you can be satisfied with 11Mbps performance, the prices have been plummeting over the past few months, and better deals are coming through every day (See related story). 22Mbps prices are very aggressive as well, so it will be a hard choice where to spend your money. The reality is you can setup a wireless home network for as little as $150 for an access point and two PC Card adapters.

For those of you not familiar with the setup of a wireless network, there are basically two components: An “Access Point” (either stand alone connected to an existing network, or integrated with a router to connect to your broadband connection) which provides the network for clients to connect to; and your choice of PC Card/PCI Card/USB wireless adapters. If you only have two PCs to connect, you can also utilize “ad-hoc mode” to allow two wireless adapters to communicate with each other in a peer-to-peer configuration. Coming onto the market soon are expanded options for connecting Ethernet-only devices (such as internet appliances or network music players) with a simple bridge device to wireless. The introduction of these adapters will provide even greater flexibility for connectivity around your home or office.

Wireless networking is here to stay and gets easier and faster every day. Don’t find yourself stringing cable when you can just plug and play.

Lonny Paul is the Director of eCommerce at TigerDirect.com, a leading multi-channel computer hardware reseller ( http://www.tigerdirect.com ). In his extensive list of duties in the company, he is also the proclaimed “wireless guru,” providing product training, new product evaluation and phone tech-support to his co-workers who he has talked into finally networking their home.

Prior to his arrival to TigerDirect just over two years ago, Lonny worked in the computer hardware and software industries through a number of positions starting in 1983 on a Kaypro II computer. He has developed software for several large companies in his career, including Philip Morris, Pepsi, 3M, MCI and others supporting large marketing campaigns. He has also worked for Yale University School of Medicine, providing data analysis for the School of Epidemiology and other departments.

Currently Lonny me@lonnypaul.com also writes hardware reviews for several other online publications, including 80211-planet.com and PracticallyNetworked.com among others.