Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cisco (linksys) wifi client

I recommend reading my earlier post on my home network before reading this one.

I need to agree that my use case was a bit uncommon, but the impact was a bit too much. The first thing that I had to do after installing the Cisco Wireless Client (called CWC from now on) was to uninstall it. This is why:

I bought a USB wifi dongle from Cisco (was a linksys product) to use it on my EEEBox.

As explained in my earlier post, the idea was to use this wifi dongle as an end-point for internet/intranet access in my home. I connected from my laptop to my EEEBox via VNC over the existing wifi connection. The dongle's box insists on installing the software first before I plug in the hardware into the comp -- possibly for simplicity and to avoid user errors. I remotely mounted the CD (remember? EEEBox doesn't have a CD drive) and started the install. As I started, I was starting to think about how this software is going to handle an existing wifi card which doesn't belong to Cisco. The software didn't show any sign of detecting such a card. At this point, I was calling that as 'seamless' integration!! but that thought didn't last so long. The installation proceeds and reaches the end and my VNC viewer closes!! I was a bit shocked with this behavior, but was hoping that the new wifi client will initialize and get back, and I should soon see my EEEBox back on my wifi network -- but it never happened. As I have static mapping (MAC->IP) on my DHCP server, I knew the IP that it would get every time. Clearly it had gone for a toss!! Then I rebooted the EEEBox using the hardware button on the case and watch the display on my TV. I realized there was an issue (Note: I haven't plugged in my cisco wifi dongle yet). The CWC started up but it was not able to connect to the network -- and the reason: authentication failure. CWC had only picked up my SSID from Windows but not any other credentials (WEP key in my case). This is half-baked migration. If it was not possible to read such credentials from Windows client, it should have at least warned me that it couldn't do so or have asked me for the credentials again! Ok, I forgave and reconfigured the settings on CWC and got it connected to my network. As I thought, I was all done but just plug in the USB dongle, I had a surprise waiting. The moment I connected the USB dongle, the CWC detects the new interface, installs the required drivers and brings it active. BUT, disables the old wireless connection!!! This sucks! defeats my whole purpose. I later realized that CWC doesn't allow two wifi connections (for that matter, any two network connections) at the same time -- at least that software that I got with this dongle didn't! Simplicity at the cost of functionality? I didn't have to think again, just uninstalled CWC instantly. Thankfully, this time, the software did what I expected. It didn't uninstall my wifi dongle drivers, but only the client software. So, one reboot, the Windows wireless client takes over, with both my wifi network interfaces active! Sigh!! Windows resurrected me from something else, for the first time ;)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Home Network

With more and more devices coming in to our homes, building a wifi network is mandatory these days. But with the devices spread across the whole house, a single wifi network isn't enough anymore. I had the same issue. I have built a cost-effective wifi network through out my home, so all my devices have wifi network all the time available to access my local n/w as well as the Internet.

1. Should cover a wider area than a single router could cover.
2. Cost effective.
3. Lower power consumption.

Here is how my home network looks:

There are two wifi networks (ie different SSIDs) in my home; the source being geographically spread out across my home, covers the whole house. The lines shown in red belong to one wifi network (SSID) and the lines in blue belong to the other one. Almost all wifi devices have a configuration to switch to the other wifi network when the connectivity drops on one connection. With that handy, switching between these two networks isn't a big deal for me.

The easy means to expand the range of a router is to buy another router and configure the two routers in WDS (Wireless Distribution System). This lets them share a common SSID and make it look like a wide range wifi. However, due to lack of standardization (yet) on WDS, it is not guaranteed that two routers from different vendors would correctly work on WDS. Given that I already had one router (given by my service provider) of unknown brand, I would have to buy two routers from the same company. That would add up to my cost and power consumption (I would still need to run my ADSL modem, or get one router with ADSL modem). With my EEEBox coming in, and managing to stay online all the time, I decided to make my EEEBox act as a wifi router for me. EEEBox is not multihomed by default, and comes with only one wifi adaptor (that has an external antenna with a good range). The idea was to get a USB wifi dongle on EEEBox and let it allow adhoc connections to it and route the packets via the builtin wifi card to my other router as required. This works pretty well. Now I don't need to power on a separate another device (router) and that too at the cost of just a USB wifi dongle. I got a wifi dongle from Cisco. Btw, the Cisco wireless connection software has issues with multiple wifi network cards!! I installed the wifi dongle's driver/software from a remote machine (remember? EEEBox doesn't have IO devices) via VNC and boom!!! I lost the connectivity on the other card too, leaving me with no idea of what was going on then -- I had to plug in the keyboard/mouse from my other comp and fix this issue finally. More on it later.

When I watch videos via YouTube application on my Windows Mobile phone, it is awesome to think off that my mobile connects to my EEEBox which understands youtube is a non-local address and forwards it to my other wireless router (in a different room), which sends it out to the Internet. All these happen seamlessly to provide continuous video. No, I don't watch videos all the time, but that's the best way to stress-test a network. I get around 16Mbps bandwidth between my two wireless networks -- fair enough.