Linksys Wireless Ethernet Bridge
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If you want to connect a device to a wireless network with a minimum of effort, a wireless Ethernet bridge like the Linksys Instant Wireless Ethernet Bridge WET11 is probably the quickest and easiest way to do it.
The little, blue WET11 can be deployed in a variety of ways, to provide essentially any device with an Ethernet port the ability to connect to a wireless network. This might include a network printer, Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, video game console, or even a desktop or notebook PC or Macintosh. You can, of course, get a computer on a wireless network using a PCI, PC Card, or USB network interface card (NIC), but since the WET11 doesn't require any drivers and is completely operating system independent while running, it offers a quicker and easier way of connecting than by installing a conventional wireless LAN NIC.
There may even be times when it's not possible to install a NIC in a PC. I was reminded of this when a recent guest wanted to tap into my network with their company-issued notebook, but I couldn't install a WLAN NIC since the Windows 2000-based machine had been administratively locked, preventing the installation of applications or drivers. The WET11 would have been perfect for this scenario (if I'd had it at the time).
The WET11 doesn't have to connect just a single device though. You can also use the WET11 to provide wireless access to a remote wired network-- for example, if you wanted to share the Internet connection present on one network with clients on another. In this type of scenario, the WET11 can support 50 clients behind it, according to Linksys.
The WET11 has a very compact size; it weighs less than half a pound and actually has a smaller footprint than the CD (sans case) that comes with it. The unit uses a removable and swivel dipole antenna, and the unit provides a toggle switch for the LAN port so you needn't hunt for a crossover cable when connecting the device to something other than a hub or a switch.
The bridge operates in either ad hoc (peer-to-peer) or Infrastructure mode (peer-to-access point) and is a 802.11b-based 2.4 GHz, 11Mbps device. It interoperates well with a 22Mbps 802.11+ wireless access point or router (which is how I set it up), provided it's configured with the same SSID. The only possible hitch is that equipment with 256-bit WEP has to be dummied down to the standard 128-bit WEP encryption.
Unfortunately, the WET11 can't function as an access point. In other words, it can provide wired clients with access to a wireless network, but it can't provide other wireless clients with access to a wired network in the way an access point is designed to do.
One of the products intended distinguishing features is ease of configuration. Linksys provides a setup wizard that runs directly off the CD as a stand-alone Windows-based application -- so to configure the unit, you need a Windows PC with an Ethernet card in it. The wizard lets you define the basic settings of the wireless device, like wireless mode, IP address information, SSID, and WEP encryption. Once the device is configured, an administration console for it can be accessed via a browser.
Here's one annoyance -- after configuring (or reconfiguring) the WET11, you must power cycle the unit for the changes to take effect. However, no button is provided to do so. You have to disconnect the power by unplugging it and waiting a few seconds. Chances are that you'll configure the WET11 only once, and move it from device to device without ever needing to modify the settings.
I'm not a gambling man, but if I were, I'd guess that a lot of WET11s and devices like it will be used to connect video game consoles to home wireless networks for online gaming, so that's the first thing I tried.
I configured the WET11 using my PC and connected it to the online adapter of a Sony PlayStation2. The game console recognized the network connection without a hitch, and it worked like a champ. Same thing with a Microsoft Xbox running Xbox Live -- one on multiple Xboxes will let you play games head-to-head with friends sans wires (now if only they had wireless controllers...). Linksys provides instructions on setting up the WET11 with each console on its site.
To test performance, I moved the WET11 to a PC and had it communicate with a D-Link DI-614+ access point in Infrastructure mode. The WET11 yielded solid throughput numbers in slightly in excess of 5Mbps all the way to 100 feet from the AP. Response time and streaming performance figures were also strong and on a par with other 2.4GHz devices I've tested, and there was no significant degradation in performance with 128-bit WEP encryption enabled.
What can I say? If you have an Ethernet-enabled device you want to make part of a WLAN, the WET11 probably represents the quickest and easiest way to get it done, and at $115, the price can't be beat.