Saturday, August 11, 2007

Will wireless work?

Friends often call me a geek. They mean no offense, so I try to take none. As Chris Pirillo once put it: "geek used to be a four letter word, now it's a six figure one". Well... that last part isn't exactly true for me, but that's probably only so because I get paid in euros instead of dollars.

Part of what makes me a geek is the fact that I tend to be an early adopter of new technologies. I got my first always-on internet connection in 1996 paying somewhere around 40 euros for a speed that never seemed to top 1.5 kbps. Yes, that's kpbs for kilobits per second - so about 40 times slower than an analog modem. But it was always on... so I was one of those people that knew they had email a few seconds after the other party had sent it.

I bought an XDA in 2001, which was the first touch-screen phone/pda with an internet connection. It was what you'd call an iPhone these days, although it had to do with a lot less marketing. So for me: six years have brought us better marketing and a multi-touch screen. Still... I'l probably buy an iPhone when they're actually available here. Not because I need it. Just because I'm an early adopter.

As an early adopter you of course run the risk of buying things that will never catch on. Or becoming the involuntary beta tester of a device, which means the technology is not yet ready for prime time. One area where the latter happened to me is with wireless networking.
I bought my first wireless access point and card somewhere in 2001. It wasn't completely new back then, but it hadn't been adopted by the masses yet. So usability and interoperability left something to be desired. USB wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now, so for a desktop PC I had to use a PCI to PCMCIA (now called PC-card and almost extinct) adapter. But hey... it worked... at times. But about half of the time it didn't work and I had to roll out a UTP cable again. I've tried to get a reliable wireless network over the years, but the devices either didn't work reliably or just broke down within a few months of service.

Somewhere in 2004 I just gave up on it and restored the cables to their full and permanent glory. So when whole tribes, states and even countries started using wireless networking, my house is completely wired. It's been like that for years now; first with really long UTP cables running down the hallways. They might not be pretty, but at least they work most of the time.

Two years ago I started using ethernet-over-powerline adapters, which use he powerline network in my house serves as a network. These adapters turned out to be as reliable as using direct UTP cables. So in my study I connect the ADSL modem/router to the powerline through one of these adapters. And in other rooms I connect computers to the powerline through another adapter. And it just works.

The adapters are ridiculously expensive and not very rugged, but they do give me the true plug-and-play experience that I never got with wifi. And even though having blue adapters in many wall sockets is not very pretty, it's a lot better than all those colorful UTP cables lining the floor. So -although expensive- I was pretty happy with it. Most people may prefer wifi, I've been sticking with ethernet-over-powerline.

A few weeks ago I saw a new device from Devolo: a wireless extender. So you plug this adapter into a socket and not only can you plug in an UTP cable, but it also provides wireless networking. So once again I couldn't resist and ordered one. If the whole world is using wireless without problems, I can't stay behind - can I?

No comments: