Free At Last

Nobody's Perfect

You guessed it: There's another downside to home wireless LANs, aside from their higher cost. Specifically, low-end wireless home LANs are slower than their wired counterparts. The average data-transfer speed on most of the products on the market has been 1Mbps, compared to 10Mbps for wired versions. If you're sharing small files and using a 56Kbps modem for the Internet, the 1Mbps is probably fine, says Patrick Lo, Netgear's service president and general manager. But if you need to process multimedia files with digital photos and complicated graphics, you'll need a network that is at least 10Mbps.

Some companies which initially came out with 1Mbps products are upgrading to 11Mbps, but be forewarned: Some 11Mbps products may actually perform 2Mbps or 3Mpbs slower the further away you are when you operate between com-puters. So don't be surprised if the signal gets weaker when you extend beyond 50 feet or more.

Granted, the initial investment for wireless LAN hardware is considerably higher than the cost of wired LAN hardware. A wired LAN adaptor card averages $60, while a wireless LAN adaptor card can set you back about $199-although Intel's 1.6Mbps AnyPoint sells for $119 (street) and Apple's 11Mbps AirPort wireless cards will run you $99 (street)-so prices vary.

APs for IBM clones cost between $600 and $1,000, with Apple's base station priced nicely at $299 (street). Dell's 11Mbps adaptors require no access point because they run the LAN as a peer-to-peer network, charging $139 (street) for notebook cards and $179 (street) for desktop cards. SOHOware's NetBlaster wireless bridge costs $299 (street).

In contrast, you can buy a wired networking kit for four or five computers for about $125. But don't forget that you save on installation expenses for wireless systems because they don't require you to buy extra cables or extension cords, and most are so simple to set up you won't need professional installation. Most kits include step-by-step video instructions on a CD-ROM and free tech support. Many, including WebGear's Aviator PRO model, automatically configure the networking parameters for you.

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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Free At Last.

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