Ignite Your Wireless Network

Thursday Sep 22nd 2005 by Joseph Moran

Though far from perfect, this WLAN software could help some SMBs configure their network – as long as they have the right hardware.

Wireless Network Ignition 2.0 from SingleClick Systems aims to simplify access to, and configuration of, wireless networks. The $39.95 application is intended as either a replacement to the vendor-supplied utility that came with your WLAN card or a substitute to the Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) feature built into Windows XP, whichever you use. Wireless Network Ignition (WNI) replicates most of the functions of both, provides a few new ones and offers a simplified interface for most tasks.

After you install and launch WNI on Windows XP, you're immediately prompted to disable WZC to avoid any conflicts (as they say, "Too many cooks…"). Once it's up and running, WNI searches for wireless devices and graphically displays each one it finds, along with major network parameters like SSID, encryption method (if any) and whether it's in infrastructure or ad-hoc mode. When you highlight a device, WNI displays the antenna's signal strength in dBm (a measurement indicating power levels).

When you want to connect to a WLAN device, double-clicking its icon starts up a wizard to complete the connection process. If WEP or WPA encryption is enabled on the device in question, the wizard prompts you to enter the appropriate key or pass-phrase, and it will automatically configure the client adapter for the appropriate form of encryption.

Once the connection to a network is successfully established, you have the option to store those settings in a profile. You can save a separate profile for areas where you might regularly access a WLAN, and label each with one of 11 descriptive icons, including home, work, school, bookstore, coffee shop and truck stop.

Unlike Windows XP's default behavior, WNI won't automatically connect you to the strongest network it can find, or connect you to any preferred network as soon as you're within range — you must either double-click a wireless device or connection profile icon in order to associate to a network. This isn't as convenient as having your system automatically link up as you change locations, but is beneficial from a security standpoint. You retain control of your WLAN connections as you move from place to place.

If you're one of the many — far too many, in fact — who operate unencrypted wireless networks at home, WNI can configure either WEP or WPA encryption on both the access point and the client simultaneously through a single wizard. This may be easier said than done, however, because while configuring encryption through a program on a Windows client is relatively straightforward, doing it on a particular model of access point requires low-level access to that device. Since there are numerous makes and models of WLAN devices, WNI must support a specific model in order to interface with it successfully.

As it happens, we tried three different models of AP (from Belkin, Linksys, and Netgear), and WNI's encryption wizard couldn't configure any of them. When the process failed, WNI automatically generated a support form, which we could send off to the company with a single mouse click. We received a response in less than an hour informing me that my WLAN equipment was not yet supported (obviously), but that it would be added in the near future. The support rep also offered to provide phone assistance with manually configuring my device. SingleClick Systems says it supports about three dozen devices from Belkin, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear, but that doesn't include the most recent or advanced models.

Wireless Network Ignition works with either Windows XP or Windows 2000, and you can download a full-function version of the utility. At the end of the 30-day trial period, you'll need to register the product.

All in all, WNI offers unique capabilities, and it makes performing some functions a bit easier than standard Windows XP. But when you consider what Windows XP gives you for free, paying $40 isn't easy to justify. This is especially true if you're using XP Service Pack 2 (in which both the form and function of the Wireless Zero Configuration feature were greatly improved over the original version).

If, on the other hand, you're averse to Zero Configuration for some reason, or are still using Windows 2000 (which lacks any built-in wireless capability), WNI could be a good alternative to vendor-provided WLAN utilities, which often leave much to be desired.

Price: $39.95
Pros: Simple interface; prompt technical support
Cons: Encryption Wizard doesn't support all access points

Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.

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