I live in an apartment complex. All around me I have 2.4GHz phones and wireless interference that breaks just about any WiFi base station I try to use. I went through Linksys, Apple, Netgear and even a Parkervision base station before I found a solution that just works. In fact, this wireless solution works so well, I have made it the de-facto standard for all wireless installations that I do. The solution: Belkin’s Pre-N router.
To be honest, I’m not normally a Belkin fan. Being that I work on Cisco gear all day, I tend to gravitate towards Linksys for their trade-up program. Alas, I could not get any Linksys base station to work reliably in my complex for more than 30 minutes. It’s not that the Linksys or any other base stations are bad, it’s that there is so much radio interference where I live that it simply knocks the base station offline, taking my wireless Internet with it. Not good for someone who needs the Internet to do his job… And cables are so passé.
Before I get into too much detail, I should mention the different versions of Wireless. WiFi’s technical name is 802.11x. The ‘x’ tells us what version of WiFi we are using. There are basically 3 versions of 802.11 on the market today, with one more coming:
- 802.11b – The original WiFi that consumers could get which runs at 11Mbps.
- 802.11a – The newer version of WiFi that runs at 54Mbps but is not backwards compatible with 802.11b. You need all new equipment to run this spec.
- 802.11g – Basically today’s standard at 54Mbps which is fully backwards compatible to the slower 802.11b spec, so you can use all your old gear with the new cards.
- 802.11n – The next generation of WiFi which can run up to 600Mbps (but really 100Mbps in the consumer world).
Now 802.11n is not out yet, and with Belkin naming their router ‘Pre-N’ one would assume that it’s a pre-release version of the 802.11n spec. One would be assuming wrong. The Belkin Pre-N router has absolutely nothing to do with 802.11n, so don’t go into this thinking that you can simply upgrade some software on your router and get 802.11n capabilities. This is my biggest complaint on the unit, Belkin should have called this router something completely different as it will be very confusing when 802.11n gear starts to hit the market (802.11n is not available yet).
Why do I like the Pre-N router so much? Simply put, this is the only router I can get to work in my apartment without any glitches or drops. Once I started installing this router in family and friends’ homes, a lot of the networking glitches we saw went away. No more dropped connections, the coverage area on some cases expanded by 2X allowing them to go anywhere in their home or lawn with simply one base station, and it has never crashed on me yet.
Another big thing to worry about is WiFi security. You don’t want to just have your base station open so anyone can gain access to it. I was at my parents home installing, well, a WiFi base station when I noticed an open network. Decided to jump on that network and see what I could find. Not only was I able to basically steal their bandwidth, but I was also able to gain access to every computer on their network and see all of the files and folders on their C$ drive. Don’t worry, I was honest and didn’t touch anything, I just wanted to see if I could do it. The Belkin Pre-N base station allows for two forms of security which I suggest you turn on:
- WPA encryption. There are several different ways of encrypting the signal (or requiring the use of a username/password), but the best one to use is WPA-PSK. There is the older WEP encryption, but a 3 year old could break through WEP. The problem with WPA is that not all WiFi cards support it, so I do suggest running a newer WiFi card as well as Windows XP Service Pack 2.
- MAC address filtering. Every Ethernet and WiFi card has something called a Media Access Control number. This would look something like 00:0B:AC:55:21:E9 and is unique to every Ethernet and WiFi card out there. You can tell your Belkin base station to only allow connections from certain MAC addresses. Even if someone was able to crack through the WPA protection, the base station would look at their MAC address any still deny them a connection. Be careful though, if you enter the wrong sequence or change WiFi cards, you have the ability to lock yourself out of your own router.
By enabling these two features, you’ll have locked down your WiFi so tight, it will be easier for a hacker to break in to your house and simply connect a physical cable to your network than it would be to hack your base station.
WiFi technology is changing rapidly, and I’m sure that other vendors will catch up, and possibly even surpass Belkin’s Pre-N router. Today though, this is the best WiFi system you can buy!
Additional information on the Belkin Pre-N router
Buy the Belkin Pre-N router from Amazon.com