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802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide Matthew Gast
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
ISBN:0-596-00183-5
464 pages
£ 31.95
Published: 10th May 2002
reviewed by Mike Smith
   in the December 2002 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

I've run a simple wireless network at home for a couple of years or so; just an Orinoco RG-1000 on the backbone and Silver Card in the laptop - works great in the garden. I'm just about to add an omni to the roof to extend the range over the whole village (hopefully) so it can be used for other purposes. If you're interested in how I get on, let me know (mike@smithysrise.com) and I'll document the results for a future newsletter. Anyway onto the actual book review ...

The first two chapters provide a brief introduction, concepts and the like, and then move onto topologies.

By the end of chapter 2 we were beginning to get into the theory and low level stuff. Now, I've read Tanenbaum, and although I'm sure some people like this sort of thing, I've had my fill of it already. (I always remember Manchester encoding for some reason though.) So I skipped forward a bit, to chapter 12 to be precise - back up to a higher level. It was funny: the first sentence read ``Whether you've made it to this point by skipping Chapters 3-11, or read all the theory ...'' - obviously I fall into the ``user'' category these days - ah well.

I was a bit disappointed with Chapter 12 - which was about installing a couple of cards (Nokia and Orinoco) under Windows. I used the somewhat sporadic wireless connectivity at the Linux developers conference this year (which was excellent, by the way). Now, some people noticed I happened to have an inferior ``Xtra Pricy'' operating system installed (I have lots of excuses lined up, so lets just sidestep this issue for a moment). However it was embarrassingly easy to configure - even with the additional PPPoE and PPTP layers. So I suppose there isn't much to say on this OS, but a little more info on tuning, monitoring and tweaking wouldn't go amiss. Enough said, lets move on.

The Linux chapter was better, as there's more to get your teeth into. I remember struggling with drivers two years ago, but it has obviously got a lot easier these days.

There's a good discussion on architectures, and having only the one access point one question in my mind was answered. That of whether the wireless medium itself can be used as the backbone between access points (yes, it can).

No book on wireless networks would be complete without a section on security - there are two chapters in the bit I skipped initially; One on WEP, covering why its weak; And one on 802.1x and what it gives you. I didn't notice anything on authentication, like Cisco's LEAP (or Microsofts's new PEAP) so maybe this is an omission.

There's also a chapter on network analysis. I'm pleased it was included - covering the use of Ethereal, and AirSnort amongst other things - followed by a short chapter on tuning. With an appendix on the MAC (OS 9, not X unfortunately) the end of the book got better.

In Summary, I didn't think there was actually very much of real use, to me at least, in this book. Some bits are good for a beginner, other bits for the gory details. Nevertheless, if you like wireless networks and if you use them I'm sure there'll be something for you, and its certainly worth having on the shelf.

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