Wireless: Not the convenience utopia everyone thinks it is

You know what? I fucking hate wireless networks. It seems that every single day of my life I’m somehow supporting or fixing a wireless network, whether that’s at home, in the office or for a broadband customer. Wireless simply isn’t the convenience utopia that it’s made out to be. It’s unreliable, unsecure and absolutely no substitute for a proper wired network, despite what some bedroom network consultant idiots I’ve overheard in the Institute of Directors claim.

At work I’m constantly being asked what the WEP key is, even though it’s the name of a reasonably popular children’s television programme which is hardly difficult to remember. Then as soon as a website doesn’t load or whatever, it’s immediately assumed that the wireless network has gone down and I get a phone call or a shout accross the office as if it’s somehow my fault.

At home I get friends coming round who decide that they want to check their e-mail or whatever and so ask if they can use my wireless. I give them the 26 character WEP key and of course this is a big old hassle for them to enter into their PCs (which of course they have to do twice on Windows machines) and there’s lots of huffing and sighing, as if it’s some fucking huge inconvenience for them to use my Internet connection for free.

Then there are the hotels which claim to offer a wireless network service but it actually transpires that all they’ve done is install a couple of crappy wireless access points here and there and haven’t actually checked that it’s usable in all parts of the establishment. The Crowne Pointe is a fine example of this. Luckily they also have wired connections in the rooms, but that of course meant that we had to drive all the way to Hyannis (some 50 miles away) yesterday to get a network cable, because the wired port is behind the dresser on the other side of the room.

Then you get the people who insist on having a wireless network, but that also want it to be 100% secure. It’s not going to happen. If you want a secure computer network, don’t connect a wireless access point to it. You must choose between the “convenience” of wireless and a secure network, you cannot have both, especially when you don’t want to invest in RADIUS servers, secure certificates, and all the other stuff that’s associated with WPA encryption; itself no guarantee of 100% security.

Don’t get me wrong, wireless does have its place, but by no means should it be considered to be an all-encompassing solution for network connectivity requirements. It’s limited, unreliable, unsecure, and a lot of the time just not worth the hassle. It’s been improving over time, and will continue to do so, but it’s not mission-critical just yet. Until it is, use it at your own risk, and if it goes wrong, use a fucking cable.