During the several months prior to installing our fractional T1, I had been researching various ways of sharing to connection including “traditional” DSL (using a DSLAM) “back to back” SDSL (across BANA circuits) and wireless. After discussing the options it became clear the becoming a CLEC and collocating a DSLAM in the Telco’s central office was not a viable option.

That left us with the two most likely possibilities – wireless and SDSL.

Of the two choices wireless seemed like the best option because it allowed us to be independent of the telephone company’s network and (more importantly) the recurring bills. Naturally, the logical choice seemed to be finding the least expensive wireless manufacturer and buying some equipment to test.

After contacting several manufacturers to discussing pricing, performance and everything else I could think of asking I decided to purchase some equipment from Zoom Telephonics. Zoom was offering evaluation pricing on their 2Mbps DSSS equipment and was guaranteeing a free upgrade to their 11Mbps radios when they released their product. As an added attraction I was promised unlimited tech support plus they were located three hours away from us and if necessary we could drive there.

That was enough for me. I ordered just about everything that I thought I would ever need for testing. This included four PCMCIA cards, (complete with external connector) four PCMCIA to PCI cards, four RF extension cables, three flat panel antennas along with two copies of their software access point. The software was necessary because at the time Zoom couldn’t supply me with was an access point as they were out of stock. We also found another company (who will remain nameless) who sold us an omni antenna for way too much money.

The order took nearly two weeks to get to us and during that time we were inviting people over to try out our “high-speed” connection. The excitement was building and there were several people around town that had told us they were interested in our service. It seemed like nothing could stop us now.

The day the equipment arrived my expectations were somewhere near the levels of a six-year-old on Christmas morning. My wife and I opened the packages, read the manuals, installed on of the PCMCIA cards in our notebook and using the PCMCIA to PCI adapter installed another card into an old 486 we dragged out of the garage.

The entire process (including a few calls to tech support) took until midnight at which point we called it a day.

The next day was a Saturday morning and we were excited. I got up early and started trying to become familiar with the equipment. Now that we had a working connection it was time to see what we could do with it.

The “access point” got carried up to the attic along with a panel antenna. I mounted the panel antenna in one of the attic windows (actually, I leaned it there) plugged in the computer and started it up. Next I went outside with our notebook to see if I could connect. When the notebook booted up we had a connection. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. I could open up network neighborhood and browse the contents of the access point’s hard drive. Better yet I could even copy a file across the wireless network. It was slow (perhaps 900Kbps) but usable.

Too good! Next up, into the car and let’s see how far this thing could deliver. Dreaming that I could connect all the way to Montana, I started down the street and made it 500 feet before the connection dropped. This was early spring and while most of the trees didn’t have leaves on them there were a few pine trees between the notebook and the house. To complicate matters I was only using the little rubber ducky antenna attached to the notebook. It was time to get the big antenna and see what a difference it could make.

Returning home, I grabbed the panel antenna and an extension cable. I connected the cable and antenna to the notebook’s PCMCIA card and headed out the door. Once the notebook booted up I found I did have a solid connection with the new antenna (at 100 feet I would hope so) and off I went.

Should anyone here decide to try this I would like to say it is a really good idea to not try this alone. As I headed down the street, notebook on the passenger seat, holding the antenna out the window with one hand, steering with the other I quickly realized this was a formula for disaster. Making the best of a bad situation I decided that I would drive down to the bottom of the hill, park and check for signal.

Arriving at the bottom of the street I parked the car and pointed the antenna out the window. Quickly glancing at the notebook I saw there was no connection. No connection? This is only 1,000 feet from my house and while I couldn’t see the house (one huge pine tree was obscuring it) I was rapidly losing faith that this technology was going to allow me to take over the world.

Feeling somewhat defeated (and a little confused) I drove home to report my results. I knew there were people who were getting 10 plus miles with this equipment and I had no idea what I was doing wrong.

I decided to wait until Monday and give tech support a call. Over the weekend I read everything I could find online, rechecked all my cabling and walked around with a mystified look on my face.

Next up – Reality check.

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