The Great 802.11 Swindle

I have long harbored the suspicion that WiFi is a kind of mass hallucination rooted in collective embarassment. Fundamental security issues — which are grave, and many — aside, no one wants to be the first to admit that this stuff often doesn’t work worth a damn, and doesn’t come close to delivering the advertised throughput even when it does connect with some approximation of reliability. The fear of being mocked for technical incompetence by one’s companions in suffering is simply too great.

Recent experiences have done more to reinforce my opinion than to change it. Thinking that it was time to move at least partway up the technology curve, I decided to acquire an 802.11g-capable access point. Having been reasonably pleased with D-Link’s DGL-4100 router, I picked up the company’s DWL-2100AP access point, along with a matching omnidirectional antenna.

To say that I am not impressed would be a galloping understatement. I didn’t necessarily expect the product to end world hunger, but for the price, I expected it to at least be fundamentally usable. No dice.

For starters, every single configuration change requires that you reboot the device. Change the SSID? Reboot. Alter encryption settings? Reboot. Switch from a static to a dynamically-assigned IP address? Reboot. Every reboot requires that you and your browser twiddle your thumbs for 20 seconds while the AP regains its ability to act as a web server.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you could batch up the changes and effect them all at once, but you can’t. Maybe you’re supposed to use the included SNMP-based access-point management software if you want advanced functionality like that, but then, really, what was the point of even bothering with a web-based configuration interface in the first place? As it is, the thing makes the Windows update and installation proceess look like the very model of simplicity and elegance, and that’s saying something.

In the end, I could live with that, since I expect to configure it once and then forget about it. I could also live with the prevalence of engrish in the UI, for much the same reason. Remember my casual allusion to dynamically-assigned IP addresses above? I should clarify: you can request that the access point act as a DHCP client, provided you don’t mind its subsequently not working at all. Out of the box, the device presumes its IP address to be 192.168.0.50; switch it to DHCP mode, and it will stop listening on that address — or any other.

Watch your DHCP host’s logs, and you will see the access point requesting and receiving a lease. And requesting and receiving a lease. And requesting and receiving a lease… and so on, ad infinitum. Even though it’s assigned the same IP address every time, it’s completely unresponsive when contacted on that address. Installing the latest-available firmware (v. 2.0, at the time of this writing) does nothing to solve the problem.

So I’m taking it back. If it were a matter of just one flaw with an otherwise-impeccable design, I’d try contacting D-Link technical support and working through the issue. But this is clearly a product that is substandard in a number of significant ways, and was shipped anyway. Those responsible should hang their heads in shame. For $100, I expect and demand better. We’ll see if Netgear can do a better job of winning and keeping my loyalty.

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