It's just plain faster
The 802.11a standard operates over radio waves in the unlicensed 5GHz band and delivers speeds up to 54Mbps (or as much as five times faster than the old 802.11b standard)--enough to handle data-intensive applications, large files, and true multimedia streaming video. It also supports eight nonoverlapping channels (compared to three for 802.11b), which provides up to 432Mbps of bandwidth in a given coverage area. Another advantage of 802.11a solutions such as the Pro/Wireless 5000 is their immunity to interference from cordless phones, microwave ovens, and Bluetooth adapters. These devices can bring an 802.11b network to its knees, but 802.11a operates at 5GHz where the air is clearer.
Roam if you want to
The $449 Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN access point is not much bigger than a paperback novel. The entire package contains the access point, a mounting bracket, a power supply and cord, a CD bearing software and product documentation, and a Quick Installation Guide. Hardware installation amounts to selecting the right location, plugging in the power cord, and snapping in an Ethernet cable. If you need help, the CD-ROM contains the Adapter Manual, the Access Point Manual, and the LAN Administrator's Guide. All three are well organized, comprehensive, and fully searchable.
Adjusting the Pro/Wireless 5000's network settings is a little trickier. The access point ships with DHCP disabled, so you must connect via a wired workstation to configure it. Once you've done that, the Web-based configuration tool lets you add the access point to your network within a matter of seconds. Simply assign it a name, a wireless network ID, and appropriate IP address information either statically or by enabling DHCP. Next, reboot the Pro/Wireless 5000 access point, connect it to your office LAN; voilà, your 802.11a network is up and running. In addition to the access point, remember that each computer you want to connect wirelessly must have an 802.11a adapter, such as Intel's $179 PC Card adapter for notebooks or the $229 PCI adapter for desktops. Unfortunately, the Pro/Wireless 5000 series does not currently support Macs.
Simple yet powerful
Despite its straightforward installation, the Pro/Wireless 5000 series is clearly geared toward network professionals. The Web-based configuration pages let you tailor the device to your own office environment by making some pretty sophisticated adjustments. For example, you can adjust the antenna pattern, the transmit power, the data rate, the fragmentation threshold, and the beacon interval. The Web-based utility also gives you detailed traffic statistics, including information on packet and error types. And the access point comes with firmware that can be upgraded over TFTP.
Security has never been one of 802.11's strong points. Although the Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN access point can be configured to use 128-bit WEP encryption, Intel recommends that you run wireless connections through a VPN. WEP is the Achilles' heel of the Pro/Wireless 5000. If running wireless connections through a VPN isn't an option, consider a solution with more advanced 802.1x support.