Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The state of WiFi is mixed

Due to circumstances beyond my control I had to pay $50 for a D-Link DIR-615 Wireless N Router today.

I won't bother with a technical review. This thing has a 3 star Amazon rating; there are presumably better alternatives at the same price point. Most middle income users would do better to buy the $180 Apple AirPort Extreme. Cheap junk has a high cost of ownership.

The purchase gives me the excuse, however, so pass on a few observations on the state of WiFi today ...
  • 802.11G is a sweet spot technology. It's good enough and reliable enough if you can find decent equipment.
  • 802.11N 2.4GHz is good but overhyped, and 802.11N 5GHz is junk.
  • WiFi equipment breaks. I assume it's something to do with the physics of radio. These things fail like hard drives. I'd love to know why they're so fragile.
  • Apple tech doesn't handle microwave interference well. Devices lose their signal and fail to reacquire - including iPads [1]. I don't know if Windows devices do any better. Disappointing.
  • Modern microwave ovens are insanely leaky. Doesn't the FCC regulate this industry at all? We need way better regulation of microwave emissions.
  • The "wizard" setup on the D-link DIR-615 assigns an insane wireless device password, and the manual setup is crazy-geeky. There's stuff in there even I don't recognize. It didn't used to be this bad; why can't anyone but Apple do device software any more?
  • WiFi is not reliable enough.
I'll expand on the last bit. Over the past six months I've gone completely cable free at home and at my parent's home, using only Apple equipment. Even with the best available residential gear, it's nowhere near as reliable as cabled setups.

At my home I have to power cycle our gear every two to four months. At my mother's home, however, with a 3 yo AirPort Express (pre-N), they ran into problems every two weeks or so. I've switched her main machine back to a wired connection.

I suspect a hardware problem at my mother's home, but I think my own home record is reasonably typical for healthy hardware. Between the limited reliability of healthy hardware, high hardware failure rates, and (except Apple) remarkably bad setup software, the state of the wireless market is not happy.

We need more studies of why markets fail. What's wrong with capitalism? Were market failures always this common?

[1] I bought my mother an iPad. I've used it a fair bit. I knew it would be big, but I thought the need for a classic computer (iTunes sync) would limit iPad 1 adoption. I thought iPad 2 with MobileMe sync would be the big one. So I'm surprised iPad 1 is so big. It's not for me though.

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