802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide

Author: Matthew Gast
Pages: 464
Publisher: O’Reilly & Associates
ISBN: 0596001835


With an upscale adoption rate on wireless networking technology, a number of individuals and organizations started to migrate to 802.11 networks. The book is an in-depth guide through the 802.11 standard, with focuses on both the theory and practice.

About the author

Matthew S. Gast is a renaissance technologist. In addition to his expertise on a variety of network technologies, he is relentlessly inquisitive about the interconnected and interdependent world around him. Matthew is also a Registered Patent Agent before the US Patent and Trademarks Office.

Inside the book

As the title of this book includes syntax “the definitive guide”, you know there will be a lot of technical stuff inside, right? If you are expecting someone to teach you the inner workings of a wireless network, the book will surely fulfill your expectations. The author stretches this type of information over the first 200 pages (out of 400), where he intuitively traverses the basics of wireless networking and than goes deeper and deeper into overviews of specific frame parts, methods and procedures.

By reading the book’s preface, readers are introduced with the hardware the author used while writing this book. Besides the ever present Orinoco and hip Apple WLAN hardware, Gast used a couple of Nokia gadgets – both the AO32 Access Point and a Nokia C110/C111 card. As I wasn’t familiar with Nokia’s wireless equipment, it was very interesting to see what they had (still have?) in their wireless arsenal. The author’s descriptions of experience while working with this hardware clearly showed that Nokia had some great equipment even back then. The most positive aspects of Nokia’s greatness would be complex administration possibilities, usage of smart cards for memorizing the information and many more. I’ve had my hands over a number of wireless cards and access points, but unfortunately didn’t have the chance to play with Nokia’s. Guess I’ll need to Google this a bit, to see the current status of Nokia in the wireless market.

Besides giving some good exposure to Nokia, the author provides installation and usage information for both Lucent and Intersil based WLAN cards. While these procedures in Windows environment are quite self-explaining, majority of now older Linux platforms needed some extra work. The author guides the readers through specific installations of PCMCIA card services, linux-wlan-ng (upgrade from the original linux-wlan code) and Kernel 2.0/2.2 and 2.4 specific wvlan_cs and orinoco_cs. Those “exotic” ones, wanting to use the power of wireless networking without a graphical user interface, will find the appropriate guides of doing everything from the shell. Apple users weren’t forgotten, as Gast dedicates a shorter appendix on the Apple Airport usage.

The book is closed with a couple of very good chapters. First is dealing with 802.11 network analysis, with a special overview of using popular products such as Ethereal and Airsnort and the other contains some valuable tips for performance tuning.

Final thoughts

Despite providing a wealth of extensive in-depth technical pieces of information, which vary from cryptic shorts to descriptions of specific frame parts, the book is very easy to read. I was impressed with the magnitude of theory the author provided on the core of wireless networking and the way he interconnected it with actual workings of a wireless network, therefore making the readers to fully understand some of the topics they would just “fast-forward”.

From the security perspective, there are approximately 25 pages where the author discusses WEP weaknesses and the need for 802.1X. Here comes a negative perspective, as the book was published in April 2002 and it is a fact that it needs (and deserves) an updated second edition. There were a lot of new happenings since the initial release, and I hope O’Reilly will give us a second edition soon.

As a trivia note that I’ve learned from this book – do you know were Lucent got inspiration to name their brand Orinoco? It comes from the third largest river system in the world. At its peak, the river grows to over 10 miles wide and more than 300 feet deep. This little piece of information will create a big “whatever” sign with most of you, but should be a cool detail to a lot of us Orinoco hardware fans out there.

Although more than a half of the topics covered inside the publication are directly targeted towards advance users, the book should be a pre-requisite for anyone wanting to seriously enter the “wireless waters”. You cannot miss with any of O’Reilly books on wireless networks and this one surely isn’t an exception.

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