More and more homes are subscribing to broadband services, such as DSL, cable modem or fiber-to-the-home, and, as a result, more and more people are interested in sharing that broadband connection among multiple computers and other devices. Consumers in this situation do have several options, for instance, existing in-home telephone, electrical and even cable TV wiring can be used – in addition to building an “office-style” LAN using Ethernet cabling.

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However, many people are finding that the wireless or “Wi-Fi” way is a faster, simpler and “neater” home networking solution. To date, this has meant adding routers and hub equipment to create a WLAN, but, as seen in other areas of technology, software is taking the place of hardware in many applications and now wireless data networking is even easier with the advent of soft access point (SoftAP) software, from companies such as PCTEL.

The Segue™ SoftAP software creates an instant Wi-Fi network for home or office by simply installing it on an ordinary desktop, laptop or PDA computer equipped with a wireless client adapter, obviating the need for additional access points or complex configuration of access points and routers. The Segue™ SoftAP software creates a single, intuitive application that runs on a PC to intelligently manage all the procedures for setting up a wireless network. Typically, an installation utility scans the host PC and automatically configures itself with optimal settings.

In seconds, the host PC will be able to share files and a broadband wired connection with other computers, all with the freedom of wireless mobility. The whole family can access a single broadband connection at the same time from the den, bedroom or even the back yard. Conference rooms with a single Ethernet connection can instantly be transformed into a facility with Wi-Fi access through any laptop equipped with Segue™ SoftAP. Furthermore, to combat “war driving” and “war chalker” hackers, enhanced security features keep unwanted and unauthorized devices off the network and firewall functions are shared automatically. PCs configured as access points in this manner lose none of their computing capability or access to previously-installed software – a user would detect no difference at all.

A brief overview of some other technical considerations, using the Segue™ SoftAP from PCTEL as an example, reveals the ease and efficiency of “soft” WLAN connections.

The Segue™ SoftAP architecture supports various compatible Wi-Fi chipsets and bus interfaces (USB, PCMCIA, or PCI formats) on various Windows operating systems and multiple access standards, such as DHCP, PPPoE and PPPoA. Enhanced security features automatically recommend the more advanced wireless enhanced protocol (WEP) setup and WPA and MAC filtering enhance WEP security.

The system’s flexibility also offers attractive features for easy home network installation. The Segue™ SoftAP supports both access point and wireless router modes and business travelers can make their laptops either an access point (on the road, to create an instant WLAN in a conference room or at lunch) or a client (at home). WDS capability extends wireless coverage and modular architecture allows simple incorporation of new Wi-Fi standards. Furthermore, a “skinnable” display allows complete customization of the user interface. Segue™ SoftAP can also be used to quickly and cost-effectively increase coverage and capacity by creating a “mesh” network of Wi-fi access points.

At this point, PCTEL’s Segue™ SoftAP software will be available primarily as part of a “bundled” offering from a service provider or a bundled solution from a PC or wireless device manufacturer such as Arcadyan or MSI. For instance, the Segue™ SoftAP is delivered as a bundled solution from the manufacturers of retail 802.11 client adapters, licensed to 802.11 chipset suppliers and motherboard manufacturers as a value added option, or licensed for distribution to wire line broadband service providers as part of their home networking solution.

Biju Nair has been in the wireless telecommunications industry for more than 10 years and is currently the vice president and general manager of the Segue Products Business Unit at PCTEL, located in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to joining PCTEL, Mr. Nair worked for Agilent Technologies, Inc. as the manager of Wireless Planning, Design and Management Solutions for Agilent’s Wireless Networks Solutions, where he managed several global software teams. Prior to the acquisition by Agilent, Mr. Nair was the Vice President and General Manager of Software Products at SAFCO Technologies, Inc. There he led the teams that brought several key SAFCO wireless test and measurement products like VoicePrint and OPAS32 to market.

Nair holds B.S and M.S degrees in Electronics and Computer Engineering and an advanced degree in Computer Science from Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He has published numerous articles for the wireless telecom industry.