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Every wireless adapter comes with its own software client, for use in managing the settings for the connection. There is usually an executable file that will install the software onto the system. The user should follow the instructions in the manual for device specific instructions. Many USB and PC Card adapters prefer to have the software installed before the hardware is connected. This varies for different adapters, so it is best to look at the manual to see how the manufacturer suggests the install be completed.
Once the software, drivers, and hardware are all installed, the user is ready to configure the software. Most wireless utilities will place an icon in the system tray when the software is running. The icon will most likely give some indication as to the status and possibly as to the quality of the connection. Double-clicking on the icon should open a window with the settings for the wireless adapter.
The first place to look, within the software client, is at the site survey. This will give the user the ability to scan for available wireless networks. After scanning, the utility will report back with a list of available connections, and a few pieces of information about each of them. This information includes the SSID, BSSID, Channel, Encryption Status, and Signal Strength. The user can identify the network to which they wish to connect by examining this information. Usually double-clicking on the network will connect to it; there may also be a connect button. If all is well, this will allow the user to connect to the network.
Lets take a closer look at each of the pieces of information that are provided by the site survey.
SSID: The SSID is kind of like a workgroup name for wireless networks. All devices that wish to communicate wirelessly will need to have the same SSID. The user will specify the SSID in the settings of the AP (unless it is an ad-hoc network, in which case the SSID will be entered manually in the software client settings). The software client will automatically detect the SSID that is being broadcast by the AP, and will connect the adapter to it. In some cases it will be necessary to manually enter the SSID into the software client settings for the adapter. This is usually the case if the AP is setup so as not to broadcast its SSID. Manually entering the SSID may also help to prevent the adapter from connecting to non-preferred wireless networks.
BSSID: The BSSID is the MAC address of the device broadcasting the SSID, as detected by the site survey. This is helpful in situations such as wireless repeating in which there may be two identical SSIDs available. The BSSID will allow the user to distinguish between the two. Having this information is also useful if the user wishes to deploy any sort of filtering via MAC addresses.
Channel: The available channels for use on a wireless network will depend on the type of equipment being used. The site survey will automatically detect the channel on which the wireless signal is being broadcast, and allow the adapter to connect to it. If the user wishes to change the channel, they will need to do so in the AP settings (unless it is an ad-hoc network, in which case the channel will be set manually in the settings of the software client).
Encryption Status: This will usually be a simple yes or no, to indicate as to whether or not any type of encryption is in use on the wireless network. If the value says no, then the user need do nothing; the network is not secure. If the value says yes, then user will need to enter the same key that was specified in the AP settings. The user will need to know whether the network is using WEP or WPA, and will also need to know the key. The software client may prompt for the key upon trying to connect, or there may be a separate area within its settings, that allows the configuration of the security information.
Signal Strength: The site survey will return a value indicating the strength of the wireless connection. This is somewhat helpful in determining whether or not the user is likely to be successful in establishing the wireless link. However, the signal strength as reported by the site survey, is usually just a static capture of the signal at the moment the survey was initiated. So, it is not the most accurate judge of true signal strength. Once the user has connected to the wireless network, there should be another area within the software client that will give a dynamic report of the signal strength and link quality.
Once the software client has established a wireless link, it is up to the operating system to negotiate an IP address for the workstation. This is done through the TCP/IP settings in the OS. It is fully possible for the wireless adapters software client to report a good connection to the network, and the workstation not yet have a valid IP address.
Aside from using the software client that came with the adapter, the user may choose to use the Windows XP wireless utility (if using XP), or a third party software solution.