Info & Answers
The Best and Worst of a Wireless World
Am I the only one puzzled by the unpredictability of wireless devices?
December 11, 2008 by Richard M. Sherwin

I was shocked, awed, and thoroughly mystified by what I witnessed a few weeks back in Bryant Park next to the 42nd Street Public Library in New York City.

My friend, working on a Toshiba Satellite computer, and I, using a Dell Inspiron, were watching a terrific indie movie on The Sundance channel via Wi-Fi. Later the same day, I was watching the Jets and he was watching the Patriots. Displayed in super high-res HDTV, were two exciting football games. Even the audio through our respective A&R and Sennheiser headphones (simulated 5.1 channel surround sound) made our home theater in the park, a terrific wireless experience.

I had a great time with all this wonderful 3G-4G audio/video wireless technology even though my computers, Wi-Fi adapters and mobile equipment were trapped between skyscrapers. Normally, you’re lucky to get GPS, satellite radio signals and Verizon mobile reception in this section of the Big Apple. Did I have some wireless angel hanging over me? Why was this new age technology working where even the experts say it is almost impossible to receive true mobile live multimedia? Did the clouds part…were the satellites and stars in alignment?

I don’t know. But why is it that when I am indoors, safely ensconced in my home office or den, my spread spectrum 5.8 gigahertz Panasonic cordless phone can’t be anywhere near my home PC, wireless mouse or keyboard, HD radio and even sometimes my cable TV, or else I get interference as if some spy was jamming my home technology to prevent me from sending messages to the Central Command?

At home in New Jersey, I’ve had Verizon’s usually terrific DSL repair people, Time Warner’s crack emergency cable TV service technicians and even the superb building engineers at my condo. They all tell me that I am the umpteenth caller to complain about wireless home problems in this big high rise complex.

The excuses from some of these experts are that the metal doors to the apartment can block or bounce signals from my various IR remotes, or literally cause the wireless doorbell to interfere with the usually terrific Logitech Harmony Remote working with my Squeezebox, whole house audio setup. Even my VUDU STB and my Sonos wireless audio system which operate at a different megahertz level than most wireless systems, still act strangely times.

In the case of the Panasonic spread spectrum phones, my engineer neighbor says that he has newer models of that multiline-multi-handset Panasonic phone and he has even worse problems. He thinks these phones can paralyze, not just the mouse, but other aspects of his home computers as well.

City dwellers aren’t the only ones victimized by this inconsistent service. A friend who lives in similarly equipped home in a very rural area of Long Island minus the elevators, metal doors or sophisticated Wi-Fi doorbells claims she never has a day in which Wi-Fi, infrared and Blue-tooth doesn’t do something strange to her state-of-the-art entertainment or computing technology.

But she did have a temporary solution: “If the economy gets worse, we may all be living in the park and then all this stuff will work like a charm.”

I did get some really great advice, though, from Intel’s Uday Keshavdas, one of the company’s top marketing execs who is also a very honest and open technical guru.

“People don’t realize how easy it is to adjust their router, keyboard, wireless video or audio Wi-Fi adapter,” Uday says. Wireless routers give off such a strong signal that in an apartment building, or even an isolated suburban home, there are many homes and devices sharing the same channel. “All you have to do is move two or three devices to another channel and voila, you should have a clear space from which to operate your products.”

Author’s Note:
For those of you who wrote so elegantly about my stupidity in not reading directions carefully (see “When Plug-and-Play Goes Horribly Wrong”), I truly apologize for my laziness and wonder if you could read those manuals and send us a detailed review for ALL those devices. Not a review of the devices, a review of the manuals. And if you truly believe that before operating a $2,500 component audio system or $1,500 TV or $1,000 whole house media network you should have to read an entire instruction manual, you have too much time on your hands.

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Richard M. Sherwin - Contributing Writer
Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.

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