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Freedom to roam

Wireless networking for the home has never been easy, but we look at two products that show that out-of-the-box connectivity is almost here

Since the advent of cordless and now mobile telephones, we are no longer tethered to the wall when making a phone call. However, the same cannot be said of internet access: no matter whether a dial-up or ADSL connection or a cable modem is employed, computers must be connected to the little square socket in the wall.

That is not so frustrating if you have a desktop PC, but for laptop owners it almost defeats the purpose of having a portable device.

However, in the past couple of years, salvation has come in the form of wireless networking. It is all made to sound so simple: just get a wireless base station and a wireless card for your laptop and hey presto, you're on the Net with no cables. Sadly, anyone who has actually tried to set up a wireless network knows it is a little more complicated than that.

I recently roped in a friend, who manages the network of a small London company, to set up a wireless network for me. Unfortunately, not even he could get one working properly despite repeated tweaks. The frustration soon meant giving up in disgust and going back to a cable.

A few months ago, BT launched its Home Network 1200, which promised a wireless network that was both easy to set up and really worked. I scoffed, but thought it deserved the benefit of the doubt. It was just as well, for the quite attractively designed cream-coloured unit does the trick rather well indeed.

The device can be used to network a home via its telephone sockets, but I was more interested in adding a wireless card to make it a wireless base station. The 1200 also doubles as an ADSL modem, making it a smart purchase for anyone graduating from dial-up to broadband.

Setting up the network proved to be reasonably straightforward; had I read the instructions more carefully it would have been even faster. Even so, it took only about 90 minutes before everything clicked into place and I was able to surf the Net on the couch in front of the TV. Then I took the laptop upstairs to my bedroom - and maintained the connection!

The BT device is not perfect: occasionally websites are no longer accessible, even though the laptop is still on the network. And in certain parts of the flat the connection is lost momentarily. But those problems are more to do with the technology's limitations than the unit itself.

Teachers with their own laptop as well as a desktop perhaps used by the kids will find the 1200 very useful indeed: it allows a broadband connection to be shared, as well as a printer, and makes file-swapping simple. There is also a built-in firewall and software controls that allow internet usage to be monitored.

Just be warned - you will find yourself online for much longer periods of time. But isn't the web better than most of the rubbish on TV anyway?

BT Home Network 1200 Price: pound;149 BT wireless card pound;39.00 each (one needed for the base unit and one for each computer on the network) BT D40 Tel: 0800 587 8877 www.bt.comhomenetworking Fitness for purpose ***** Features **** Ease of use ***** Quality **** Value for money ****

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