Networking for the Common Man, IT Manager

Ever since road warriors first downloaded e-mail, accessed the Web or tapped into an internal network, they've been limited to using dial-up technology.

Ever since road warriors first downloaded e-mail, accessed the Web or tapped into an internal network, theyve been limited to using dial-up technology. Thats all changing and dramatically for the better.

Everyone knows dialing for data is an awful way to go. It works but is flaky, horribly slow and invites the wrath of family members angry at you for tying up a phone line. The good news is theres an alternative if your company adopts IP-based VPNs (virtual private networks).

IT loves IP-based VPNs, which usually come in two flavors of client: LAN-to-LAN and client-based. They can halve telecommunications bills, obviating the need for expensive T-1 and T-3 lines as well as general telephone services. Security and portability are much better as well.

Theyre even driving hotel broadband access, a new moneymaker for that industry. My last hotel offered broadband for $10 during my stay, and it was worth every cent. You plug in, log in to the VPN and in an instant have a powerful connection once available only in the office. Road warriors who have VPN access should avail themselves of hotel rooms with this service.

The workplace VPN also motivated me to spruce up my home network. My four Internet consuming devices were linked by a simple Netgear hub that plugged into my cable modem. So I decided to move up and go with the Linksys router for the firewall, the expandability and the lower cable bills.

AT&T, my Internet cable provider and the new-old monopoly on the block (its hard to imagine that most college freshmen have never heard of Ma Bell!), could see all my PCs, and that bothered me. It also charged me an extra $9.95 for a home networking option, which enables a customer to hook more than one device into a single cable connection. The Linksys router, an eight-port unit capable of supporting up to 253 devices, obviated the need for that. AT&T only sees the router and nothing behind it.

It took me a few calls to Linksys and AT&T to get the router working properly, but once I did, the feeling was empowerment. My homework is no one elses business but mine, and Linksys is making sure it stays that way. After a $20 Linksys rebate Im still waiting for, the unit cost $189.

AT&T was also charging me $10 a month for renting this ancient oversized LAN city cable modem. Folks, Ive had cable Internet access for more than four years. Do the math. Ive easily paid $500 to rent the modem from AT&T (formerly MediaOne and before that Highway1), and I dont even own it! That stinks of the same phone monopolies that, until recently, extorted rent for rotary dial phones from little old ladies. So I sprung for my own cable modem, a sleek Toshiba unit costing $199.

That said, I love cable, but customer service is spotty, and the company has hassled me about removing the modem rental charge from my bill.

What daring IP exploits are ahead for me? Probably IP telephony, which IDC serendipitously predicts will account for 47 percent of all long-distance traffic by 2005. And if you were wondering about what the real benefit of Web technology is, its networking for the common man.