Wireless networking is the best thing to happen to computing since the invention of the laptop. Cut the cord and roam around your house, office, cottage, or your local coffee shop all the while still connected to the Internet. No wonder so many people have jumped on the Wi-Fi bandwagon and set up home wireless networks.
But not everyone has taken the leap. According to research by IDC, a whopping 61% of Canadian households still don’t have a wireless set up at home. One reason for this might be that these consumers have no need of a wireless environment. Perhaps their one computer is a desktop and it sits right next to the DSL or Cable modem and never moves. Or perhaps it’s that setting up a wireless network can be a bit daunting. Add to that all of the concerns around wireless security and it’s easy to see why there might be a certain reluctance among some folks to get their hands dirty.
It’s this group of people that Cisco is targeting with a new line of wireless routers, known as Cisco Valet. If you’re familiar with Cisco’s line of Linksys routers, the Valet devices will look very familiar. They share the same thin, rounded-wedge profile as their Linksys brethren but sport a friendly silver and white paint job which gives them a more approachable look when compared to the shiny-black Linksys units.
The key difference between the two product lines is simplicity. While the Valet routers pack much of the same leading-edge wireless software and chipsets as the Linksys boxes, they come ready out-of-the box requiring almost no set-up or customization.
The Valet is aptly named. The whole experience is just like dropping off your car with a (good) valet: you hand them the keys and your parking troubles are instantly dealt with. In the case of the Cisco Valet however, it’s you who gets the key – a USB key in fact – that comes with the router. It’s this key that is, er, key, to the easy set-up.
1. Grab the USB key and plug it into any wired or wireless computer in the house.
2. Grab the Cisco Valet and connect it to your DSL/Cable modem and a power outlet.
3. Follow the step-by-step on-screen wizard on your computer.
A few screens and easy to understand choice later, and you’ve set up a fully secured Wi-Fi network that lets you surf the Internet (and do tons of other things) from anywhere in your home.
If you need to get other computers connected, just remove the key and repeat steps 1 and 3.
A few weeks ago I wrote about one of my favourite new products – the Kodak Pulse digital frame. It’s a photo-frame that lets you update the images via email, without needing a PC. But as someone rightly pointed out in the comments, the frame is useless if the person who buys it (or gets it as a gift) doesn’t have a Wi-Fi network. The Cisco Valet is the perfect answer to this problem, since even though it *does* require a PC for the initial set-up, the process is so painless, it makes an ideal companion to the Kodak frame.
In case you’re worried that the Valet is so dumbed-down that it lacks the advanced settings needed to do more sophisticated things like port forwarding, don’t be: Behind the elegant Valet user interface is a full web-based set of menus which give you the same access to the router’s inner-workings as you would find on any of the Linksys products. But I have a feeling very few people will ever want to peek behind the curtain.
My favourite feature of the Valet – beyond the incredibly easy set up – is the “guest” function. When you set up the router, it automatically creates a secondary network, one that is completely separate from the network that now connects all of your home equipment.
This second network is effectively a tunnel directly onto the Internet, to which you can grant access at any time, and to any person. Say your friend comes over with their iPod Touch and wants to download a new app. No problem. You simply give them the name of the secondary network and an easy-to-remember password and they’re online in seconds. But at no time can they access any of your computers, networked storage devices or any other piece of equipment in your house. Best of all, if your guest happens to be one of your children’s friends, you can impose the same rules around which websites are off-limits. That way no one ends up seeing something they shouldn’t.
The Cisco Valet is a Wi-Fi N product which means that if you have a Wi-Fi N equipped PC or other device, you will experience greater speeds and much greater wireless range than the previous “G” generation of wireless products. In fact, even if your devices are still the older “g” standard, you will likely get better range and performance, if not faster speeds, than your older “g” router.
You can pick up the Valet in one of two flavours: the regular Valet which at $99 is the best value for small homes and businesses, and the Valet Plus at $129 which is a better device for larger homes or businesses that need additional wireless range.
If you’ve ever considered creating a wireless network for your home or office, but have feared the complexity of such a set up, Cisco’s Valet family of products is easily the best solution.