Wireless Networking Improvements in Windows XP Service Pack 2

 

Microsoft updated many parts of Windows XP when it released Service Pack 2 (SP2). If you don’t travel regularly, you might not have noticed the dramatic improvements to wireless networking. Specifically, the Wireless Network Connections dialog box now shows much more information, making it very easy to find and connect to wireless networks in your area.

 

Understanding the Wireless Connection Dialog Box

The biggest improvement to wireless networking in Service Pack 2 is the Wireless Network Connection dialog box, as shown in Figure 1. As you can see, it lists all the nearby wireless networks that have strong enough signals for a connection. For each network, it shows the network’s Service Set Identifier (SSID), encryption (WEP KEY :), connection status, and signal strength. A dialog box displays the name and logo of the hotspot service provider instead of the SSID.

 

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Figure 1

When you’re connecting to public wireless networks, it’s important to understand some are secured and some are not. If the network is security-enabled, the Wireless Network Connection dialog box shows a gold lock. The gold lock means you need a key (secure password or number) to connect to it, but the network will protect the privacy of your communications. If it’s not security-enabled, you don’t need a key to connect to it, but other people might be able to view your communications. For example, if you connect to a wireless network that is not security-enabled and check your e-mail, another user connected to the same wireless network (who is skilled with network attack tools and willing to break the law) could read your user name and password. They could also read your e-mail messages and identify each Web site you visit.

 

Like any radio signal, the signal strength of Wi-Fi networks varies depending on how close you are to the wireless access point (WAP) and the obstacles that are between you and the WAP. Like the bars on your mobile phone, the Wireless Network Connection dialog box shows more bars when the signal is stronger. You can connect even if you only see one bar, but you might lose your network connection if you move a few feet or if you turn your computer in a different direction. If you do lose your connection, Windows XP will notify you and attempt to automatically reconnect.