Sunday, 2 March 2008

Asus Eee PC, Nokia E65 and WPA Wireless Networks

My home wireless network uses WPA for security. When I received my Asus Eee PC, it could not connect to my wireless network complaining about the shared key being too long, which I found odd because all other devices connected fine. Then when I got my Nokia E65, it couldn't connect either but wouldn't tell me why.

Then, over the weekend and prompted by a friend, I decided to fiddle with the Eee PC and get it to connect to the wireless network. So, in an attempt to humour the machine, I changed the pass phrase on my network to something shorter. An lo and behold, the Eee connected! It could then ping all the machines on the network except the router it was actually connected to. As a result, it couldn't route any traffic outside the network so couldn't get on the internet. Checking the routing tables, everything looked fine. It could resolve any name into an IP address so it had nothing to do with the DNS. I thought there could be something dodgy with DHCP so I re-configured the interface manually... and it worked! Going backwards, I set it back to DHCP and... it worked fine, even though I didn't change anything compared to the first attempt. That's IT for you: sometimes, doing the same thing twice fails the first time and works the second, for no apparent reason.

Now all chuffed by my success with the Eee, I decided to try again with the Nokia E65. I first spent a good 20 minutes trying to find how to set up access points and being defeated by the completely non-intuitive menu system of the S60 operating system that runs on those phones. I then turned to the user manual (yes, I know, RTFM) which only marginally helped because said manual is riddled with mistakes and the relevant menu option mentioned did not exist. So I spent another 10 minutes finding out where the manual was wrong. I eventually found what I wanted and set up my access point. Of course, in keeping with the experience with the Eee, it failed to connect first time. The main difference was that the E65 just closed the browser without explanation rather than tell me what went wrong. But trying a second time it worked fine.

So there you go: shortening the WPA secret key means that all my wireless enabled devices can now connect to my home network (apart from the Nintendo DS but that's because it doesn't support WPA at all). Some might say that a shorter key means my network is less secure. Yes and no: considering the network doesn't advertise its SSID in the first place, that's two pieces of information you need to guess. And then, because I knew I was shortening the pass phrase, I took more time to think of something that would be more difficult to guess.

PS: Nokia, could you please ditch the poor excuse for an operating system called S60 and give use something intuitive and user friendly instead? Now that you've acquired Trolltech, could we have nice Qtopia based phones please?

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