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Which wireless client vendor will keep my network from disconnecting?

Learn which vendors provide universal wireless clients for Windows laptops that may address network and Internet disconnects as well as missing profile problems, in Ask the Expert response from Lisa Phifer.

Our hospital's IT group has trouble with the Intel Pro Set wireless client staying connected, when multiple people use the same laptop. Previously-defined wireless profiles would sometimes vanish when someone else logged onto the laptop. After investigation, we opted not to use the Windows connection manager and chose to buy the Cisco Secure Services Client. But I'm not sure that's going to fix our problem. Are there any other universal wireless clients out there besides the Juniper Odyssey Client? We're using some HP laptops, but mainly Panasonic T7 laptops.
When it comes to wireless clients, there are basically four camps:
  1. Connection managers embedded in the operating system (OS) -- The native Windows Wireless Zero Configuration service fits in this category. This alternative is great when your client population is homogeneous and that native client does everything you need. But you indicate this is not your case.

  2. WLAN client software bundled with network adapters -- Examples include Intel Pro Set, Cisco Aironet Client Utility, and the Dell Wireless Client Utility. This alternative is limited to WLAN connectivity and can create tech support problems for populations that use many different adapters. Given that the Intel Pro Set didn't meet your needs (and I assume that's your adapter vendor of choice), we'll rule this option out.

  3. Wireless connection managers offered to subscribers by 3G WLAN operators and Wi-Fi hotspot service providers -- Examples here include the PCTEL Roaming Client (used by AT&T and T-Mobile), acquired by SmithMicro, which OEMs the QuickLink Mobile connection manager to both providers and hardware manufacturers. This alternative is most useful for on-the-go users who need help switching between available network connections -- which may include both public and private WLANs. It's possible that one of these OEM clients might meet your needs -- but enterprises don't usually buy these clients directly for private Wi-Fi only.

  4. Wireless security client software offered by third parties to fill in the gaps -- These "universal clients" are not constrained to a single OS, a single adapter, or a specific service provider. Furthermore, they do more than connection management, like integrating with Network Access Control (NAC) frameworks or roaming securely and transparently between networks. Examples of the former include the Cisco Secure Services Client (acquired from Meetinghouse) and the Juniper Odyssey Client (acquired from Funk). Examples of the latter include the Trellia Mobility Client and the Columbitech CT Secure Connect Client. You may well find the answer that you're looking for here, although you might end up buying more functionality than you really need.

One more wireless client that doesn't quite fit into this taxonomy but might be of interest to you is the Open1x client, a cross-platform open source 802.1X supplicant and connection manager interface originally developed by Identity Engines and supported by the OpenSEA Alliance. To learn more and download a copy, visit the IEEE 802.1x Open Source Implementation website.

Honestly, I don't know if any of these alternative wireless clients for Windows laptops will address your problem with vanishing profiles, but I hope that I've given you several potential alternatives to consider.

This was last published in October 2008

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