Segue: Integrated roaming from home to office to hot spot

Intuitive client bundles hot spot location directory, AP finder, WPA/VPN-enabled profiles and status monitor for public and private wireless networks.

Product name: Segue Roaming Client
Company name: PCTEL
Price: $19.95 (free from providers)

Platforms: Windows XP/2000/ME/98SE

Bottom line: Full-featured wireless connection manager for roaming hot spot users

In a nut shell: Intuitive client bundles hot spot location directory, AP finder, WPA/VPN-enabled profiles and status monitor for public and private wireless networks.

Pros:

  • Single roaming client manages connections to home, business and public WLANs
  • Custom clients available at no cost to T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, NTT DoCoMo, Cingular, Wi-Fi Texas and other Wireless ISP subscribers
  • Automates hot spot/network login, VPN client launch and latest Wi-Fi security options (WPA/802.1X)

Cons:

  • Client can support many wireless networks, but use mostly limited to Wi-Fi now
  • May conflict with other wireless connection management software
  • Supports 802.1X with EAP-TLS, TTLS, and PEAP/MS-CHAPv2, but you'll need another client for other EAP types (e.g., Cisco ACU for LEAP)

Description:

Mobile professionals who use the same wireless laptop at home, at the office, and when visiting public hot spots, know that settings and procedures can vary for each network. Configuration and authentication interfaces differ by operating system, wireless card, and provider/carrier. Multiple independent GUIs can be required, depending upon location and network type. Adding new connections as needed to Windows XP can leave you with a hodgepodge of entries, little control over connection activation, and nothing to facilitate roaming between disjoint wireless networks. PCTEL's Segue Roaming Client tackles this challenge by consolidating wireless connection management and status monitoring under one unified GUI.

Segue installs with your choice of standard or customized "skins." Skins modify the client's look, but provide basically the same features. Segue's Profile Manager lets you configure networks to be connected to automatically, only when prompted, or when manually selected. Each connection can have its own SSID, security, VPN and browser settings. Segue can be used with no 802.11 encryption (for most public hot spots) or WEP/TKIP (for home or office WLANs). Encrypted connections can use preshared keys (typical in SOHO WLANs) or 802.1X (common in enterprise WLANs, coming soon to some hot spots). Segue's WPA and 802.1X support are strong, but LEAP is noticeably missing. Instructions describe how to use Cisco's ACU for LEAP, but swapping between these clients diminishes Segue's single-GUI value proposition.

Companies will appreciate Segue's ability to launch a designated VPN client at connect time. Portal users can configure a per-connection URL for browser auto-launch. Like Windows XP, Segue presents a list of available wireless networks. Unlike XP, Segue presents details about each network and lets you explicitly control connection status. Upon first successful connect, Segue volunteers to save settings or can be configured to save them automatically. A brief log is available for history or diagnostic purposes.

Individuals can buy Segue directly, but several WISPs also make custom versions available at no cost to subscribers. For example, T-Mobile subscribers who download "Connection Manager" get Segue with a license valid until 90 days of inactivity. In theory, Segue can manage network connections over Wi-Fi, GPRS, CDMA2000, and PHS, using Mobile IP for seamless roaming. In practice, networks that can be accessed depend upon the client version and provider. We used the PCTEL trial and T-Mobile subscriber versions of Segue with private and public Wi-Fi networks. Other announced providers also appear limited to Wi-Fi at this time.

Segue supports a fairly extensive list of 802.11b/g adapters. We tried the Cisco 350, D-Link DWL-122 and Dell TruMobile 1150, and were successful with all three. But we did need to make adjustments. The PCTEL client had trouble using 802.1X with the DWL-122. The T-Mobile client warned of D-Link client conflict during installation and resolved it for trouble-free 802.1X. Neither warned of conflict with Cisco's ACU, but Segue couldn't control our Cisco 350 until we reconfigured ACU to let Windows manage connections. Client conflicts are really no surprise -- in fact, that's one of the reasons that using a single client to control all connections is appealing.

Mobile professionals who roam from home to office to hot spot WLAN and must deal with different security/VPN settings for each can benefit from using Segue to control these connections. WISP subscribers can use Segue's location directory to find their provider's hot spots. Others can still use Segue's AP finder to discover and connect to nearby WLANs. Users with PDAs, Macs, or 802.11a will need to look elsewhere, but Win32 802.11b/g users will find Segue a friendly, comprehensive alternative to "factory-issue" wireless clients.

About the author: Lisa Phifer is vice president of Core Competence, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in network security and management technology. She is also a site expert to SearchMobileComputing.com and SearchNetworking.com.

This was first published in March 2004

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