Frustrated by eight computer crashes that destroyed his data and needing a reliable network to run Intuit's Master Builder 7, contractor Michael Strong considered a $15,000 wired network. Then he decided to embrace the future instead, installing a wireless system.

The cost, half of that for one hard wired through his office floor, was $7,862. So for Strong, of Brothers Strong, Houston, the decision was easy.

The price included a Dell workstation, acting as a server, an Intel Wireless Gateway, seven Agere Wireless 802.11b PCMCIA Network Cards (acting as antennas connecting laptops to the wireless hub), other peripherals, and a service contract.

B.J. Farmer, of Change is the Only Constant (, addressed security three ways. He put a 128-bit encryption algorithm on the Intel Gateway; input into the hub each network card's MAC (Media Access Control) address so only they could "talk" to the network; and removed the DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) from the wireless switch, so foreign devices can't tap in.

"With a radio frequency, you have to worry whenever you're broadcasting," Farmer says. "You don't want someone in your driveway hacking into your network."

The network is password protected. Strong loves powering up his laptop within 100 feet of the switch and becoming linked to the system in a few mouse clicks. He also appreciates the automatic backup. He reports no glitches since his mid-March installation. Like a client trusting a good remodeler, he put faith in Farmer, who was recommended by Intuit. "The transition has been seamless," Strong says.

This year, Farmer had installed 60 wireless networks through April. To that point, he used 802.11b standard technology because it was the most reliable, cost effective, and fastest available (data is transferred at 11 Mbps; by comparison, most wired networks offer speeds of 100 Mbps). In April, the more reliable 802.11a standard became available, allowing speeds of 54 Mbps. And 802.11g technology, predicted to be released next year, will match that speed but more securely dispatch data.

NPDTechworld of Reston, Va., says 802.11b technology sales have exploded, from $5.3 million in 2000 to $74.8 million last year.