ISSUE 592: Zisman- Feb 27 2001
The high-tech office
better with Airconnect technology
In the classic 1967 movie The Graduate,
Dustin Hoffman's character received one word of
advice: "Plastic." In a fantasy remake set right now, that word might
The power of plastic is its ability to be molded into
limitless shapes and forms. Similarly, wireless has a seemingly
infinite range of contexts. There are the ubiquitous cell phones and
pagers, now often extended to add Internet e-mail and limited Web
browsing. I date myself by remembering an age when phones were
connected by wire while TV signals came over the airwaves.
There's the not-quite-here-yet technology, Bluetooth,
promising to connect all sorts of small devices over short distances.
There's untethered Internet connectivity for notebooks and handheld
computers, perhaps using hardware from Richmond's Sierra Wireless
and software from Burnaby's Infowave.
And, increasingly, there's the ability to connect
computers to home and office networks, bypassing the limitations of
standard Ethernet cabling. This technology first came to broad public
awareness when Apple added its Airport wireless capability to
its popularly priced iBook notebooks and then went on to extend it to
the rest of its product line.
In this space last fall, we've looked at Intel's
Anypoint product line, offering exceptionally easy setup in bringing
affordable wireless networking to home and small business PCs.
Both of those products work well, but neither offers
what many companies are looking for. Apple's Airport, no surprise, is
available for Macs only, while Anypoint doesn't offer the speed or
flexibility needed to take part in a larger business's network.
3Com's Airconnect aims to fill that gap. Like
Apple's Airport (and unlike Intel's Anypoint), it is based on what's
becoming the standard for business-oriented wireless networking, IEEE
802.11b (catchy name, that). It promises Ethernet-like 11 Mbps
(megabits per second) connections over a range of up to 100 metres.
Inevitably, real-world speeds will be lower and the technology is
designed to ramp back in speed as signal-strength drops.
The Airconnect access point acts as a bridge between
the corporate network and up to 63 PCs, notebooks equipped with PC
Cards or desktops with an Airconnect PCI adapter or other companies'
802.11b adapters. Up to three access points can be used simultaneously,
to connect to up to 189 users.
The access points each need AC power and an Ethernet
connection to the existing network. A nice feature, however, is the
small powerbase-T module, shipped with the access point. This can be
set up in the wiring closet, sending both the network signal and
electric power to the access point over a single, standard network
cable. This makes it possible to situate the access point almost
anywhere without needing a nearby power outlet.
The software package has some equally useful features.
A site survey tool can be used to help determine a location for the
access point that will provide optimum coverage. Client software for
the connected is easy to install on Windows 95/98, NT and Windows 2000
computers. The mobile connection manager utilities include a diagnostic
tool that can be used to measure signal strength as the user moves from
place to place, along with power management tools to help conserve
battery power. If a user moves to different locations, the location
manager transparently connects to different access. Users can change
profiles to take advantage of different network resources, such as
printers, in their new location.
We've all heard stories of cell phone conversations
being overheard, with sometimes embarrassing results. Airconnect offers
optional "wired equivalency privacy," to encrypt data flowing across
Pricing is $2,699 for a starter kit including an
access point and 3 PC cards, $329 per additional PC card and $1,799 for
a stand-alone access point.