3Coms AirConnect is one of the high-speed wireless LAN (WLAN) contenders, combining three PC Card network interface cards and a base station. The AirConnect cards dont inspire confidence, as the aerial assembly isnt securely fixed to the card body.
3Com looks to have remedied this with the release of the new XJACK cards (estimated at $400 each). These cards have a pop-up antenna and are less prone to breaking off the card.
Another criticism of the base station is that the Ethernet port is only 10BaseT, so the maximum potential of a WLAN connection cannot be realised. Performance tests, on the other hand, revealed that this wasnt going to bottleneck any potential. The operating range varies depending on the connection speed. The outdoor range is still 1,000ft but, in the office, 11Mb/s only stretches to 23m, while 5.5Mb/s increases this to 36m.
Installing an AirConnect PC Card in a Toshiba laptop running Windows 98SE was simple. A Launcher background task can be accessed from the System Tray. The card detects whether the laptop is on mains or battery power and selects either a continuous access mode (CAM) or power save poll (PSP) mode. LAN access requires the Access Point, which is also easy to install. Initial contact is via HyperTerminal. You can manage the Access Point from here, but youll find it easier to assign an IP address and move to Web browser access.
For performance testing, the Access Point was connected to an Intel 510T dual-speed switch. Copying 121MB of Windows CAB files from the laptop to a workstation took 290 seconds for an average of only 3.3Mb/s. With the laptop logged in to a server, we ran Novells PERFORM3 utility, reporting a best effort of 3.5Mb/s.
With the starter kit costing $1,136 and a street price as low as $955, the AirConnect compares well with contemporary wireless products such as the D-Link DWL-1000AP kit (reviewed July 2001, page 86).
The AirConnect package offers good management tools but real-world tests showed that it comes up short. 3Com has addressed these issues with the XJACK-antenna cards and a new base station called the Access Point 6000 (estimated at $1,000), which should offer better connectivity at cheaper cost.