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 3Com Airconnect 11Mbps Wireless LAN Access Point

Page 1 

 Author: Tim Higgins
 Review Date: 8/29/2000


Model: 3CRWE74796B

The AirConnect and other 802.11b products have been getting pretty positive reviews recently, with most reviews examining the products from a corporate buyer's point of view. My approach in this review will be to look at the AirConnect from a home or small office user's point of view.

Pros: -Fast and reliable connection.
- Good network performance utilities.
Cons: - Expensive for home user.
- No routing (sharing) function.
- Documentation not for network novices.


Review Updates

None yet.


The Stats

Check this page for a summary of the Airconnect's capabilities.

Introduction

The 3COM AirConnect kit is probably not going to be popular with home and small office users due to its price and the fact that the Access point is only a bridge, not a router. That's fine for large corporate networks that already have plenty of routing horsepower around, but not so good for the person who's just trying to share their cable or DSL connection with a few computers. Let's take a look at what you get for the big bucks that you'll be paying!


Setup and Basic Features

I evaluated the AirConnect Starter Pack kit, which comes with one Access Point and three PCMCIA (PC Card) LAN client adapter cards. Of course, you can buy each of these items separately. Some of the 3COM promotional material describes a PCI LAN card, but that product isn't available yet, and no timetable has been set for when you'll be able to get one.

The Starter Pack comes with the following items:

  • The Access Point (AP)

  • External power adapter

  • "PowerBase-T module

  • Mounting bracket for Access point

  • Null modem serial cable

  • CD Rom with card drivers, utilities, PDF based documentation, and HTML based documentation

  • Three LAN PCMCIA (PC Card) adapters

The AP is an attractive beige box that houses a removable PC Card (same as the LAN adapter cards) that contains the radio circuitry. This makes the AP easily upgradeable. The card plugs into a chassis that contains the Ethernet bridge circuitry, and a moveable antenna that is attached to the AP case plugs into the PC Card. The card is then secured by a bracket that secures both the card and the antenna connections to it. (see picture below)
Access Point rear view
The unit is powered by an external power supply that either plugs directly into the box, or into the "PowerBase-T" module. This module lets the output of the power supply use a pair of unused wires in a standard UTP cable to remotely power the AP. This gives large site installers increased flexibility in AP placement by freeing them from having to locate the AP near an AC outlet... a very nice convenience!

Installing the Access Point was somewhat confusing, and the AP could really use a "Quick Start" guide and instructions for setup without having to use the serial console connection. As I said earlier, the AP is a bridge, but a managed bridge. This means that the AP passes data between the wireless and Ethernet parts of your network transparently, with both parts of the network being in the same subnet. But the AP itself has a number of features that you can (and need to) control (that's the managed part), so it must have its own IP address in order to talk to it. After wading in vain through the documentation for the AP's default IP address, I finally managed to get connected to the AP's web management interface. So that you don't have to repeat my learning curve, here's what I did:

AP Installation Tip
(You'll need a working network with DHCP server.)

1) Connect the AP to your network, verify that it connects ok, then power it down.

The AP's Ethernet light doesn't steadily light to indicate a good "link." You need to watch it while you transfer a file on the Ethernet LAN and see if it flickers.

2) Go to your DHCP server and get a list of the existing DHCP clients/leases.

3) Power up the AP and wait for it to boot.

4) Refresh the DHCP server client/lease list and you should see a new IP address.

5) Enter that IP address into your browser and you should be able to connect to the AP Management Interface.

Yep, that's right, the AP comes set as a DHCP client. It sure would have been easier if the docs had just said so!

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