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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.
and reliable connection.
- Good network performance utilities.
|| - Expensive
for home user.
- No routing (sharing) function.
- Documentation not for network novices.
page for a summary of the Airconnect's capabilities.
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!
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
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)
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
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
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!