|Panasonic 11Mbps Wireless LAN PC Card|
Page 1 Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 7/8/2001
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|Pros: || |
- Can improve wireless multimedia (streaming) performance
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|Cons : || |
- Expensive compared to 802.11b cards
- You see improved multimedia performance only in peer-to-peer, multiple client networks
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Panasonic is the first company to field an 11Mbps wireless networking product using Sharewave's Whitecap1 protocol. Whitecap's claim-to-fame is improved wireless multimedia performance, but I had a mixed experience with the technology. Read on for the full report.
Put simply, Whitecap is a wireless networking protocol that is optimized for wireless home networking. To Sharewave this means three key things:
the ability to handle multiple multimedia application streams
easy network configuration
strong resistance to microwave oven and 2.4GHz cordless phone interference
The price you pay for these improvements is incompatibility with 802.11b/WiFi equipment, i.e. Whitecap and 802.11b clients can't communicate with each other. Perhaps realizing the barrier to market share that this incompatibility presents, Sharewave announced the Whitecap2 protocol a few months ago. This version of the protocol will be compatible with 802.11b, but won't support on-the-fly switching between the two.
But Whitecap1 is what's available now, with Panasonic being the only vendor shipping Whitecap based products in their Home Networking line, which consists of the PC Card and the Concourse Broadband Networking Gateway which we previously reviewed. Sharewave says, however, that other vendors will be shipping Whitecap based products shortly.
With all that competitive situation stuff out of the way, let's take a look at the product!
Panasonic's Whitecap client card comes in only the PC Card flavor, so it's best suited for wirelessly connecting laptops. Panasonic doesn't offer either a PCI adapter or USB version for adding desktop computers to a Whitecap network, (but NETGEAR just announced a Whitecap based PCI card and Bridge). Of course you can get your Ethernet or HPNA network members talking to the HGC200 via the Broadband Gateway, but this puts a crimp in the multimedia handling improvements of the Whitecap based system (more on this later..).
Adding the card to the Panasonic Gateway is easy, you just power off the Gateway, plug in the card, and plug the Gateway back in. When you do, you'll see the new "Wireless Setup" admin menu item.
Adding the card to my Win98SE equipped laptop (Win95, ME, and 2000 drivers were also on the CD) was straightforward. Windows detected the card, loaded the driver and prompted for a network name. On reboot, the installer for the Network Manager was automatically started. The Network Manager lets you both manage settings for the PC card itself, and view the state of the Whitecap network. There aren't a lot of settings to fiddle with and the Device Management app handles them in a straightforward way, as shown in the screen shots below.
The Network Management application is a little more complicated. It's a Java-based application that installs and runs a small webserver and uses Internet Explorer for its display. With it, you can see the nodes in the Whitecap network and their link quality, look at link packet statistics, bandwidth allocation, and switch into a mode that lets you add new network members.
Maybe it's just me, but there were a number of things that bugged me about the Network Manager. First, the installer makes a couple of Registry entries so that the Network Manager and associated applications launch automatically at startup. This made it harder to make them not auto-start than just moving shortcuts from the Startup folder (I used Win98SE's System Configuration Utility Startup tab). Second, the use of thin colored lines to indicate link quality made the Node Information next to useless for me, since I'm partly color blind and I couldn't tell the difference between the thin green and yellow lines. I would have much preferred some sort of numerical or text indication. I'd also add the Node quality information to the System Tray icon, which presently just tells you only whether you're linked or not. Finally, I'd make the app not require IE and a mini-webserver to run...just seems like too many things to go wrong! (My laptop locked up a number of times when left running the Network Manager and I suspect it may have been due to conflicts with Windows power management.)
But how did it perform? Is the price of 802.11b incompatibility worth it?