Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 7/8/2001
|Pros:||– Can improve wireless multimedia (streaming) performance|
|Cons :||– Expensive compared to 802.11b cards|
– You see improved multimedia performance only in peer-to-peer, multiple client networks
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.
What is Whitecap™?
Put simply, Whitecap is a wireless networking protocol that is optimized for wireless home networking. To Sharewave this means three key things:
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!
Performance – Quantitative
My testing for the HGC200 included my usual suite of Qcheck tests, plus a set of qualitative tests that were intended to check Whitecap’s enhanced multimedia handling performance. I ran the same tests on Whitecap and 802.11b test partners:
(Details of how we tested can be found here.)
Performance – Qualitative
Sharewave emphasized that qualitative tests, involving looking at and listening to multimedia streams, should be included in any Whitecap evaluation. So, armed with some encoded movie files supplied by Sharewave, I set up some multimedia based tests, mostly using a 2Mb MPEG file played on a Version 6.4 Windows Media Player. My plan was to open the movie from the same Ethernet connected machine that I used as a Qcheck test partner, then move to each of my four usual test locations and see if the movie quality changed. This test would be repeated with same Sharewave and 802.11b test setups used for the Qcheck tests above.
Well, the tests didn’t yield the expected results of showing Whitecap’s superior multimedia handling, and after discussions with Sharewave, I can explain why. In a nutshell:
Since I don’t have multiple laptops and Panasonic doesn’t offer a PCI adapter or USB version of its adapter, I couldn’t test out Whitecap’s multimedia enhancements. However, Sharewave provided plenty of detailed test data to back up their claims, and I certainly don’t doubt them!
Sharewave has an interesting story to tell with the Whitecap technology and they may very well have a jump on the competition by getting Whitecap’s Quality of Service (QoS) features spec’d into the developing 802.11e specification. But in my opinion, 802.11b just has too much of a head start for Whitecap to make much headway against it, even with Whitecap’s multimedia handling advantages.
Unless you’re going to build your network the way that Whitecap needs it built (all peer-to-peer wireless clients) and use it to primarily carry multimedia streams (MP3s, streaming videos) among LAN based clients (not from the Internet), and you don’t care about 802.11b compatibility, then I’d pass on the Panasonic HGC200. If you’re really interested in trying something with better performance than 802.11b, wait a few months! The wireless networking world will soon get shaken up with Whitecap2, HomeRF2, and 802.11a all trying to wrestle market share away from 802.11b. Then you can have the best of both worlds (802.11b and enhanced multimedia handling) with Whitecap2, and according to Sharewave, it should cost you less too!