Best Wireless Products of 2003

Wireless Topic Center Editor Jim Louderback picks the best products and services for 2003, including two that could push wireless out to even more people around the world.

It was a great year for wireless, as new capabilities seemed to come out with stunning regularity. But even in a year when so many great things were released, a few products rose to the top. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite new products and technologies for 2003.

TREO 600: You can just see the board of Palm pulling a Victor Kiam the first time they saw Handsprings Treo 600: "We liked the product so much, we bought the company." And so Palm did, absorbing Handspring just as the Treo 600 hit the market, renaming itself Palmone. The hybrid phone/PDA is that good. Its the first combo device that works well as a phone, yet offers enough PDA capability to be truly useful that way too. Of course nothings perfect – if only it had a removable battery and Bluetooth. Still, if youre looking for a combo phone/PDA, this is the one.

802.11g: I pooh-poohed this faster 2.4 gigahertz wireless LAN standard when it first came out – but that was before I saw the benchmarks and before prices dropped to well below 802.11a. By December, Cisco, Microsoft and almost everyone – except Intel – had embraced 802.11g as the way to get fast and cheap wireless networking. Now if only Intel would admit Centrinos 802.11a failure and jump on the g bandwagon, the world would be complete.

802.3af: Huh? Another alphabet soup standard? Well this ones important. It specifies sending power down a standard category 5 or 6 unshielded twisted pair cable, to coexist with Ethernet. How does it work? Either by using the idle pairs (4,5 and 7,8) or commingling power and data over the same wires. What it lets you do is truly amazing – locate an Ethernet device anywhere you can run a cable. That means access points can be put where theyre needed (not where a plug is located), Ethernet security cameras can be put where they can spy on everything, and IP telephones need only a single cable to connect to the world. Our eWEEK Labs tests show that power-over-Ethernet (POE) devices are simple to install, and work great.