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.
WINC Wireless Client: Tired of searching for an access point? Need an easy way to find, connect and update your IP address when wirelessly roaming? Cironds clever little utility lets you do all that and more. Its intuitive interface pops up when you plug in a wireless card, and lets you save connections, WEP passwords and more. Its better than Windows XPs built-in wireless tools, and for Windows 2000 and Pocket PC nothing even comes close. We gave away a version earlier this year at PCMag.com, and you can still download it if you sign up for our utility library. Wireless users – dont leave home without it.
iBurst: ArrayComm calls it “personal broadband,” and by early reckoning, it seems to be Ricochet done right. A wireless way to cheaply deliver 1Mb or more around large geographical areas, using smart antennas, iBurst has started to catch on in Asia and Australia. A recent trial in Sydney delivered broadband access across 66 square miles with just six base stations. This is no fly-by-night company either. Its been around since 1992, and was founded by Martin Cooper – widely hailed as the father of the cellphone. Forget Metricom, 1XRTT, 3G and all those other forgettable acronyms. iBurst delivers fast wireless access on the go, or while sitting at home, for cheap.
Vivato: Another interesting phased technology comes from Vivato, which has invented a Wi-Fi switch that works either indoors or outdoors. When located outdoors, pointing at a building, a single Vivato switch can connect up an entire building. Indoors, Vivatos technology pumps wireless signals up to 900 feet from the switch. Rather than blasting a wireless signal in a radius around the access point, Vivato sends narrowly focused beams directly at the client. At $14,000, its not cheap. But it does offer the promise of better coverage over a broader range. The company counts Intel among its investors.
AirMagnet Handheld 3.0: Network managers looking to debug wireless problems swear by AirMagnets handheld protocol analyzers. Other wireless sniffers require users to lug around a big notebook, while AirMagnets products work on a Pocket PC with a wireless card. The analyzer detects rogue access points, spoofed addresses and channel interference, helping you to keep your wireless network happy, safe and performing at its peak. It even came in as a runner-up in eWeeks Excellence Awards this year.