Product review: A wireless serial cable

I love having a lightweight laptop because I can write anywhere. But to do anything useful with my PC, I need to connect to my network. When I'm on the road, that means making a move to my modem, and that means finding a phone jack, which is not always conveniently located within the 2m range of my phone cable. Acer NeWeb promises more freedom for mobile users.

The two WDC-900 transceivers in Acer NeWeb's Wireless PC Connection Kit replace a serial cable for PC-to-modem connections or Windows 95 Direct Cable Connections. One transceiver is powered from the keyboard port on your laptop; the other requires an AC/DC adapter, which is actually heavier than one of the transceivers. A short cable connects to the serial port of the PC; another connects to the modem's serial port. Press a button on the side of one of the transceivers, and you're connected without wires.

I found the wireless connection to be as speedy as a wired one, but the link didn't have legs. While the vendor touts a range of up to 137m, I lost my connection at about 6m inside Network World's cubicle-filled offices.

The transceivers are light, but they're relatively bulky. They also require you to have an external modem. A better solution for most mobile workers would be a PC Card modem and a 7.6m telephone cable.

As I was getting ready to test the Wireless PC Connection Kit, a new external modem landed on my desk -- Actiontec's 56K External Call Waiting Modem, clearly aimed at consumers. If you have call waiting service at home, the phone you attach to the modem will ring even when the modem is connected to an online service. You can pick up the phone and find out who's there, but only for a few seconds. If you stay on the call, your online connection drops. If you choose to go back online, chances are it drops anyway before you've had a chance to explain to your caller that you're in the middle of an important file transfer.

It's an interesting capability, but most home offices would be better off with two separate phone lines. The 56K External Call Waiting Modem lacks many of the advanced features of Multi-Tech's MessageSaver, though it's correspondingly less expensive. Still, in a commodity market, call waiting features make this the right product for some users.

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