Fast Wireless Networking--If You Can Use It

SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - Lucent Technologies Inc.'s OriNoco wireless networking system lets home- and small-office users share files and a single Internet hookup at the zippy 11-mbps speed of the 802.11b standard--once they get it up and running. In my tests with preproduction hardware, that wasn't always easy.

Each system on the network must be outfitted with a US$179 OriNoco Type II PC Card (formerly sold under the WaveLAN brand). It's basically a small radio that sends data to and receives data from a futuristic-looking residential gateway, the $349 OriNoco RG-1000. (A starter kit consisting of the gateway and one PC Card costs $449.) Each desktop PC that doesn't have a PC Card reader also needs a $69 adapter--an ISA or PCI card with a slot for the PC Card. The PCI adapter works only with systems that support the recent PCI 2.2 standard; all others must use the ISA card.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get OriNoco to work on my 1995-vintage Micron Pentium-133 desktop with Windows 98 because I didn't have the two system IRQ addresses that are required (a common problem with older systems). I had no trouble installing the PCI PC Card adapter on my seven-month-old Micron PIII-667, but it couldn't see the PC Card itself until I figured out (with no help from the documentation) that the labeled side of the card should face the floor, and that I should then hit the Refresh button in the Device Manager window. The card slid into the PC's slot either way; fortunately that wasn't the case with the slots on two notebooks, which I tested without problems.

You configure the RG-1000 through a simple desktop application that must be installed on at least one PC on the network. OriNoco supports single phone lines, cable hookups, and certain types of DSL service (but not, for example, the increasingly popular PPPOE protocol).

Once set up, OriNoco flows: I transferred a 13MB file in less than 3 minutes, compared with about 10 minutes for my previous 1.6-mbps wireless Proxim Symphony setup. However, OriNoco PC Cards cost $40 more than Symphony PC cards, and the PC Card-adapter combination required by desktops costs more than twice what a Symphony add-in card does. Also, don't expect a speed rush with DSL or cable, each of which tops out at about 1.5 mbps.

OriNoco's greatest appeal may be to people who already have an 802.11b PC Card for their laptop at work. But before you bring it home, make sure the system will work on your other computers.

--Yardena Arar


PRO: Fast 802.11B wireless networking, especially for file transfers.

CON: IRQ needs may exclude older systems; doesn't support PPPOE DSL hookups; pricey.

VALUE: Worthwhile for people who already have 802.11B equipment.

Street price: RG-1000 gateway $349; PC Card $179; ISA or PCI PC Card adapter $69Lucent Technologies800/

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