3Com has announced the AirConnect line of products to provide an 11Mbit/sec wireless LAN solution.
Based on the IEEE 802.11b standard, AirConnect includes an Access Point, a wireless receiver/transmitter that looks something like a smoke alarm and typically is installed on the ceiling, and Type 2 PC Cards designed for notebook computers.
Each Access Point can support as many as 63 wireless devices, handling devices up to 100 metres away. Although all connected devices share the maximum 11Mbit/sec bandwidth, this may not be a major problem, because Access Points "are typically designed for mobile users and will be put into places like conference rooms", said John Drewry, 3Com's director of product management, wireless division. "There are physical constraints to how many people you can put into one physical space."
As many as three Access Points can be installed into the same area, each using a unique frequency.
The 3Com technology supports roaming, enabling a user with a notebook computer to walk through a building, with the networking AirConnect software automatically passing the signal from one Access Point to another in a manner similar to that used by mobile phones, Drewry said.
The system adapts to varying signal strengths. If the signal between the PC Card adapter and the Access Point weakens, the transfer rate drops, falling back to 5.5Mbit/sec then to 2Mbit/sec, and finally to 1Mbit/sec, Drewry noted. If the signal improves, the transfer rates jump back up.
Each Access Point connects to the network using standard Category 5 cable - but with a new twist. 3Com developed a technology that exploits an unused pair of wires in the standard cable to provide power to the Access Point. This technology can save organisations many hundreds of dollars in installation costs, Drewry said. A starter pack with one Access Point and three cards is priced at $2700.