Easy-to-Use EthIR LAN Keeps Road Warriors Working

SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - By now, it seems like everyone carries a handheld computer and works from everywhere but the office. Mobile users need -- and expect -- their IT administrators to find an easy-to-use way for them to connect to the Internet and corporate networks with their handhelds. Regardless of their location, employees must be able to access critical data to remain productive. And to be a feasible investment for the IT department, the device that gets these users connected must be affordable and require little maintenance.

To this end, Clarinet Systems Inc. created EthIR LAN 101, a small, stand-alone device that transforms an Ethernet connection into a wireless network access point for Palm and Windows CE devices, notebooks, and Internet appliances with built-in infrared capabilities.

The EthIR LAN 101 -- a single-port, 4Mbps infrared switch -- is independent of hardware and software, is fully supported by the native OS, and eliminates the need for cradles, host PCs, PC cards, and cables. At US$249, it lets any organization afford to give road warriors Internet access.

Clarinet is a leading contender in the infrared-based network access system market. Its main competitors, Hewlett-Packard and Extended Systems, offer similar network access systems using infrared, but are focusing instead on developing products for Bluetooth to provide low-cost, short-range radio links for mobile PCs, phones, or other portable devices. Clarinet's real competition will come from the radio frequency market when vendors start releasing Bluetooth-based products.

Clarinet's access system makes connecting mobile users to the Internet and corporate network simple, but only as long as the enterprise is Windows-based.

It doesn't support Novell NetWare (dropping its score to Good), which could mean that users wouldn't be able to access file and print services.

Divine simplicity

The EthIR LAN 101 consists of the EthIR Switch, which connects to the network, and the EthIR Beam transceiver, which provides the wireless link between the user and the Internet or corporate network.

Network connectivity is established via the infrared port now built in to most mobile devices. The user points the handheld's infrared port at the EthIR Beam, which is connected to the EthIR Switch via a cable. The Beam sits on a counter or desktop, giving the user easy access. The Switch receives the signal from the Beam and sends it to the host system via Ethernet. The infrared conversion to Ethernet is done inside the Switch.

If you run only Windows, the EthIR LAN 101 will make your handheld-using employees more productive. It's transparent to users; they receive and transmit information just as they would with a wired connection. Also, it's a convenient, quick way to access information without having to lug around cradles or cables.

Networkwise, the product leverages the Ethernet 10/100Base-T structure. It integrates seamlessly into a Windows network, providing instant connectivity over LAN, DSL, T1, ISDN, or cable modem.

Unlike other proprietary connectivity solutions, this unit is platform-independent, enabling users to connect to the network whether they carry a laptop, Palm handheld, Windows CE unit, or other device.

To connect to the EthIR Beam, a laptop must have Windows 95 with infrared protocol stack and IrLAN, Windows 98 with infrared protocol stack and Direct Cable Connection, or Apple Mac OS 8.5 or later with infrared protocol stack and IrLAN. Handheld PCs or PalmPilots must run Windows CE 2.0; Palm Organizers IIIx, IIIxe, V, Vx, and VII must run OS 3.3; and the Palm VII must run OS 3.5.

Totally transparent

I started my testing by hooking up the EthIR single port model to a 10/100 switch. I then installed the Configuration Tool and Connect IR software on my Windows 98 notebook. The Configuration Tool is basically an administrator utility for maintaining and configuring the switch. The Connect IR software connects end-users to any EthIR LAN system regardless of location and without having to reconfigure their IP addressing.

I placed my notebook a few inches away from the EthIR Beam and, as soon as it was powered up, the EthIR Switch indicator lights displayed Uplink, indicating the state of the network connection, and Status, indicating the progress of obtaining an IP address from the DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server.

It was quick and easy, and I especially liked that I just had to point my notebook's infrared device to the Beam to connect, without the constraints of a docking station or a LAN card. I browsed the Web and accessed my network to read e-mail, encountering no problems. Furthermore, I couldn't tell the difference between being wired to the network and using the infrared technology.

In all of my testing, I found no other drawbacks besides the EthIR LAN's lack of support for a Novell network.

Clarinet Systems' EthIR LAN 101 requires no training or dedicated hardware, which creates a lower total cost of ownership. It supports several mobile devices and provides end-users with quick access to the Internet and a corporate network at a very affordable price.

Despite lacking support for NetWare, the EthIR LAN 101 is a useful solution for keeping mobile workers productive, and I recommend it to Windows-based shops.

Companies that have not yet invested in a wireless connectivity solution but want to maximize their mobile users' productivity should consider trying out the latest version for their mobile workers.

Senior Analyst Ana Orubeondo (ana_orubeondo@infoworld.com) covers telecommunications and networking technologies.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

EthIR LAN 101

Business Case: At just $249, the EthIR LAN 101 is a convenient and cost-effective method for giving on-the-go users wireless access to the Internet and network data from their mobile devices. It requires no training and will keep employees productive regardless of where they are working.

Technology Case: This single-port 4Mbps switch uses infrared to give road warriors access to networked data without dealing with the constraints of a docking station or LAN card.

Pros:

+ Easy to set up and administer

+ Requires no dedicated hardware

+ Supports several mobile devices

Cons:

- Does not support Novell NetWare

- Update of infrared files needed for older notebooks- Requires newer notebooks with built-in infrared devicesCost: $249Platform(s): Supports Windows 95/98, Windows CE, Palm, EPOC, Linux, and the Mac OSClarinet Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.; (408) 501-0250; www.clarinetsys.com.

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