HOME-BASED BUSINESS

Proxim's Cordless PC Networking Solution

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At first glance, the Proxim Symphony Cordless Networking product suite appears to leave little value-added opportunities for installers and integrators. However, it is a perfect product to offer when pulling wires is not an option. In addition, it is perfect for building-to-building communications within the 150-foot range limitation.

Installation of a two-node network, and the RF wireless modem, took about an hour, and would have taken less time had Proxim's installation routine been more polished. The network performed satisfactorily on printing and file sharing, and the modem was flawless with high connection speeds.

Review

To kick off my first installment of home/small business networking product reviews, I tested the Symphony line of Cordless PC products by Proxim, Inc. (see company information below). These products operate in the 2.4GHz frequency band and utilize frequency-hopping spread-spectrum radio frequency technology. They run at 1.6Mbps and the product's operational range is 150 feet, meaning that no two Proxim-linked PC's or peripherals can be more than 150 feet apart.

The Symphony products are sold as individual units, and so are great for the doing incremental upgrades and additions.

The items tested were:

  • Cordless 56.6K modem
  • The Cordless Network PC Card (PCMCIA), used for connecting a laptop PC to a network
  • Cordless ISA Network Card, used for connecting a desktop PC to a network (Note that Proxim has just released a PCI version of this card)

All three Symphony devices came with the sameNetworking User's Manual, as well as with a Quick Start Guide listing a simple step-by-step pamphlet for the hardware and software installation.

I reviewed the installation of these productsagainst Proxim's claims of "simple," "as easy as... 1, 2, 3," and "all you need to know is the phone number of your ISP."

Installation

The Cordless Modem User's Guide suggested that the modem placement be in a central location relative to the networked computers.The modem itself was easy to set up-simply plug in its power and telephone cables, and then connect it to the appropriate wall outlets.

Unfortunately, things got more complicated during the installation of the PC's networking card.

Before I removed the case of the Pentium 266 desktop PC, into which I was installing the ISA card, I read the Quick Start Guide included with the network card. The installation guide for this component was technically correct, but skimmed over technical information with instructions such as, "Locate a free 16-bit ISA expansion slot on the computer's motherboard," accompanied by a weak drawing and no descriptive text. In addition, it did not mention the dangers of static electricity to electroni cdevices.

Once the hardware was in place and the PC case reassembled, I turned to User's Manualfor the software installation. This manual was very well written and included screen shots that accurately reflected what I actually saw on the screen.

Even with the useful manual, however, I encountered two problems that would have stumped novices. First, because I had previously used this PC on another network, it was set up to use the Microsoft NetBEUI network protocol as default. The Symphony products operate using the TCPIP protocol, and the installation did not detect this difference. Thus, I had no network when the system booted. To fix this problem, I went to Control Panel Network, and removed all networking options from the computer and restarted the Symphony software installation.

The second problem arose when I reinitiated the installation routine after the above fix. While Windows 95 Plug and Play detection did indeed recognize the Symphony ISA card as a network adapter, it required an updated piece of "driver software" to finish the installation. The message displayed was a vague, "IMPORTANT!! Run Setup From the Symphony CD-ROM?," which differed from the Symphony manual's promised, "Proxim-LAN PC Card" response.

Again, my experience as an integrator helped me determine that the appropriate response to this obscure message was to click on "Next" and rerun the installation from the Symphony CD-ROM.

From this point on, it was all joy. The system installed itself on the PC and found the Symphony Cordless modem without any problems. Next, the installation routine asked for my ISP information and then automatically set up my network and modem to use the Internet. In addition, the setup found my attached printer and gave me the option of sharing it over the network, i.e., making it available to any PC's I might later add to the network.

Time elapsed thus far: 30 minutes.

Onto the laptop. I was pleased to find that theQuick Start Guide for the PCMCIA card was more usable than that for the ISA card, although PCMCIA installs are in general much easier than open-the-box ISA installs. However, I did receive the same "bad driver" message as on the desktop unit. Running setup from the CD-ROM solved the problem here as well.

I completed the entire network installation with shared modem, drives, and shared printer in less than one hour. However, I did have to tap into some of my own experience and expertise to accomplish this.

Usability

I was happy with the results of my labors. I found no noticeable differences in printing times from the desktop unit, with the printer attached, and the laptop, printing via the shared printer over the Symphony Cordless Network. Also, both systems could easily share their files with the each other.

I also took the Symphony Cordless modem into my home, which is about 50 feet from our lab. Neither computer had a problem sending a signal from the lab to the modem inside my home.

Proxim Symphony Information
System requirements: 486 or better CPU; available ISA, PCI, or PCMCIA slot; Windows 95; 16 MB RAM; 10 MB of free hard disk space; and at least one other Symphony-equipped PC or laptop for cordless networking.

Proxim Inc. 295 North Bernardo Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94043

Phone: 800-229-1630; E-mail: sales@proxim.com; Web:http://www.proxim.com/

The Proxim Symphony line also includes an Ethernet bridge for sharing ISDN, xDSL, and Cable Modems. This device can also be used to connect a Symphony Cordless Network to an existing 10baseT Hub to allow the two networks to communicate together.

Note: Proxim product manager Jeff Orr assures us that the latest version of the installation software (Version 1.3) and a new manual have resolved both installation issues that I encountered.

All contents © 1999, 2000 Technocopia Inc. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission.

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Last updated: Oct 10, 2000




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