Wi-Fi Roundup: Signal Boosters, Smaller UnitsBuffalo, Viewsonic, 3Com expand Wi-Fi wares at CeBIT.
Yardena Arar, PCWorld.com
NEW YORK-- Now that wireless networks are finding a place in homes and offices, products are surfacing to extend and refine the basic devices and services. Here at CeBIT America this week, attendees are finding wireless wares that extend a network's reach, shrink its packaging, and more.
Buffalo Technology is unveiling both its Compact Bridge Base Station-g (a wireless bridge-repeater) and a USB 2.0 802.11g Wi-Fi adapter. ViewSonic is introducing what it bills as the world's smallest Wi-Fi adapter, an SD card designed to work with the newest ViewSonic Pocket PC. Also, 3Com is announcing additions to its OfficeConnect line of small-business networking hardware.
Boost That WLAN
When your wireless network's signal doesn't quite cover the area you want it to, what's your recourse?
If you have a wired network, you might be able to plug in another access point, and some vendors offer more powerful antennas. But Buffalo Technology's fix can extend your Wi-Fi range much further: The company this week announced its AirStation Compact Bridge Base Station-g, a 54-megabits-per-second wireless bridge-repeater for home and small office Wi-Fi networks that is scheduled to ship in early July.
The Compact Bridge Base Station-g looks like a miniature version of Buffalo's 802.11g AirStation router/access point, with which it is designed to work.
Through a browser interface, you configure the Compact Bridge to associate with your AirStation router/access point, using the device's MAC address (a unique hardware identifier). Then, you plug in the Compact Bridge's AC adapter and place it within range of the router/access point--typically you'll want to place it where the signal is about 50 percent strength. The Compact Bridge then functions like another access point, but it obtains IP addresses for clients from the router/access point, basically extending the reach of the original network. Buffalo says it has a working range of about 50 to 75 feet.
Need even more reach? Buffalo says you can daisy-chain up to three Compact Bridge devices from a single router/access point. Its suggested retail price is $149, but Buffalo representatives expect it will sell on the street for $99.
The one big catch: this potentially useful gadget works only with Buffalo's 802.11g router/access point, so you might have to upgrade your entire Wi-Fi network to use it. Of course, if you were thinking of upgrading to 802.11g--the faster version of Wi-Fi that maintains compatibility with 802.11b--this might be a reason to consider Buffalo products.
USB 2.0 for 802.11g
The Compact Bridge was among several noteworthy Wi-Fi products being shown. Buffalo is also showcasing a USB 2.0 802.11g Wi-Fi adapter, slated to ship in August.
The AirStation 54-mbps Wireless USB Adapter enables desktops to take advantage of 802.11g's bandwidth, which far surpasses the 11-mbps limit of USB 1.1 (the interface used by most of today's desktop Wi-Fi adapters). USB 1.1 is fine for 802.11b, which has a theoretical maximum of 11 mbps but usually tests at more like 4.5 mbps. However, USB 1.1 would be a real bottleneck for 802.11g's real-world throughput, which is in excess of 20 mbps.
Besides being one of the first USB 2.0 802.11g adapters, Buffalo's device features an antenna plug that will accept one of the company's optional high-powered antennas. Suggested retail price of the AirStation 54-mbps Wireless USB Adapter is $179, but Buffalo expects it will have a street price of $99.
Tiny Wi-Fi Adapters
Those who believe the best things really do come in small packages will be delighted with ViewSonic's interpretation of a Wi-Fi client: The company is introducing what it calls the world's smallest Wi-Fi adapter, an SD card designed to work with the latest ViewSonic Pocket PC.
Viewsonic, which showed the card at a CeBIT press event, says it will initially work only with one of the company's Pocket PCs--the upcoming ViewSonic V37, which will be similar to the company's existing V35 but with a much more powerful 400-MHz XScale chip and 64MB each of RAM and ROM. The card is expected to sell for $129 and should ship within the next few months.
By then, other vendors may be jumping into the act. Socket is showing here a Wi-Fi card for Pocket PCs, due out in August with a price of $149. And SanDisk earlier this year announced plans for a line of SD Wi-Fi cards that will also double as flash memory cards, useful if you need extra storage and connectivity in a single-slot device.
3Com Expands OfficeConnect
Finally, 3Com is announcing additions to its OfficeConnect line of small business networking hardware. The new products are fully compliant with the recently ratified 802.11g wireless standard for 54-mbps file-transfer speeds: a PC Card receiver for notebooks, a four-port wired Ethernet gateway combined with a wireless access point, and a stand-alone wireless access point.
The OfficeConnect Wireless 11g PC Card is expected to have a street price of $79 when it ships in late June. The OfficeConnect Wireless 11g Gateway has a built-in firewall and VPN passthrough; it is expected to have a street price of $125 upon its release in early July. The OfficeConnect Wireless 11g Access Point will also ship in early July and is expected to have a street price of $135.
Rebecca Freed of PCWorld.com contributed to this report.