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WiFi (802.11b) Networking for your PDA

AmbiCom Wave2Net 802.11b WiFi CF type I card for Pocket PC (WL1100C)
Posted August 19, 2003 by Lisa Gade, Editor-in-Chief

AmbiCom has been in the business of making networking and modem CF cards for Windows CE and Pocket PC devices for several years. Their Wave2Net WiFi CF card is one of those wonderfully versatile cards that can work with older HPCs running WinCE 2.11 and WinCE 3.0 as well as Pocket PC, Pocket PC 2002 and now Pocket PC 2003 and .NET. For those of you who own the old Casio BE-300 and E-200 machines, you'll be happy to know the AmbiCom is compatible. It's a type I card that will work in PDAs that have either a type I or type II CF slot. For some reason there aren't any HPC 2000 drivers.

The card has a relatively small antenna cap with a single LED that indicates connection activity. Despite the fact that the AmbiCom is a compact type I card with a small antenna cap, it got a strong signal and was competitive in terms of range with the other CF WiFi cards reviewed on this site. It supports automatic fallback from 11 Mbps to 1 Mbps, which means if you're very far from the access point, it will reduce the transmission rate to compensate. It uses 370 mA for TX (sending), 250 mA RX (receiving) and 100 mA when idle. The Wave2NET supports 64 bit (also called 40 bit) and 128 bit WEP encryption, and can work in infrastructure and ad hoc modes. The card uses the widely popular and robust Intersil Prism 2.5 chipset.

AmbiCom CF WiFi 802.11.b network CF card
Ambicom CF WiFi card

Installation and Drivers

The AmbiCom card comes with drivers for WinCE 2.11, WinCE 3.0, the Casio BE-300 and Pocket PC 2002 operating systems. You can download drivers for Pocket PC 2003 and .NET from www.ambicom.com. Insert the included CD into your PC and you'll see an html based installer that contains info and drivers for all of AmbiCom's WiFi products. Select the install driver option, then the OS that your PDA is running to install the driver.

Configuration varies depending on which PDA and OS you're using, and we tested the card on the NEC MobilePro 780 running Windows CE 2.11 Pro, the NEC MobilePro 900 running HPC 2000 and the iPAQ 2215 running Pocket PC 2003 (aka Windows Mobile). Most Pocket PC and HPC configuration applications should look the same, with the exception of Pocket PC 2003 and .NET devices which use Windows Connection Manager on the device to configure network cards instead of vendor-supplied utilities.

On Pocket PC 2003 models you'll use the new Connection Manager to configure your connection to WiFi networks after installing the driver. When the card is inserted in the Pocket PC's CF slot, you'll see the two arrows at the top of the screen with an X under them, change. If you're in range of an open WiFi network, the X will disappear and you should see a dialog box pop up from the arrows asking you if you wish to join the network(s) the device has found. If the network uses WEP encryption, the PDA will ask you to enter the WEP key to join the network. For more detailed info on how to use WiFi networking on the Pocket PC 2003 OS, check out the manual that came with your PDA.

On older operating systems such as Windows CE 2.11 and WinCE 3.0 based PDAs (HPC 2000, Pocket PC), you'll see that a configuration application called WL1100x has been installed on your Start menu. This is a full featured config application with a tabbed interface that gives you status: which WiFi network you're connected to, connection mode, channel, link rate (e.g.: 11 Mbps) and encryption. You can also get your IP info here. The Configuration tab lets you set the connection mode (Infrastructure or Ad Hoc), specify the SSID, set the link rate (auto, 11, 5.5, 2 or 1 Mbps), and optionally set fragmentation, RTS threshold and preamble mode (long, short, auto). The Security tab is where you'll setup WEP encryption if necessary. It supports 40 bit, 64 bit and 128 bit encryption using HEX keys or a passphrase. As you might guess, the Ping tab allows you to ping the IP address or site of your choice to test your connection. The Performance tab tells you the signal strength, link quality and throughput in bytes/sec of your current connection. And the icing on the cake is the AP Browser tab, which offers a site survey of all access points within range. It tells you the SSID, MAC address, channel, signal strength and WEP status for each AP in range.

Conclusion

This is a great card! It's very reasonably priced, has good power consumption numbers and works in both type I and type II slots. Range and reception are good, and the AP Browser is a wonderful feature for those who travel to different access points frequently (sorry PPC 2003 folks, you don't get this feature). The Wave2Net works with just about every Windows CE and Pocket PC machine, and can be a great choice if you still run older HPCs or WinCE devices in addition to newer Pocket PC 2002 or 2003 models.

AmbiCom, list price $129

 

 

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