. YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU 3-1-2002 | Meetings & Conventions


Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2002 Current Issue
February 2002 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

Wireless networks are getting much easier to install away from home

When the question was how to take a software system along to a meeting to handle on-site registrations, the old answer involved networking rented computers at the meeting location or renting non-networked PCs and employing a “sneaker-net” (running diskettes between machines).

More recently, all you’ve needed is a couple of Internet connections and wired notebooks. But this only works if the facility has high-speed Internet access, or if you’re using an online registration service, and your meetings are large enough to warrant the expense of either of the above.

Now, a more practical solution is quickly dropping in price wireless networks. Previously, this column has addressed how WiFi and Bluetooth can be used for handhelds or cellular communications, but these wireless technologies are becoming reliable options for networking PCs in the office and on-site.

Plug and play
I recently installed a wireless network at my house. For just over $300, I purchased an SMC Networks Barricade Wireless Router and an ORiNICO PC card for my Sony VAIO notebook. In all, I had my network running in about two hours (including two support calls). Here’s how it works.

The router is about 1.5 inches tall by 9 inches wide by 6 inches deep and weighs about two pounds. Mine, the SMC Barricade SMC7004AWBR, supports three 10/100-network connections and up to 64 simultaneous wireless connections.

Most routers provide a transfer rate of between 54 Mbps and 72Mbps (10 times faster than a 57K modem) and operate within 1,500 feet. This range will vary depending on the building it is set up in, but should be more than adequate for most registration areas, including a roaming PC or strategically placed remote workstation. The installation software includes an on-screen configuration tool for setting up access rights, security and the included firewall.

Each notebook needs a wireless-networking PC card. These cost between $70 and $100, depending on the manufacturer. Any connected computer will need to be running at least Windows 95/98 (the new Windows XP has an easily configurable wireless network option). For desktop PCs in your office, you will need to purchase a PCI adapter card, which gives you a PC Card Type II slot for the same wireless card the notebook uses. These cost between $50 and $70 each.

The other option for desktop PCs is to connect them directly to a port on the back of the router. For this, you would need a 10/100 Ethernet network card.

Home or away
Wireless is an ideal solution for networking the office. You can choose from three configurations: peer-to-peer work group, a small office/home office network or a full-blown Local Area Network. Once configured, the router and connected PCs can be taken on-site and set up simply by plugging them in and logging onto the network. For best results, use one computer as a server, where others can access the application software.

Another advantage: You can share a high-speed Web connection, so upgrading to DSL in your office becomes more affordable. On site, you’ll only need one access point, rather than connections for each workstation.

For more information, visit WiFi Direct (www.wifidirect.com), which sells the SMC and ORiNICO equipment. Nokia also has wireless solutions (www.nokia.com/corporate/wlan), and PaloWireless (www.palowireless.com/i802_11/products.asp) lists and links to other wireless manufacturers.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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