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A Seamless Link With PC's Wireless Networker


You're in a meeting and the boss is about to ask a question. But you're also waiting for a piece of e-mail. Or you need to check a spreadsheet back at your desk. What to do?

If you have a Pocket PC--and your office has a wireless local area network running the 802.11 standard--then a tiny device called the Wireless Networker from Symbol Technologies just might save the day. Wireless networking is a natural step in the evolution of personal computing. Unfettered by cables, a user is free to walk around an office or campus and send e-mail, swap files and even browse the Internet.

The wireless standard--known as Wi-Fi--is showing up on many campuses. UCLA plans to launch a wireless networking test this month. Home users also are jumping on board as the cost of wireless access points and antenna cards for PCs decreases. An access point, which broadcasts a data signal, can cost as little as $200. The Wireless Networker, which slides into a Pocket PC's compact flash slot, sells for $160.

Wi-Fi also is showing up at meetings and other public places. Despite the folding of a wireless supplier last month, Starbucks Coffee Corp. says it will continue to work with Compaq Computer Corp. and others to bring 802.11 to the chain's 4,600 stores.

Wayport Inc., of Austin, Texas, already has wired several Southern California hotels for wireless, including the Four Seasons Regent Beverly Wilshire and the downtown Los Angeles Marriott. Wayport also offers its service at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. With one wireless card, a user could conceivably stay in touch from a hotel 1,000 miles away.

Until recently, such connectivity required a PC Card-size antenna, for which most hand-held computers required a special sled. But the Wireless Networker fits in the compact flash slot found on devices such as Hewlett-Packard's Jornada 560 series, Casio's Cassiopeia E-125 and URThere's Amigo.

On my home wireless network, all I had to do was download the Symbol software driver to the Pocket PC. It can be done as part of a typical synchronization. Then I specified the ID of my network device. The card lit up, and I was able to link the Pocket PC to my desktop and out to the Internet with ease.

Synchronizations were as fast as--or faster than--when using the Universal Serial Bus wired synchronization cradle supplied with most hand-helds. Bigger downloads--for instance, the synchronization of a 6,000-name address book--take a bit longer wirelessly than with the USB cradle. But after the initial setup of a personal digital assistant, such massive transfers are, generally, rare.

Overall, the Wireless Networker delivers a valuable service--particularly when you're stuck in a long meeting and want to check the Lakers score.


Mark A. Kellner is a freelance technology writer and hosts "Mark Kellner on Computers" at from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursdays. He can be reached at

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