By Roy Santos Would you race a Ferrari on a course tailored for a Chevy? That question came to mind as I tested U.S. Robotics' 22-megabits-per-second wireless networking products, based on a Texas Instruments chip that purportedly enables networks to run twice as fast as standard 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless devices. Since products that use the TI chip (which is also offered by D-Link and others) claim compatibility with Wi-Fi and future variants, such as 54-mbps 802.11g, they sounded like ideal gear for speed demons on a budget.
I set up a wireless network using a laptop connected to the 22Mbps Wireless Access Point and a desktop PC connected to a wired four-port router. The access point and the 22Mbps Wireless PC Card were easy to install, but the 22Mbps Wireless PCI Adapter was not. The latter houses a removable PC Card, whose release button could barely fit through the opening in the desktop's back plate.
Once set up, the network revved up to over 6.4 mbps, handily beating--although not doubling--conventional Wi-Fi speeds (3.7 mpbs to 4.5 mbps). Connecting a second device to the network, however, lowered my average speed to 3.6 mbps.
When I tested the PC Card and the PCI adapter with a conventional Wi-Fi gateway, I got acceptable speeds of about 2.6 mbps. But compatibility is the access point's potential weakness: If even one Wi-Fi client uses the access point, the network's speeds dip to Wi-Fi levels. And with Wi-Fi devices proliferating, someone with a Wi-Fi client inevitably will connect to your network and slow it down. You can secure your network with 256-bit encryption (much stronger than the 40-bit WEP encryption built into conventional Wi-Fi products), but that will also decrease throughput.
In general, Wi-Fi speeds more than suffice for performing everyday tasks such as file transfers and light gaming. So for most users, compatibility limitations and the slightly higher prices charged for USR's 22Mbps products simply don't justify switching from Wi-Fi. The 22Mbps Wireless Access Point costs $170; most Wi-Fi access points are less than $150. The 22Mbps Wireless PC Card retails for $90, while regular Wi-Fi cards cost about $80. The $110 22Mbps Wireless PCI Adapter also is about $10 more than the average Wi-Fi adapter; and since no router is included, you have to make an additional purchase before you can share Internet access. For significantly higher throughput, you might as well spend a little bit more and get 54-mbps 802.11a (Wi-Fi5) products.
Notwithstanding the compatibility of these products with current and future Wi-Fi standards, I don't recommend them--especially not the access point, which requires a pure 22-mbps environment to get its top speeds all the time. After all, what good is a faster engine if you can drive the car only on a closed course? From the September 2002 issue of PC World magazine