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Unleashing the Wonders of Wi-Fi on your Treo 700w

Mon Jun 12, 2006 - 11:27 AM EDT - By Tim Hillebrand


Does the "W" in 700W stand for "without Wi-Fi?" It seems inconceivable that Palm would neglect to include built-in Wi-Fi with the new Treo 700W until you realize that Verizon probably nixed it in favor of forcing customers to use its EVDO network and pay the tariff. While EVDO may be a huge improvement over other wireless technology, it pales in comparison to a high-speed broadband wireless Wi-Fi connection. So, rather than lament the lack, let's see what we can do to about it.

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity, which is a set of standards for transmitting data over a wireless network as set forth by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The task of the Alliance, founded in 1997, is to certify that network devices comply with the IEEE 802.11 wireless Ethernet standard over the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band. There has been an evolution in the standards and associated speed in the past few years. The first wireless efforts connected at one or two Mbps. With 802.11b standards, the speed jumped to 11 Mbps. With the introduction of Wi-Fi 802.11g connectivity speed leaped to 54 Mbps. The latest emerging iteration is 802.11n technology, which will boost speeds to 108 Mbps and beyond, but still be backward compatible with slower devices.

What's the difference between Wi-Fi and Wi-Max?

Wi-Fi works on an unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency, and the transmission distance from a distribution point is usually a maximum of 300 feet with trees, buildings, and walls causing interference and weakening the signal. WiMax stands for World Interoperability for Microwave Access, Inc. Founded in 2001, it promotes the IEEE 802.16 wireless broadband standard and provides certification for compliant devices. It operates on a licensed frequency and ostensibly has greater security along with a more powerful projection up to 30 miles from a distribution point.

If you are fortunate enough to live in one of the three dozen cities across the country with WiMax, as I do, you can easily convert the WiMax signal to a Wi-Fi network by plugging a router or access point into the WiMax modem. The glory of WiMax is that you can take the paperback book-sized receiver with you anywhere there is service and light up a meeting room, a classroom, a church, or a restaurant. It can make you a hero because then everyone can get online. Look for the rapid growth of WiMax for lighting up entire cities, counties, roadways, and eventually the world. Soon there should be WiMax cards that can plug into a laptop or handheld device. When WiMax is more ubiquitous, manufacturers will include WiMax connectivity just as Wi-Fi is included now, but it will take time.

What do you need to get connected?

The first thing you will need is a Wi-Fi compatible SDIO slot, and happily your Treo 700W has one of those already built-in, just waiting to receive a Wi-Fi card. As mentioned above, there are various Wi-Fi standards and Wi-Fi cards to match. Currently, most of the network adapter cards out there are 801.11b cards. While 801.11b is not as fast as the 801.11g technology, you will probably have fewer compatibility issues shaking hands with various routers and access points even though 801.11g is supposed to be backwards compatible. Besides, 801.11b is cheaper and more readily available. The only 801.11g card that I'm aware of on the market at this time is made by Pretec and costs about $125. The latest 801.11n protocol is still in the final stages of standardization and may be available next year as a SD LAN card.

The ideal situation would be a network card that also had a considerable amount of memory so that you never had to swap it for your memory SD cards. SanDisk made two models of their Wi-Fi card. The one that also included 256 MB of memory does not work on the 700w - avoid that one. However, the SanDisk Wi-Fi card with NO memory works fine, right out of the box, no extra driver required. Just pop it in your SD slot and you're in business.

(Editor's note: I confirmed with them that SanDisk stopped production of both models of their SDIO Wi-Fi cards in 2005. There may be old stock left at stores, or you can try eBay. But if you can find one of those memory-less SanDisk cards pictured below, grab it. It works perfectly in the 700w. - Harv)

For this article I tested the four following 801.11b cards: Just Mobile, PalmOne, Socket, and Guys.

Palm certifies its Wi-Fi card to work with the 700w.

The Just Mobile and Guys cards worked, but not well and did not receive a strong signal. Even the Windows Mobile 5 drivers did not make them fully functional. The Socket LAN card worked superbly. I understand that Just Mobile will be coming out with a new 801.11g card soon for WM5 devices. So: Socket, Palm, or SanDisk (without memory) Wi-Fi cards are the ones to shop for.

(Images of the Palm and SanDisk Wi-Fi cards are not to exact scale)..

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