Introducing the Xircom 802.11 Module for the Visor

by Derrick Story

The SpringPort Wireless Ethernet Module by Xircom is one of the most exciting Springboards since the EyeModule 2. But at USD$299, it's also one of the most expensive. How much technology does your money buy? Actually, quite a bit.

In essence, the Xircom module allows you to connect any Handspring Visor to a standard 802.11 wireless network for Internet connectivity and peer-to-peer file-sharing. You can also configure the Xircom to hot-synch your Visor with its host computer -- a very nice touch.

I've put the module through its paces in three different 802.11 environments -- two "open" networks and one encrypted. Because the computers I currently use depend on 802.11 for my network connection, I have a pretty good feel for how a device should respond in this environment. I'm happy to report that the Xircom module behaved as I expected, with just a few minor complaints.

Physical design

No doubt about it: This is a handsome and well-designed module. It looks terrific in both my standard graphite Visor as well as the Platinum.

The construction is solid, and I don't feel like I have to worry about its durability. And because of the excellent Springboard design concept, the Xircom doesn't add nearly the bulk that competitive wireless Ethernet configurations do on other PDAs.

The device contains a lithium-ion rechargeable battery that the specs claim can perform for two hours of continuous transmission. During usage, it seemed to have at least that much power, maybe more.

If you have a Visor Prism, you can recharge the Xircom module while the Visor itself is charging. If you have a non-rechargeable Visor, Xircom provides you with a power cord that connects to the HotSync port. You always have to charge the unit when it's in the Visor.

It's times like these you'll pat yourself on the back for keeping your old 2-Mbyte Visor because it can serve as a charging unit for the Xircom, or be a dedicated web browser or e-mail client.

At the top of the unit are two LED indicators that show network activity and charging status.

Wireless specifications

The Xircom module adheres to the IEEE 802.11b high-rate standard for wireless LANs. It supports data rates of 1, 2, 5.5, and 11 Mbps using Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS).

For security, the Xircom uses 0-, 40-, and 128-bit WEP encryption. The range in most office environments is 100 feet (30 m) at 11 Mbps and 300 feet (90 m) at 1 Mbps. It operates in the 2400-2483.5 MHz frequency band.

SpringPort Wireless Ethernet module inserted into Handspring Visor.
SpringPort Wireless Ethernet module inserted into Handspring Visor.

Related articles:

New Wireless Standards Challenge 802.11b

802.11b Tips, Tricks, and Facts

Performance Test: 802.11b Takes a Lickin' and Keeps on Tickin'

Check out visorcental's first impressions of the Xircom module.

Comment on this articleIt seems like the 802.11 networking protocol is really establishing itself as a popular standard. What do you think about this in general, and the Xircom module in particular?
Post your comments

Initial setup

As with all Springboard modules, you can slide the Xircom into your Visor and it's instantly recognized. After a brief appearance of the acknowledgement screen, you are taken directly to a configuration screen with links to five areas:

  • Client Settings
  • Network Settings
  • HotSync Settings
  • Status
  • Tips

Before you can connect your Visor to a 802.11 network, you need to enter some information. At this point I'll mention that it is much easier to configure and connect to nonencrypted networks. If you have access to such a network, such as AirPort at home, I suggest you start there so you can experience the thrill of wireless browsing on the Visor as quickly as possible. The walk-through I'll be covering first is for such a network.

Let's start with the top button, Client Settings. There are four options on this screen: Client Name, Profile, Network ID (SSID), and Encryption Enable or Disable.

For the client name, I use my standard handle for my Visor and all of my networks. For Profile, I have three different profiles I can establish. I use Profile #1 for my unencrypted network settings.

The Network ID (SSID) is the one field that might seem confusing at first. Here's where you enter the name of the network you want to connect to. Make sure you enter the letters exactly as provided to you by your network administrator. If you're connected to the network already through a laptop, you can copy the name from the network control panel.

Finally, for Encryption, you can leave the Disable button highlighted for this connection. Then click OK. You'll be greeted with a screen that reads, "The changes will take effect the next time the module is used." Click OK again.

Now click the Network Settings button and read the handy instructions that pop up on your screen. They tell you exactly how to add the Xircom configuration to your Visor's network preferences. Once everything is configured properly, go back to the main window and hit the Status window. Within 15 seconds or so, you should have a clean connection to your 802.11b network.

Right away you can go to work because the module has both MultiMail SE and Handspring Blazer installed on it. You'll need to configure both the e-mail client and the browser, but this is a simple task you've probably done dozens of times before. If you get lost, the Quick Reference Guide that comes with the Xircom module has clear instructions for all of these operations.

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