Standard Supports Faster Transfers
Most of today's infrared ports operate at the standard 115 kilobit/sec specified by the Infrared Data Association (IrDA). The association, however, recently approved two extensions to the standard that will allow higher-speed file transfers and will open a new application for IR—as a network connection.
The association approved two different speeds in order to avoid a standards battle. "There are different ways to implement speeds beyond the 115 Kbps," said John LaRoche, executive director of IrDA. IBM Corp. pushed for its implementation of 1.2 megabit/sec ports that it has been shipping on ThinkPads for almost a year. Other vendors, particularly Hewlett-Packard and Sharp, pushed for a 4 megabit/sec speed.
Randy Giusto, manager of mobile computer research at International Data Corp., predicts that 4 megabit/sec products will ship in volume by the second quarter. Although 1.2 megabit/sec and 4 megabit/sec devices will be on the market, analysts expect that 4 megabit/sec devices will incorporate the 1.2 megabit/sec specification. Otherwise, two devices using different high-speed schemes would have to drop down to the slower 115 kilobit/sec speed, thus negating any speed advantage.
The 4 megabit/sec speed is prompting vendors to introduce products that use IR as a connection to a local-area network. At Fall Comdex, Extended Systems introduced an IrDA-compliant network adapter that allows notebook users to connect to a network and transfer data at up to 4 megabit/sec. The product, called the JetEye Net Plus, supports Ethernet and Token-Ring networks and comes with drivers to access Novell Inc. NetWare, TCP/IP and NetBIOS networks. The street price is expected to be less than $300. The new adapters will be available on the General Services Administration schedule soon, company officials said.
Although most LANs operate at 10 megabit/sec, the 4 megabit/sec speed is adequate for a LAN adapter, according to Mark Willnerd, manager of infrared products at Extended Systems. Standard Ethernet's bandwidth is shared among all the users, while the 4 megabit/sec connection is dedicated. "You shouldn't see any more performance degradation than you'd see with a PCMCIA LAN adapter card," he said.
Willnerd expects the IR connection to LANs to be popular in field offices in which several mobile workers need to periodically come into the office and connect to the network. With an IrDA-compatible LAN adapter, any worker with any notebook that incorporates an IrDA-compatible port can simply walk up to the adapter and access the LAN.
While point-and-shoot connectivity to networks is tempting, government agencies may not want to make network access that easy.
"The technology is still under evaluation in many agencies with respect to security," said Tony Colangelo, director of marketing at Government Technology Services Inc.