The idea of a wireless network connection has been around a long time, with several products appearing over the years mostly to a rousing lack of interest. The reasons for wireless’ lack of success are due to both slow transfer speed and high speed. Innomedia hopes to change the trend with their InnoWave product, which provides for a two-point wireless network that can be expanded to multiple stations.

InnoWave is designed to provide a connection between either two Windows computers, or a Windows computer and a serial device such as modem or printer. Innomedia sees the InnoWave as a way to connect laptops to an existing LAN, to provide a connection between LAN segments, or to tie together peripherals that cannot be easily wired into an existing LAN. The InnoWave uses Digital Spread Spectrum Technology (DSST) which was developed by the Army for secure transmission in open spaces. The InnoWave broadcasts in the spectrum between 902 and 928 Mhz which can cause some interference and conflicts with 900MHz telephones and other wireless devices. The range of the InnoWave is claimed to be 800 feet, but in practicality the range is lowered because of wall construction, interference from other wiring, and other environmental considerations. Innomedia claims up to 85kbps transmission between units.

The InnoWave units are gray plastic boxes about the size and shape of two decks of playing cards next to each other. There is a stubby rigid antenna on a pivot on the left side, a recessed power switch on the right, and three status LEDs on the top. A DCE-DTE slide switch is also on the side. The rear panel has a socket for the wall-wart power supply (only one needed foe a pair of InnoWave units), and both DB9 and DB25 female connectors. The DB25 is for a printer only and cannot be used to connect to the host machine, unfortunately. Software is included for Windows 95, Windows 3.X, and Windows NT only. To include the InnoWave units in a UNIX-based network, they have to piggyback off two Windows clients, which works surprisingly well as they add no discernible overhead to the client. Each InnoWave box must be connected to a Windows client through a serial port, so spare ports may be an issue. It would be much more preferable if they could be attached directly to the network or a multiport UNIX or RAS system, but the additional functionality would probably add considerably to the cost.

We initially configured the InnoWave system on a network as a bridge between two smaller LAN segments, replacing a 200 foot coaxial cable connection between routers. Both segments included SCO OpenServer and SCO UnixWare servers, two Windows NT servers, and about a dozen Windows 95 or Windows 98 clients. One Windows 95 client on each network had the InnoWave installed, requiring about 10 minutes total time. The Express setup requires a minimum of effort, and the smallish handbook included with the InnoWave guides you through all possible configurations quickly and easily.

We measured transmission speed by using one OpenServer server running VisionFS to transfer files back and forth over the InnoWave to a Windows 95 client. By timing the transfer and monitoring the transmit-receive rates, we arrived at effective transmission speeds averaged over several hours of testing. While Innomedia claims 85kbps over the InnoWave, that’s wildly optimistic. We did get some bursting to about 80kbps, lasting a second or two only. The overall average transmission speed on our test site (transmitting from first to third floors of a regular wood and brick construction house) was about 45kbps.

We tested the InnoWave with a standard range of 250 feet and it worked without problem at that average 45kbps speed. A series of tests was conducted using a laptop broadcasting to a Windows NT server. The server was located on the second floor of our test labs and the laptop was taken outside and moved progressively further away. At 400 feet we still had decent performance (about 38kbps), but beyond that we started to get packet loss and much slower effective transmission speeds. At 600 feet we were down to the equivalent of a 9.6kbps modem, which while still acceptable in a pinch is less than most users will tolerate. Performance beyond 600 feet was almost non-existent.

We also connected the InnoWave from one Windows 95 client to an ISDN modem situated three floors down. Since the ISDN modem was capable of speeds considerably in excess of the InnoWave’s speed, a lot of bandwidth was wasted. It was much better connected to a standard 38.8 modem, but this seems an expensive way to connect a PC and modem. When connected to an HP LaserJet, the printer was usually waiting for data instead of printing.

We have mixed feelings about the InnoWave. It does work well for those times when you need to add a peripheral and can’t or won’t run a network cable. The speed is slow, though, making it unsuitable for connecting LAN segments together if they bear any reasonable amount of traffic. For laptop to PC connections, InnoWave works well. However, with virtually no UNIX support (it doesn’t work under Merge or Wabi) SCO users will have to find a better way to use wireless network connections.