The Compaq iPaq Connection Point represents a promising entry into the multiservice residential gateway arena. The device lets you share a broadband connection among Ethernet, phone-line, and wireless networks. Unfortunately, the Connection Point supports the slower HomeRF wireless standard instead of the more popular 802.11b, which might ultimately lead to its downfall. However, if Compaq adds 802.11b support (which is forthcoming, according to Compaq), the Connection Point might have more to offer. The Compaq iPaq Connection Point represents a promising entry into the multiservice residential gateway arena. The device lets you share a broadband connection among Ethernet, phone-line, and wireless networks. Unfortunately, the Connection Point supports the slower HomeRF wireless standard instead of the more popular 802.11b, which might ultimately lead to its downfall. However, if Compaq adds 802.11b support (which is forthcoming, according to Compaq), the Connection Point might have more to offer.
All-in-one networking solution
The $399 Compaq iPaq Connection Point packs a lot of networking capability into a three-pound package, including Ethernet networking, wireless and phone-line technology, a high-speed Internet modem interface, a built-in V.90 analog modem, and useful security features. The kit includes the Connection Point, a printed user guide, a power source, an RJ-11 phone cable, an RJ-45 Ethernet cable, and a wall-mounting bracket. There's no software CD or diskette; you must download all configuration software from the Web.
The Connection Point conforms to the dictum that multiservice residential gateways must resemble 22nd-century toasters. However, when its stubby rubberized antenna is raised, it's almost irresistibly cute. It's also reasonably compact (about the size of a pair of PC audio speakers), but it's so streamlined and slippery that it's difficult to pick up with one hand.
The top of the Connection Point bears four status lights. One shows whether the unit is receiving power, another shows the status of the Internet connection, the third covers the Ethernet or HomePNA network connection, and the top one indicates whether the HomeRF network is enabled. On the back are an RJ-11 jack for a telephone, an RJ-45 Ethernet jack for connecting to a local networked PC or hub, another RJ-11 for HomePNA networking and accessing the built-in V.90 modem, and an RJ-45 for connection to a cable or DSL modem. You supply the PCs, network adapters, cable or DSL modem, and cables for connecting additional computers. You also must have an existing ISP account, but unfortunately, the popular America Online and CompuServe dial-up services are incompatible with the Connection Point.
Better documents on the Web
The printed user guide is of limited value, consisting largely of a description of the Connection Point's features. You get more from the Web site, which has troubleshooting guides and all of the installation software. When you go to the Web site, download the Connection Point Wizard and run it on the first PC you connect. Next, create a floppy disk with the installation program on it if you want to set up additional computers (this could be a problem if your second computer is a notebook without a floppy drive).
The software lets you manage the Connection Point in a variety of ways. For instance, you can change V.90 modem dial-up settings, modify the broadband access configuration, and review network events. Also included are Internet connection-sharing software and 5 user licenses (upgradable to 50). To have more than five concurrent Internet sessions, you must purchase more public access licenses in five-unit blocks.
Internally, the Connection Point operates as a DHCP client and server with network address translation (NAT). The built-in NAT firewall keeps out hackers by blocking unrequested incoming Internet traffic. If that doesn't satisfy you, the Connection Point also includes a free 90-day subscription to the WatchGuard LiveSecurity service. (After the 90 days, the service costs $50 per year.) The service features continual software updates, security alerts, tech support, and personal customization based on your type of network. Finally, the Connection Point acts as a virtual private network (VPN) IPSec client to ensure secure data transfers.
What it does (and doesn't) offer
At $399, however, the Connection Point ought to offer more than it does. Its major weakness is in wireless performance. Compaq has chosen to support the HomeRF wireless standard instead of the more popular 802.11b Wi-Fi standard. HomeRF works well enough, and you can buy HomeRF cards for somewhat less than 802.11b cards, but the problem is speed: Wi-Fi devices operate at 11mbps, more than six times faster than the current HomeRF standard of 1.6mbps. Compaq says it has no plans to support the 10mbps HomeRF 2.0 version, but it will come out with a Wi-Fi Connection Point this summer.
The Connection Point comes with an adequate one-year parts and labor warranty. Toll-free phone support is also available 24/7 for a full year on the hardware and 90 days on software, but reaching it is harder than it should be. The support number listed in the user guide is only for PCs, printers, and other peripherals. You must go to the Web site or look at the warranty card for the special support number for Connection Point users. The Connection Point Web site offers a decent set of resources, including FAQs, product and warranty information, and, of course, the thorough user guide.
The first-generation Compaq iPaq Connection Point is a viable choice if you're committed to HomeRF wireless networking. A second-generation offering, with faster wireless connections and smoother setup, might eventually be a solution for the rest of us, as well.