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December 2001

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Cisco 340 PCMCIA Wireless network card

By Mark Dodel © December 2001

I've been running a wireless networking setup under OS/2 and eComStation for a couple of years now, using some old IBM Wireless LAN hardware. It was inexpensive, but took a while to figure out, and it required the use of an ISA slot in my server to setup a wireless base. I wrote about my original attempts to set it up in IBM Wireless LAN Kit. It has served me well, but although it worked well for basic web access and IRC, and other low bandwidth applications, it was really slow for things like running applications off of my server, and backing up large numbers of files over the LAN to my server. For those I need more bandwidth.

The IBM Wireless hardware dates from 1996-7, long before the current 802.11b standard of wireless networking which supports up to 11Mbps. So recently I began my search for an 802.11b solution that is supported under OS/2. There are lots of vendors peddling wireless networking equipment these days. But most of it seems supported only on windows. I rarely see DOS or Linux mentioned, let alone OS/2. So I was pleasantly pleased when I heard a few months back that a company in Germany was working on an OS/2 driver. Artem released the driver which only works with their own wireless cards. This was great if you lived in Europe, but at the time they had no US distributor. And only very recently started selling their equipment directly to those outside of Germany.

I have also just learned from that another German company BinTec Communications AG, has announced that they also have an OS/2 driver for their wireless network card. I don't know anything about this, other then what can be read on their web site, which is in English, German and French. I couldn't find the driver on their web site, but it was on their FTP site

Then just before Warpstock 2002, I heard that there was an OS/2 driver for the Cisco 340 wireless network adapter. I tried to find out where the driver was, since I have learned not to buy anything unless I know for a fact that the software actually exists. I finally tracked down a copy of the driver, but not in time to have one in my laptop for Warpstock. I brought my old IBM wireless PCMCIA and ISA cards to Toronto, but was unable to install the ISA card into the server we had at the VOICE booth. The card was just too long and because of it's odd ISA/MCA switchable bracket, it just couldn't clear some resistors on the motherboard. So no roaming IRC coverage of Warpstock this year, but I feel confident that will be different in 2002. :-)

When I got home I began to seriously look for a solution. Had I known that Artem would sell to me directly I would have gone that route, since they actually provide support for OS/2. The Cisco OS/2 driver I had was not written by Cisco, but by IBM, so if I ran into problems I was pretty much on my own. I decided to try to find the least expensive hardware I could, to help limit my potential loss if this didn't work. I started browsing the wireless adapters available on eBay, searching specifically for Cisco wireless cards. What I found was mostly Xircom branded cards that claimed to be Cisco 340 cards. I bought a Xircom CWE1130-NA for $75US plus $15US shipping. In addition I found a Linksys Wireless Access Point (WAP11) on for only $149.99US (with a no shipping charge deal). This allowed me to hook into my existing LAN hub with my Toshiba Satellite 2545XCDT notebook computer with access to both NetBIOS and TCP/IP for less then $250US total.

I won't go into much detail about the Xircom card, other then to say don't buy it if you plan to use it under OS/2. It states right on the card that it contains a Cisco Aironet PCM340, but I could not get the OS/2 driver to recognize the card. The driver gave no screen output, but the Plug and Play for PCMCIA didn't show any resources assigned to the card, but recognized it as an ethernet device. My guess at this point is that this driver will only work on a genuine Cisco wireless card based on a manufacturers ID programmed into it. I have only tried it on the Xircom and a Cisco 340, so I can't swear that is the case, but unless you get another card really cheap I wouldn't bother.

After having no luck with the Xircom I went back to eBay and found a real Cisco 340 PCMCIA card for $105US plus $15US shipping. Though the card came in a Cisco box with a driver CD, all the included documentation was stamped with "No warranty Included". I plugged that card into my laptop, and rebooted with the OS/2 Cisco driver and the card started blinking it's green status light and flickering it's yellow activity light. Strange since the Xircom and the Cisco look almost identical, down to the rounded radio antenna with the yellow and green lights. With the exception of the label of course.

Installing the Cisco 340 Driver

Before installing the Cisco driver you first have to have PCMCIA socket services as well as networking installed. All this is outlined in the README.TXT that is included in the driver zip file. Select Have disk from the Adapter and Protocol Configuration screen, and point it to the location of the unzipped driver files. This copies AIRO340.OS2 and AIRO340.NIF to x:\IBMCOM\MACS. You can then select the Cisco Systems 340 Wireless Lan Adapter from the Network Card list to Add or Change in the Current Configuration. Make sure the appropriate network protocol(s) are installed. I'm using IBM TCP/IP and IBM OS/2 NETBIOS.

The following image shows the MPTS configuration window and Cisco 340 series driver parameters. I basically stayed with all the defaults except for the Service Set ID(SSID), which I changed to match the default for my Linksys Wireless Access Point. SSID (Linksys calls this same parameter ESSID) is a unique ID you assign to all wireless units on your network. After booting, Plug and Play for PCMCIA showed an IRQ of 7 being used, though I had used the default of 10 when installing the driver in MPTS. This is most likely due to the fact that the default IRQ mask of 068C allows 2, 3, 7, 9, and 10. You can modify this mask to force a specific IRQ.

Other parameters that are configurable for the driver include the Base I/O address, which the readme advises you to leave blank; Infrastructure mode, which defaults to YES which means you are using the card with an access point as opposed to NO which would mean you were using it in a peer mode with other wireless network cards. Before buying anything I asked a couple of people with experience with wireless networking, who assured me that any 802.11b device would work with any other brand device. I was skeptical, but my Cisco 340 card works great with my Linksys Access Point. Since I only have the PCMCIA version of the Cisco card, I have no idea if the driver will work with the PCI or ISA versions, though these appear to be PCMCIA adapter cards with PCMCIA wireless NICs. so if the adapter chipset has an OS/2 PCMCIA driver it should also work with the Cisco 340 driver.

For me the access point was a benefit since I could just plug it into an RJ45 socket on my network hub and my wireless network card had access to the rest of my LAN. No ISA or PCI slots required in my server. In fact no changes at all to any other machines on my LAN. Though it worked for me right out of the box, the Linksys Wireless AP requires windows to change any configuration. As noted above the default SSID is linksys. It also defaults to a TCP/IP address of, which obviously was not going to pose a conflict on my 6 PC network, which was already using the 192.168.1.x series of addresses. What is a problem is the use of encryption. The Cisco card supports up to 128 bit encryption. The Linksys AP box claims to support up to 128 bit encryption as well, but the manual only talks about 40 bit WEP support. This is the WEP parameters in the driver setting page.

WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy. This is defaulted to disabled in the Linksys WAP and the Cisco driver. This means that the network data is transmitted in the clear without any encryption. To enable encryption, you need to enter the same key into all the wireless units on your network. Otherwise wireless devices won't work with one another. Since I am just using this within my home, I haven't tried enabling WEP yet. So far I have been unable to install the Linksys win32 SNMP configuration program under Odin.

As with a lot of win-junk, it uses a 16bit version of Install Shields setup program, which Odin barfs on. This would allow configuring the access point through the network and allow me to set a WEP key. I am told that it is common to require a win32 configuration application for access points. Why they don't provide a simple secure browser based configuration is beyond me, but considering this would make win32 irrelevant, it doesn't surprise me. Linksys also provides a USB port on the access point, a USB cable and win32 software so that one could configure the access point via a USB connector. (Note: The USB port is only for configuring the WAP, you can't connect it to the network via USB). I don't have USB installed anywhere but I tried installing it under Odin and again get a "Failed to start win 16 session" error.

Running Wireless

After running the IBM Wireless for a couple of years as my only laptop network access, the difference with the new Cisco card installed is like night and day. Now running Pronews/2 and MR2ICE off of my server is actually pretty usable. Here is a first attempt at PINGing the server from my laptop:

All are returned almost instantly, while the same test with the IBM Wireless cards usually returned ping times of about 100 ms. I then ran Kai Uwe Rommel's NETIO test suite, which tests throughput for both TCP/IP and NetBIOS connections. The server portion was always run on the same machine; My main server running Warp Server eBusiness FP2, with a Kingston EtherRX 10/100 card.

First test was on my main desktop system running eComStation Pro 1.0 with an Intel 100 Pro network adapter. Then I tested the Cisco PCM340 under eCS 1.0 on my laptop. Finally I reinstalled the IBM Wireless LAN on my laptop running eCS 1.0. That went directly to the server's ISA IBM Wireless LAN card. The NetBIOS test would not run under this configuration for some reason, although I was able to access all the server's shares without a problem (other than slowness) as I had for the past couple of years with the same setup. For both wireless setups, the laptop was within 3-4 feet of the receiving unit.

Network Throughput testing of Wireless/hardwired clients under OS/2
NETIO - Network Throughput Benchmark, Version 1.13(C) 1997-2001 Kai Uwe Rommel
Desktop - eCS 1.0
Intel Pro 100
Laptop - eCS 1.0
Cisco PCM340
Laptop - eCS 1.0
IBM Wireless LAN
Packet Size
1 k bytes
2114 k bytes/sec
7628 k bytes/sec
237 k bytes/sec
594 k bytes/sec
37040 bytes/sec
2 k bytes
1359 k bytes/sec
7607 k bytes/sec
237 k bytes/sec
591 k bytes/sec
34714 bytes/sec
4 k bytes
1461 k bytes/sec
7576 k bytes/sec
437 k bytes/sec
587 k bytes/sec
35649 bytes/sec
8 k bytes
1988 k bytes/sec
7619 k bytes/sec
537 k bytes/sec
597 k bytes/sec
35963 bytes/sec
16 k bytes
2670 k bytes/sec
5381 k bytes/sec
237 k bytes/sec
600 k bytes/sec
34924 bytes/sec
32 k bytes
2382 k bytes/sec
3211 k bytes/sec
158 k bytes/sec
600 k bytes/sec
35329 bytes/sec

This shows that the Cisco is running about 16 times faster then the old IBM Wireless adapter, at least for TCP/IP. The Cisco is in turn about 12 times slower for TCP/IP and 4-10 times slower for NetBIOS, then the hardwired 100Mbps connection.

The Cisco 340 Wireless driver is PCMCIA aware, and you can remove the card from a running system by turning off power to the slot and pulling it out. I don't use suspend on my laptop, but I would assume that this card also supports suspend/resume.

I was told by another OS/2 user that this driver works with the Cisco 350 wireless network card as well so even though it appears to be checking for the manufacturer ID, the driver seems to work with newer Cisco adapters as well.

As to model numbers, you have to be careful what you buy. The general family is the AIR-PCM340, but there are three models within the family. The only difference I can find is that the AIR-PCM340 has no WEP support; The AIR-PCM341 supports 40 bit WEP encryption and the AIR-PCM342 supports 128 bit WEP encryption. My card also has the model number AIR-PCM342US, which, like the IBM Wireless LAN cards, means that different national versions have different power output and operating channel support. Unlike the IBM Wireless LAN, there appears to be no need to tell the driver what national version you are using. There are also PCI and ISA versions of these cards, though since I have no need for them, I can't comment on how well they may or may not work under OS/2 or eComStation.

My opinion

All in all I was surprised at how easily the Cisco wireless card was to setup. At least in the case of the real Cisco Systems branded card, just using the defaults for both the wireless card and the Linksys wireless access point works. Of course if you need to change things you will most likely have to boot to windows to do so for the access point configuration. Another item is the lack of a Radio Signal Strength Utility for OS/2. This would tell you how well you are transmitting/receiving between the wireless units.

The Cisco wireless works via direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) 3 technology and operating in the 2.4 GHz band radio signals. It works best if there are no barriers between the units, but will find its way through wood, brick and masonry walls. It can't penetrate metal though, and the greater the distance between wireless units, the weaker the signal. At greater distances/weaker signal strength, the throughput will automatically drop back to keep the connection intact. It is rated to work up to 1500 feet(460m) at 1Mbps without any barriers and up to 11Mbps at a range up to 400 feet(120m).

So overall I'm satisfied with my new Cisco Systems wireless setup. It is much faster than my previous wireless setup, and I no longer have to tie up an ISA slot in my server. The install was extremely easy for my limited needs. However to do anything more involved appears to require booting to windoze. And now I'm stuck with a Xircom PCMCIA wireless card I can't use, but that is the price one pays to try out new things. Finally there is no real support for this driver (unless perhaps if you have a contract with IBM), and there are no OS/2 utilities. I'm told the Artem PCMCIA wireless card can be purchased direct from Artem for about $160US plus shipping. That is probably less then what a brand new Cisco 340 or 350 PCMCIA wireless card would cost at retail, and Artem is actively supporting OS/2. Hopefully soon we will have a review of the Artem card to make a fair comparison.

Cisco 340 series wireless networking driver
Developer: IBM, not officially supported.-
Price: Free

Other links referenced:
  IBMWireless LAN article -
  ARtem GmbH -
  BinTec Communications AG -
  eBay Computer Index -
  NETIO 1.13 by Kai Uwe Rommel, Freeware -
  Cisco Systems Aironet 340 Series Client Adapters -

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