Infrared Networking Basics

Its time to whip out your infrared-enabled devices and communicate without wires. In Part 1, learn the basics of infrared networking in Windows 2000.

 By Brien M. Posey
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One of the coolest but least understood native Windows 2000 features is infrared networking. Infrared networking allows you to perform such tasks as transferring files between machines and printing to infrared-enabled printers without the need for wires. In spite of this capability, very few of the Windows 2000 books I've read even mention infrared support. In this article series, I'll explain how you can take advantage of Windows 2000's infrared networking capability. I'll begin by discussing how infrared networking works. I'll then explain how to install, configure, and work with Windows 2000's infrared support.

How It Works

Before you can really appreciate Windows 2000's infrared networking support, it's necessary to understand how infrared networking works. Although some aspects of infrared networking are consistent with traditional networking, many aren't. To see why this is the case, let's compare infrared networking with traditional networking.

A traditional network requires a minimum of two PCs that are equipped with network cards and are attached to a communications medium. Each of these PCs must also have a unique computer name for identification purposes and share a common protocol with the other PCs on the network.

In infrared networking, this definition is revised a bit. Whereas traditional networking requires a minimum of two computers, infrared networking is usually limited to only two computers. Actually, they don't both have to be computers--one of the devices could be a pocket PC or a printer. In spite of the fact that there are usually only two devices involved in infrared communications, a computer name and common protocol are still required. The computer name is required in case multiple infrared devices are present in a given area. The computer name allows the devices to determine which devices should be communicating.

In the case of infrared networking, the infrared port takes the place of the network card. (I'll discuss the infrared port in more detail in a future article.) As far as a communications medium goes, whereas traditional networks use copper wire or fiber, infrared networks don't require a physical connection between the two devices. The only requirement from a connection standpoint is that a direct line of sight exists between the two devices.

The Need for a Protocol

A shared protocol is required even in infrared networking because of the nature of infrared communications. To see why this is the case, it's necessary to understand how infrared communications work on a more basic level. At its simplest, infrared communication involves using an infrared emitter to send pulses of infrared light to an infrared receiver. Infrared light is used instead of other types of light that fall into the spectrum of visible light, because it's less susceptible to interference than visible light.

An example of very simple infrared communication is the remote control for your television or stereo. Such a remote contains an infrared emitter. When you press a button on the remote, it emits pulses of infrared light, which the infrared receiver on the television or stereo receives. In the case of a remote control, a chip inside the remote causes the infrared receiver to flash a different pattern of invisible light for each button pressed. If you hold down a button, the flash pattern repeats.

It's possible to watch an infrared remote function; certain types of digital cameras can record infrared light. In Figure 1, you can see a stereo remote. The image on the left shows a remote with the infrared emitter turned off, as would occur during idle times or between pulses of light. However, the image on the right shows what it looks like when the infrared emitter emits a pulse of light.

Figure 1
Figure 1: An infrared remote emits pulses of infrared light.

This article was originally published on Nov 9, 2000
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