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Handheld PC Networking 101 - A Beginners Guide


Applies To:

  • Windows CE 1.0, 1.01
  • Windows CE 2.0, SP1
  • Windows CE 2.11 / 2.12, SP1
  • Windows CE 3.0


This guide describes the general requirements for using your Handheld PC with a Local Area Network (LAN) connection. It assumes no prior knowledge of Networking principles.


If you are completely new to Networking you will need to plan on purchasing a certain amount of computer hardware, and then be comfortable with installing it in both your computer and Handheld PC.

This article assumes:

  • TCP/IP is the Only network protocol you will be using
  • Microsoft Windows Network Client for Workgroups is in use (Domains are not covered)
  • At least one PC on your Network is Windows 98SE, Millennium, 2000 or XP
  • You have an Internet connection

Windows CE 1.0 & 1.01 users
Unfortunately Windows CE 1.0x provides no support for Wired or Wireless networking. In order to make use of your Handheld PC on a network you will need to upgrade your device to Windows CE 2.0 for Handheld PCs if an upgrade is available, or acquire a new device.

How-to Guide:

What is a Network and why do I need one?

A network is a method of allowing computers of all types to communicate. On the most simple level, you are already using a network every time you connect your Handheld PC to your Host PC system using the Serial, IrDA or USB cable. The most extreme example of a network is the World Wide Web, in which millions of computers are connected together allowing the exchange of information.

A network is not something that everybody requires, you may not even require one of your own. If you work in an office building, chances are that you are already surrounded by a Network and you may want to add your Handheld PC to it.

If you've more than one PC at home a Network can be used to share information and resources between them. Instead of having one printer for each PC, or one phone line for each PC to use to connect to the Internet you could share the one printer and the one phone line on both, or even more computers if you chose to add more.

Why would I want to put my Handheld PC on a Network?

There are several reasons why using your Handheld PC on a network could be useful. Many users make use of their H/PC as a replacement for a Notebook computer. If this is the case, then having this communications option for your Handheld PC could increase the functionality and productivity of your device. Connect your device to the corporate network, exchange files with co-workers, even print.* If you use your Handheld PC while out and about, with the latest wireless technologies you could use your Handheld PC anywhere where there a 'hot spot' (An area where there is a wireless signal and an open connection to a network). The hot spot may be at the office, at home, in a coffee house, at the airport and in the future on aeroplanes, trains and even in taxi's.

Networks are also faster at transferring data than a Serial or even USB connection. If your Handheld PC doesn't support the use of USB technologies to synchronise, or you need to move large amounts of information to and from your Handheld PC then a network may be able to offer you faster transfer times.




Floppy Disk (1.44MB)

CD (650MB)

Serial Logo
Serial / HPC IrDA
0.115 mbps
102 sec (1m 42s)
46302 sec (12h 35m)
USB 1.1 Logo
USB 1.1
12 mbps
0.982 sec
444 sec (7m 20s)
WiFi Logo
802.11x Wireless
11 - 54 mbps
0.218 sec
98 sec (1m 38s)
Ethernet Logo
10 - 1000 mbps
0.011 sec
5.3 sec

NB: File copy times are calculated using the maximum commercially available speed of the technology at the time. Consumer devices may not necessarily function at the calculated speed. Data transfer will also be affected by the age of and the storage hardware in your HPC.

The most common reason that you may want to connect your Handheld PC to the network is to put the device on the Internet Using a Network to connect to the Internet will enable you to use a single Internet connection for multiple computers, including your HPC. Allow you to be connected to the Internet at the same time as being connected to your Host PC and - if you have broadband - make use of an Internet connection that is faster than can be provided by your HPC's modem (if it has one).

* Printing from Windows CE devices is limited to using PCL compatible printers only. See the HCL for a list of compatible printers

What equipment do I need?

This depends on what you wish to achieve with your network. Here are three common examples of a beginners network and the pro's and cons of each

Scenario 1.

A direct Ethernet Connection between my Handheld PC and my Host machine.

  • Network Card for the Host PC
  • Network Card for the Handheld PC
  • Length of UTP Crossover cable


  • Cheapest solution


  • Can only contain two computers
  • Shared resources depend exclusively on the Host PC

This network configuration relies on the Host PC to be on for network access, and logged in for Internet access. You will benefit from the increased speeds offered by Ethernet, however are limited to your PC and your Handheld PC being on the network only.

Scenario 2.

Ethernet connection using a Hub

  • Network Card for the Host PC
  • Network Card for any additional Computers
  • Network Card for the Handheld PC
  • Ethernet Hub / Switch
  • Lengths of UTP Straight Through cable


  • Provides a simple, expandable solution
  • Allows for some network automation
  • Services can be distributed across PC's / Servers


  • Network relies on one PC for primary services
  • more learning required for manual setup

Scenario 3.

Ethernet connection using a Network / Internet Router

  • Network Card for the Host PC
  • Network Card for any additional Computers
  • Network Card for the Handheld PC
  • Router
  • Broadband Internet Connection
  • Lengths of UTP Straight Through cable


  • Expandable solution
  • Allows for Network Automation
  • Services can be distributed across PC's / Servers
  • Primary Network Services removed from computer
  • Internet connection always available


  • Most Expensive Solution
  • Steepest learning curve

Wired or Wireless?

Any of these solutions can be performed using Wired Ethernet or Wireless Ethernet (WiFi). Wireless Networking provides you with more freedom than Wired. You will be able to use your Handheld PC anywhere within range of the wireless base station (The wireless base station would replace the hub or router) without being restricted by wires. However, wireless networking is considerably more expensive than wired networking. There are also issues over using the technology in some parts of the world and security implications for your personal IT security with wireless networks.

While the ease of setup and security of wireless networking is improving all the time, the process isn't as secure and doesn't provide you with the control that is offered by a wired network. For example, if you live in an apartment building your neighbours could attempt to gain access to your network, as could a passer by in the street outside.

Wireless networks are also not as fast as wired ones. These are all factors that should be considered before purchasing any hardware.
If you are looking to add your Handheld PC to a corporate network, ensure that you have sought permission and advice from your IT department on if and how you can add your device to the network. Corporate networks are usually more complex than what you will be setting up at home and you may find that the systems in place do not allow for unauthorised clients to be connected.


When thinking of adding devices bear in mind that you cannot create shares on your Handheld PC. You can only use your Windows CE device to browse network resources, not host them. Do not rely on your Handheld PC to provide functionality on the network at all.

Which hardware device?

When it comes to choosing networking hardware, especially wireless network hardware you should try to carry out some research and find out what reviewers and the end users think of the hardware. Personal recommendation is always a good way to go about it, but don't let a salesman blind side you with facts and figures.

PC / Laptop Network Card

When it comes to choosing the Network Interface Cards (NIC) for your PC / Laptop then you have plenty of options ranging in price. Our advice to users is stick to brand names and generally you wont go wrong. With the NICs you are unlikely to need the functionality offered by a 1000 mbps (Gigabit) network. We suggest you look at purchasing a Dual 10 / 100 mbps PCI Network Card for Desktop PCs and 10 / 100 Cardbus PC Cards for laptops.

Handheld PC Network Card

Windows CE can be difficult to find Network Cards for. The main reason for this is that a PC Card for a Laptop wont necessarily work in a Handheld PC. You need to look for a PCMCIA PC Card which has support for your specific version of Windows CE (2.0, HPC Pro (2.11, 2.12) HPC2000).
You can view a list of known compatible Network Cards with Handheld PC's in the HPC:Factor Hardware Compatibility List.


It is very important that you are aware of a crucial difference in the Network cabling that we describe in this article.
In Scenario 1 you are directly connecting two Network Cards together, as a result you need to use a Crossover cable
In the other Scenarios you are making use of a Hub, Switch or Router device. A connection between a Network Card and one of these devices required the use of a Straight Through cable.

You must also consider the cabling type. For 100 mbps and less wired networks you should use Cat 5 cabling (Preferably Cat 5e). For 1000 mbps (Gigabit) networks you should use Cat 6. If you use the wrong cable type, the data on your Network will not travel at the correct speed, or at all.

If you use the wrong cable in the wrong situation your network wont function. If you are in any doubt, ask the assistant in your computer shop for guidance.

Hub / Switch

A Hub and a Switch perform exactly the same function. However a Switch is more intelligent over the way it does it.
There are many brands around. The important thing to remember is that if you have 100 mbps Network Cards, and 100 mbps cabling, there is no point in purchasing a 10 mbps Hub.
It is best to match the type of Network Card that you are using, so if you have a 10 / 100 Network Card, purchase a 10 / 100 Hub.


Describing the functionality of a Router is beyond the scope of this article. However in this situation it is a device that connects your personal Network to the larger Network that is the Internet (World Wide Web).
The router will become the backbone of your network. It will provide the services needed to add clients to the network without you having to change configuration settings on the computers.
As such it is very important that you research routers before making a purchase. As a preference obtain a personal recommendation.
Key things to look for are:

  • Compatibility with your Broadband solution
  • Network Expandability (Does it have a built in hub, does it have an uplink port)
  • Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)
  • Network Address Translation (NAT)
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)
  • Firewall

Wireless Networking

With Wireless you have to be extra careful to preserve compatibility across your Network. There are numerous Wireless Standards. The main ones are IEEE 802.11A, 802.11B and 802.11G.
You must be sure that there is a universal standard compatibility across your network. That includes with the wireless base station (router) and the Network Cards.
For a list of known compatible Network Cards with Handheld PC's see the HPC:Factor Hardware Compatibility List.

Where now?

You need to sit down and think about how you want to establish your Network. Once you know what you want the outcome to be, creating a list of hardware that you will need will not be as daunting as it may initially seem.

The best advice we can offer is simply to ensure compatibility. Compatibility between the hardware, and compatibility between your Operating Systems. If you do that, then eventually everything will slide together and you'll be the Administrator of your own domain in no time.

If you opted for a router-less solution (Scenario 1 & 2), then once you have everything plugged in and lit up like a Christmas tree you should look at the Internet Connection Sharing in Windows guide for information on how to provide some automation on your network.

If you purchased a router, you will need to work through the manual until you have everything talking properly.

If you require assistance, please visit the HPC:Factor forums and I'm sure that we can give you a push towards your Network utopia.

Further Reading

Accessing Network Shares
Printing over a Network
Network Neighborhood / My Network Places
Synchronising over a network
Using a shared Internet connection with DHCP
Proxy Servers
Internet Connection Sharing in Windows