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Guide to Synchronising Windows CE over Infrared


Applies To

  • Windows CE 2.0, SP1
  • Handheld PC Professional, SP1
  • Handheld PC 2000
  • ActiveSync 3.x


Due to the nature of PDA synchronisation. The first step in being able to synchronise is to establish a hard wired local computer connection. This can be using a RS323 Serial Cable or in some newer devices a USB Serial Driver connection.

Both USB and Serial connections can post a number of problems for users. USB is still often unreliable as the system has to mount and dismount the driver every time the Handheld PC is connected. Even more limiting is the fact that USB synchronisation support exists only on a small number of the Handheld PC devices that exist out there, is restricted to HPC2000 and above and often is only available thorough the cradle and not via the device chassis

Serial connections are the universal standard on Handheld PC devices. Problems can arise especially for users of second hand devices where serial cables were not included in the purchase. The cables often make use of preparatory connectors to interface with the device itself making purchasing a standard replacement from an electrical store is not an option. Often OEM manufacturers are unable or unwilling to provide replacements to new users.
Secondly, the Serial RS323 standard is a legacy connection format. Increasingly PC's are shipping with one or even no COM (Serial) ports. As demand and necessity wavers for the continued need for such technologies motherboards without legacy COM and LPT ports will become the rule rather than the exception.

Infrared or IrDA is a solution that can negate the problems with the other standards, while providing future proofing to the Handheld PC host connection while potentially providing additional benefits.

This article discusses the use of Infrared with Microsoft ActiveSync.

More Info

The infrared technology provides a virtual serial connection between compatible devices by using Electro Magnetic (EM) pulses in the Infrared spectrum. There are several different Infrared protocol specifications. These are

  • ASK IR (Amplitude Shift Keyed IR) - 2400 bps (2.4 Kbps)
  • IrDA (HPSIR) - 115200 BPS (115.2Kbps)
  • Fast IR (FIR) - 4Mbps
  • Very Fast IR (VFIR) - 16Mbps

ASK IR should be avoided as it is not compatible with the Windows CE synchronisation system. FIR and VFIR are not supported by current generation Handheld PC devices. However the specifications are fully backwards compatible and in most cases no configuration changes will be needed.

IrDA operating at 115.2 Kbps is the natively supported specification of all Windows CE Handheld PC devices. As part of the licensing requirements all Handheld devices running one of the H/PC platforms were required to implement the technology.

Communication Protocols

Once the Infrared virtual connection is established there are several different communication protocols that can operate across the connection. These are

Dial-up networking (IrCOMM)
IrCOMM allows the Handheld PC to connect to ActiveSync to perform Synchronisation actions. IrCOMM also provides the connection between the Handheld PC and an Infrared Cellular Phone when using the HPC:Factor IrDA Modem driver or others.

Printing (IrLPT)
This is the protocol used when printing to a Windows CE compatible printer over Infrared.

File Transfer (IrSquirt)
IrSquirt is a Microsoft proprietary protocol for Windows CE devices. Is used when files are sent Intra-H/PC by Infrared when you send files to another Windows CE device using Windows CE Explorer. It is not natively supported on any other Host or PDA platform.

File transfer (IrOBEX)
IrOBEX or IrXfer enables easy file transfer between IrDA devices. This feature is not natively available on Windows CE. It is often wrongly assumed that this is how ActiveSync communicates with the host. Third party software applications are available to provide IrOBEX support.

Image transfer (IrTran-P)
This is an Infrared implementation found in some Digital Camera devices. It does not have native support in Windows CE.

Networking (IrNET)
Is a hybrid version of IrCOMM. IrNET allows an infrared device to act in a similar way to a Network adapter. Using the TCP/IP protocol it can access a local area network, access shared files and folders, browse the Internet and so on. It is not natively supported on the Handheld PC.

Infrared Adapters

There are four main ways that you may encounter Infrared.

  1. Built in Infrared Port on a Laptop or less commonly a desktop PC.
  2. A RS323 extender dongle. This method requires an existing COM port and a motherboard that can convert the port for use with an IrDA lamp. The IR lamp will connect to the COM port, and with setting adjustments in the BIOS will function as a IR device. This method is very uncommon and usually an optional extra.
  3. Motherboard Bridge. Similar to the Extender dongle except that the connector will sit directly on the motherboard. Resource Addressing space may still make one of the physical COM ports redundant in many cases. Such facilities are usually an optional extra from the Motherboard manufacturer.
  4. USB IrDA. This method provides the greatest level of future proofing as it removed the dependency on all legacy interfaces. Using a USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 port the lamp will operate using Plug & Play. The USB method eliminates potential resource conflicts and requires no knowledge of advanced Resource Addressing.

For information on configuring or enabling integrated Infrared or motherboard dependant hardware consult with the manual provided with your system hardware.

The range and broadcast scope of any given adapter is entirely dependant on the specific Infrared lamp. In general the device will work up to a range of 5 metres in a 130 degree field of vision from the lamp head. The range can be affected by ambient temperature as well as supplemental heat and light sources. It is not affected by or interfere with RF signals emitted from Wireless Network or radio equipment.

System Requirements

The Infrared protocols are an open standard produced by the Infrared Data Association (IrDA). The technology is available on most currently operating systems including Windows, Mac OS and Linux. Synchronisation is not available using Microsoft solutions for non Windows platforms and information for non Windows users is beyond the scope of this article.

Windows 95
Windows 95 RTM and Windows 95a users will require four system updates to make use of Infrared. The updates should be installed in the order shown below and before the adapter is enabled.

  1. Windows Socket 2 Update
  2. Dial Up Networking 1.4
  3. IrDA 2.0 Infrared Drivers
  4. Infrared Transfer 1.0

Download Links for the updates can be found in the HPC:Factor Windows 95 Patching and Updates Guide.

Windows 95 B, C, OEM SR2.0, 2.1 and 2.5 users should install only the Dial-up Networking 1.4 update.
USB adapters are not supported.

Windows NT 4

Windows NT 4 does not contain any native support for IrDA adapters. Third party drivers exist however their use and effectiveness is beyond the scope of this article.

Windows 98, 98SE, Millennium, 2000, XP, 2003

The Operating System contains native functionality for using IrDA adapters. Drivers for Fast IR or VFIR may be required from Windows Update or the manufacturers disk.

How-to Guide

If you are planning to use ActiveSync to sync over IrDA on a new device which currently does not have a partnership, are using a new install of ActiveSync or has previously been used to connect to the system you should run the Get Connected Wizard.

  1. On the Host PC
    1. From the File Menu in ActiveSync choose 'Get Connected...'
  2. On the Handheld PC
    1. Tap Start and expand Settings
    2. Open the Control Panel
    3. Double tap the Communications applet
    4. Select the PC Connection tab
    5. Tick to Allow connection with desktop computer when H/PC is attached and tap Change
    6. From the drop box Select "' Infrared Port"
    7. Tap OK twice
    8. Close the Control Panel
    9. Return to the Start Menu and open Programs
    10. Expand Communications and tap to run PC Link
  3. At the same time you tap PC Link click Next on the Get Connected Wizard on the Host PC
  4. Provided the ports are lined up correctly the two devices should discover one another and establish a new partnership or begin to sync depending on your circumstance


Under some circumstances a connection between a working Handheld PC and a FIR (USB FIR) device may be unsuccessful. In the event that you experience problems in connecting your Handheld PC over IrDA please ensure the following:

  1. The ports have uninterrupted line of sight and no further than 30cm (12") away from each other
  2. The Host adapter is in the correct BIOS mode (Integrated adapters only)
  3. Clean the lamp lenses using a damp soft cloth free of chemical solvents. Avoid the use of hot water as it could condense on the inside of the lens
  4. Ensure that you haven't enabled Direct Cable Connection access to your Host PC on the IrDA Virtual COM Port
  5. Set the maximum permitted baud rate on the host adapter to the lowest common supported bitrate - 115.2 or lower
    1. Windows 95 / 98 / Millennium
      Open the Control Panel, run the system applet
      Click the Device Manager tab
      Expand Infrared Devices
      Highlight your IrDA adapter and click properties

      Windows 2000 / XP / 2003
      Open the Control Panel, run the system applet
      Open the Hardware Tab
      Select Device Manager
      Expand Infrared Devices
      Double Click on your IrDA adapter
    2. On the Advanced Tab set the speed limit for the device to a maximum of 115.2 kbps. If you continue to experience problems please lower this to 19.2 kbps
    3. Accept the changes and restart your computer