GCN LAB REVIEW

802.11n access points get up-to-speed

With or without standards, 802.11n proliferates; the GCN Lab tests five devices

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has been working on the “n” amendment to its 802.11 wireless networking standard for five years as of January. Happy anniversary, gang!

But although IEEE might be blowing out the cake candles in spite of potential lawsuits and patent issues, the rest of us have stopped holding our breath. The events surrounding the amendment’s completion continue to unfold like a bad soap opera, but the world has decided to move on. Manufacturers that were in a holding pattern a year ago are now churning out devices that conform to the draft 802.11n specification, which isn’t expected to be finalized until December.

Government and educational organizations aren’t waiting either. More Draft-N wireless networks are being implemented every week. Just last month, the University of Minnesota announced that it had completed the largest 802.11n initiative to date, with about 9,500 access points covering more than 300 buildings. So it’s a good thing that manufacturers are on the ball.

For this review, we gathered the most recent Draft-N access points from Belkin International, Buffalo Technology, D-Link Systems, Netgear and SMC Networks.

We were pleased to find that, like last year, each device was easy to deploy and often required only the setting of an IP address or two before we had the local computer and wireless client talking to each other. Also, all the access points had the latest security features, such as Wi-Fi Protected Access, WPA2, WPA2-Pre-shared Key, and Wired Equivalent Privacy 64- and 128-bit encryption. That level of flexibility should allow administrators to match those access points to any existing security setup.

For our performance testing, we added a considerable amount of firepower to our array of testing methods this year and found that each of the devices had different advantages and flaws. Some had buffering issues, while others had limited wired connections that created an additional bottleneck for environments that are often already rife with them.

In addition to the performance testing, we graded each device on how easy it was to set up and change settings. We also took into consideration any additional features, such as router modes and extra local-area network ports. Lastly, we looked at the unit’s price compared to how it fared in the other categories.

Reader Comments

Wed, Mar 18, 2009 Chris Wellens Santa Cruz, CA

Thanks for setting up the test network and sharing the results. I would like to suggest another test that would provide more useful information to your readers: How many wireless devices can each wireless access point support? Hotels, conference centers, and other public sites need to have this information. Invariably, I am told wireless access is "free" at every hotel I visit. However, if I am attending a tech conference, you can be sure that wireless access from the lobby does *NOT* work. My experience is that the access point degrades after five users. These are consumer grade access points sold to hotels. No one ever tested the maximum limit of users or informed the hotel staff. PLEASE consider re-doing these tests to determine the load that each access point ccan accomodate. Chris Wellens President & CEO InterWorking Labs www.iwl.com

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