To keep up with the fast pace of tech development, the manufacturers of the wireless networking devices had to make sure that their best wireless access points are properly equipped, which required implementing some of the latest technologies mainly suitable for enterprise-type wireless access points (SMB), but which could also give the home user the advantage of using better access points, especially as an equivalent to the latest emergencing mesh WiFi systems (for people with larger homes or simply, for tech enthusiasts), the key word being scalability. This has translated into a large variety of wireless access points to choose from and, based on the wireless performance, the amount of features, the user-friendliness of the UI, the design and the aforementioned scalability factor, we chose the best wireless access points on the market, by taking into account both the older 802.11n standard and the newer 802.11ac standard.
A wireless access point is a networking device that has the role of converting the data received from a wired Ethernet cable into wireless signal (2.4GHz or 5GHz). Sure, a wireless router can do pretty much the same thing, so why would you need a separate access point?
Well, routers can definitely do a great job at serving all the close-by clients, but, there are always WiFi dead spots where the signal just won’t reach and so, if you have a rather large house, you may need at least one additional access point to help with your network.
UPDATE 01.06.2018: Added the Linksys LAPAC2600 Pro to the best 802.11ac access points list
THE BEST 802.11AC WIRELESS ACCESS POINTS
|Open Mesh A60||Linksys LAPAC2600 PRO||Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO|
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THE BEST 802.11n WIRELESS ACCESS POINTS
|Ubiquiti UAP-LR||OM2P-HS||Cisco Systems WAP561||TP-LINK TL-WA901ND|
|Read More||Read More||Read More||Read More|
While the main purpose of an AP is to extend your network, some manufacturers have taken up to a new level, adopting the mesh networking technology, so you can use one or two small devices in your home (which are usually very easy to setup) or you can use a bunch of them and create a mesh network, where your clients can seamlessly roam the building and have uninterrupted access to the Internet and a steady, strong signal.
Note 1: This article addresses both consumer and small business wireless access points (WAP).
Note 2: If you have an old router laying around, you may try to convert it to an access point and save some money in the process.
Note 3: I purposely left out the Outdoor Access Points, which will be the subject of another article.
1. Open Mesh A60 Wireless Access Point Review
In a short period of time, Open Mesh has become the go-to company for small and medium businesses that need a reliable networking equipment which can be managed and monitored from anywhere in the world via a free cloud controller (CloudTrax). Until last year, the main focus of Open Mesh was to create a large mesh network using its small form factor access points, but, since technology evolves at an extremely fast rate, we got to see a new series of cloud-managed switches and a couple of dual-band access points (the A60 and the A40), which promise to cover a larger area with WiFi, to allow more clients to connect to the network, while keeping the mesh capabilities and the seamless integration within the CloudTrax environment.
The A60 differs in many ways from the previous generation (from which I already took a look at the Open Mesh OM2P-HS that still holds a top place in the best 802.11n wireless access points list), now being suitable for both indoors and outdoors deployment (you don’t need a special enclosure any more), it has better internal hardware and, along with the A40, it is compatible with the 802.3af PoE standard, so it definitely deserves a top spot in our best 802.11ac access points list.
Similarly to other popular 802.11ac access points, the Open Mesh A60 adopted a minimalistic design, having a flush-mount lighting look which has pretty much become the new standard because of the non-intrusive nature (it will easily blend in on a wall or on the ceiling). The case of the A60 is rectangular, made of plastic (feels sturdy), with rounded corners and it’s covered by a white matte finish (it doesn’t retain fingerprints). Open Mesh has stated that the A60 can be used indoors, as well as outdoors, so I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t find any exposed area or any cut-outs to show any vulnerability to dust or water, with every area where two separate pieces of plastic meet being protected by silicone bands (it is IP55 rated, after all). Naturally, some may be concerned about heat dissipation if there are no vent holes, but, so far, while the device did get warm under heavy load, it did not overheat (it actually ran cooler than the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO).
If you compare it with the OM2P-HS (or any other AP from the OM series), you’ll notice that the A60 and A40 grew in size (both measure 6.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches) and the A60 has become a bit heavier (it weighs 0.99 pounds) – couple that with the four sturdy rubber feet and you have an unmovable device if you decide to keep it on the desk or shelf (while other manufacturers have also stated that their circular access points can be positioned on a flat surface, I feel that the rectangular case makes the most sense, since it won’t take more space than necessary). Furthermore, the A60 can also be mounted on the wall or on the ceiling (including T-rail mounting).
On the top of the access point, you’ll notice a square area (where resides the OM logo) with a small canal surrounding it and from underneath, a LED light will shine through to indicate the different states of the system: solid yellow indicates that the device is starting up (solid purple – boot loader); solid red indicates that the A60 is upgrading the firmware, while flashing red is the state that should worry you, since it means that there is a net failure; solid white means that the configuration is not ready, while flashing white indicates a check-in failure with CloudTrax; flashing green indicates a mesh speed under or equal to 2 Mbps, while solid green shows a connection above 2 Mbps; a yellow flash, then green indicates that the AP is in Orphan mode, while a red flash and then green, means that the A60 is in Lonely mode.
If you turn the access point around, you’ll notice that underneath the removable piece of plastic, there’s a carved-in zone with a protective silicone seal (for outdoor deployment) and inside this area, there’s an Ethernet 1 10/100/1000M Gigabit port (for powering up the device and data communication – either use a 802.11af PoE injector or a compatible PoE switch – such as the Open Mesh S8), an Ethernet 2 10/100/1000M Gigabit port (to connect a wired client), a USB port (which is not enabled, but may serve some purpose in the future) and a recessed Reset button (to return the device to factory default settings).
Note: Inside the package, there’s the Open Mesh A60 access point, a small Ethernet cable (6 inches long), a mounting plate, two fixed and two adjustable T-rail clips, a channel cable cover, a blank centre tab for creating your own logo and a Quick Start Guide (the A60 does not come with a PoE injector).
As you can see, Open Mesh has added in the box pretty much everything one may need to easily install the A60: if you decide to install it on the wall, you only have to fix the mounting plate on the wall using a couple of screws and simply slide the access point until it stays fixed; connecting it to a T-rail requires you to connect the two fixed and the two adjustable clips to the mounting plate and then, once again, simply slide the AP into place; if you decide to mount it outside, on a pole, you could either use zip ties or a metal ring to lock the mounting plate.
After the hardware installation is done (and you’ve connected the access points to a power source and a router), you can create an account on the cloudtrax.com to build your first network and start adding the access points (using their MAC addresses). CloudTrax was originally built to accommodate the Open Mesh access points, but it is slowly becoming an integrative solution for all the elements of a complete network (including Ethernet switches, the only missing element being a router), allowing its users to easily monitor and configure their network remotely by either using the web-browser complete variant or the CloudTrax app (available for both Android and iOS – it lacks a few functions, but the app still allows an incredible amount of configuration by itself).
The CloudTrax interface gives you access to a network map (which uses Google maps) and shows the location of each access point, it gives comprehensive insight for each added access point (the number of clients, the outages, the size of the download and upload data, ping latency, mesh speed, hops and more), it allows you to remotely reboot the device and view its neighbours (and do a detailed Site Survey). Under Configure, you can set up each of the four available SSIDs (which goes from simply selecting the used band and name to enabling bandwidth throttling, block devices, enable band steering, client isolation or the 802.11r transition standard, as well as adding alternate SMTP and DNS redirects, access control list or bridge and tag traffic with a specified VLAN). CloudTrax also allows you to create vouchers for client access in hotels or coffee shops, configure the radios and set some advanced settings (such as enabling the AP Mesh, select SSIDs for when a wired client is connected to a access point, enable IGMP Proxy and more).
On the inside, the Open Mesh A60 is equipped with a Qualcomm QCA9558 SoC, 16 MB NOR flash (from Macronix) and 128 MB of RAM (NANYA 1636 NT5TU32M16BG-AC). Furthermore, the A60 also uses a Qualcomm QCA9880 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 3×3 radio SoC for the 5GHz radio and a QCA9558 chip for the 2.4GHz radio band. The maximum theoretical data transfer rate for the 5Ghz radio band is 1,300 Mbps, while the maximum theoretical data transfer rate for the 2.4Ghz radio is 450 Mbps.
The Open Mesh A60 manages to offer an interesting alternative to the popular WiFi mesh systems (that also want to replace the traditional router), and similarly to the Linksys Velop or Google WiFi, you can also create a larger mesh network using more than one node, so you can take advantage of all the properties of this technology: the self-healing property (when one node fails, the data is being re-routed to the nearest and most convenient access point, based on the signal strength, the number of clients connected and more), the self forming and the self-optimizing properties (the system analyses the best route for the data and, if you add a new node, it will automatically have more roads available for a faster data transfer).
To test the wireless performance of the A60, I used two access points connected to two computers and I have measured the downlink speed using each of the two available radio bands. Using the 5GHz radio (802.11ac), at close range (no more than 5 feet), I measured an average of 390 Mbps and at 30 feet, the speed decreased to 120 Mbps. Next, I switched to the 2.4GHz radio band (802.11n, obviously) and, at 5 feet, I measured a downlink speed of 151 Mbps and, at 30 feet, the speed went down to an average of 120 Mbps.
2. Linksys LAPAC2600 PRO Wireless Access Point
Linksys is one of the most popular manufacturer of networking products which managed to reach its peak more than 10 years ago, when it released the wonder router, the Linksys WRT54G, a device loved by everyone and, surprisingly, even now it’s still one of the most sold routers on the market. At the same time, Linksys has also experienced some downs, as it had to transition through multiple companies (Cisco, Belkin), but it seems that it has fully recovered and it is already back up with the big boys of the networking world.
This time, I won’t focus on its router array, but I will have a look at one of its best wireless access points, the LAPAC2600 Pro from the Business series, a successor of the LAPAC1750PRO and, while it is also a dual band AC access point, it does come with some extra features, such as the MU-MIMO technology, it supports the 802.11r and the 802.11k standards and more, so let’s have a closer look.
The LAPAC2600 Pro respects the latest design trend of small circular or hexagonal-shaped devices that can be easily positioned anywhere (even on the ceiling). The case of the access point is basically identical to that of the LAPAC1750PRO, so we’re dealing with a hexagonal shape, but not with sharp angles, adopting soft, rounded corners instead (everything covered by a white matte finish). On the top you can find the Linksys logo, along with the model and a small bar for the LED lights just underneath. Also there is a narrow canal surrounding the top of the device and from this place, the case flows from the narrower top side towards a larger footprint.
Its size shouldn’t worry you, as it measures 9.6×9.3×1.7 inches (sure, it’s not small, but manageable – it’s identical with the size of the LAPAC1750PRO) and it doesn’t weigh a lot (1.87 lbs). Because it’s rather lightweight, the LAPAC2600 Pro was meant to be positioned on the wall or on the ceiling, as it comes with the whole kit for mounting (including a drill layout template). If you decide to keep it horizontally on a desk, there are four small round silicone feet that should ensure a reasonable level of stability.
Turn the access point upside down and you’ll be greeted by lots of punctured holes which ensure a proper airflow along with a carved-in area where you can find the ports and connections: there’s a Power port (only use the adapter that came with your AP), the first Ethernet port (PoE+ – if you dislike the idea of using the power adapter, Linksys allows you to power on the AP from an 802.3af/at compliant source, such as a PoE switch), the second Ethernet port, a Reset button (press it for less than 15 seconds to power recycle and more than 15 seconds to return to the defaults settings) and a Kensington Lock.
It may come as a surprise, but, while the second Ethernet port of the Linksys LAPAC2600 Pro can be used to connect to the network, it cannot be used to connect to other devices (such as PoE switches) or other access points and the real reason for its existence is to allow link aggregation. So, for higher bandwidth, the two Ethernet ports can be aggregated (the ports have static LAG enabled with LACP 802.3ad Link Aggregation Control Protocol, which means that you don’t have to change any settings), but you need a compatible device configured to use link aggregation on the other side, otherwise you won’t be able to take advantage of this functionality (no, it won’t work with a basic unmanaged switch).
The LED light from the top of the case will glow a solid green if the system is normal and no wireless client is connected (it will blink when the device is booting). The LED will blink a blue light if there is an upgrade in progress and will be solid blue if at least one wireless client is connected. Lastly, the LED will be solid red if the booting process or any update has failed.
Note: While other access points come with a PoE injector, Linksys has decided to not include one in the package (which is unfortunate, because this is not an inexpensive device).
Inside the case, Linksys has equipped the LAPAC2600 Pro with a dual-core Qualcomm IPQ8065 chipset clocked at 1.7 GHz (it migrated from the Broadcom platform which was used with the LAPAC1750PRO), 512 MB (Samsung K4B2G1646E – double the RAM of its predecessor) and 128MB flash memory (Macronix MX30UF1G18AC-TI). In terms of wireless hardware, the access point features a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9990 chip for the 2.4GHz Radio and the same Qualcomm Atheros QCA9990 chip is used for the 5Ghz radio band. As a side note, each radio band supports a maximum of 8 individual SSIDs (16 in total).
Generally, access points focus on different things than routers (like multiple SSIDs with multiple VLANs), so it won’t come as a surprise that the LAPAC2600 Pro won’t outshine any other AC2600 router in terms of wireless performance, even though the access point itself is branded as AC2600. Despite that, the LAPAC2600 Pro is a worthy performer and the test results are really good.
Using the 2.4Ghz radio band, the LAPAC2600 Pro reached a maximum downlink speed of 165 Mbps at close range (5 feet) and it slowly decreased to 127 Mbps at 15 feet and at 98 Mbps at 35 feet. The average uplink throughput at 5 feet was 158 Mbps and afterwards, I got 115 Mbps at 15 feet and lastly, an average of 72 Mbps at 35 feet.
Using the 5GHz radio band, things were a lot better (obviously, on a shorter distance). At close range, I measured an average downlink speed of 510 Mbps and then, the speed decreased to 398 Mbps at 15 feet and then it went down pretty fast at 35 feet, as it managed to reach only 184 Mbps. The uplink throughput was a bit better on the long range, as the access point managed around 210 Mbps at 35 feet. At close range (5 feet), the AP delivered a speed of 485 Mbps and at 15 feet, I measured 370 Mbps.
In terms of features, the LAPAC2600 Pro comes with the MU-MIMO technology which has the ability to serve multiple clients at the same time, instead of letting them compete for the bandwidth, but, unfortunately there aren’t that many compatible devices on the market, so this tech is more for future-proofing than for immediate use. Furthermore, there’s also the support for the 802.11r and the 802.11k standards, the former having the role of quickly choosing the next node to which the client will roam, while the latter negates the need for re-authentication every time the client roams to a new node (Fast Basic Service Set Transition). Another cool feature is the centralized management system which allows the creation of access points clusters which can then be managed by a single controller (similar to the way CloudTrax operates).
In order to access the web-based utility, you need to either insert the default IP address, 192.168.1.252 or, if the access point acquired an IP address from the DHCP server, you need to insert the new IP address. Next, you will be prompted to enter the username and password (admin for both) and click Log In. The interface features five main horizontal tabs: System Status, Quick Start, Configuration, Maintenance and Support. The first thing you should do is launch the Setup Wizard (through the Quick Start), where you can choose a password for the AP, configure the system settings (host name, time zones), enter the IPv4 address and create SSIDs.
The System Status shows you info about the System, the LAN, Wireless connection and clients, as well as statistics and the Log view. The Configuration tab has three sub tabs: Administration (User Accounts, Time, Log Settings, Management Access, SSL Certificate and LED), LAN (Network Setup and Advanced settings), Wireless (Basic Settings, Security, Rogue AP Detection, Scheduler, Scheduler Association, Connection Control, Rate Limit, QoS, WDS, Workgroup Bridge and Advanced Settings), Captive Portal (Global Configuration, Portal Profiles, Local User, Local Group, Web Customization, Profile Association and Client Information), ACL (Profiles and Association) and Cluster (Settings & Status, Client Sessions and Channel Management).
The Maintenance tab is home to the Maintenance sub-tab (Firmware Upgrade, Configuration Copy/Save, Configuration Backup/Restore, Factory Default and Reboot) and the Diagnostics sub-tab (Ping Test, Packet Capture and Diagnostic Log).
3. Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO Wireless Access Point
I got to talk about Ubiquiti quite a bit lately, since when you’re ready to purchase a product (from almost every networking sector), there’s always someone who taps you on the shoulder and points you to a Ubiquiti device, which most of the time, has a better price and pretty much the same features as its more expensive competitors. This shows how influential and widespread this ‘indie’ tech company has become over the last couple of years.
Some of the devices I managed to had a look at include the TOUGHSwitch TS-8-PRO web-managed switch, the Layer 3 managed EdgeSwitch ES-24-250W switch, the outdoor wireless access points Ubiquiti Bullet M2 and Ubiquiti UniFi AP Outdoor+ and the 2.4GHz indoor wireless access point Ubiquiti UAP-LR. In the meantime, manufacturers went past the 2.4GHz-only point and entered the realm of the 802.11ac standard. As expected, Ubiquiti immediately released the UAP-AC-PRO, which besides being an AC device, it also supports the 802.3af standard-based PoE and 802.3at PoE+.
If you got the chance to look at the older Ubiquiti UAP-LR’s design, well, there isn’t much else to say about the UAP-AC-PRO since it pretty much has the same case and, if it wasn’t for the size, it would be indistinguishable from other devices of the UniFi AP series. So, we’re dealing with a circular, flush-mount-like body, with a smaller inner circle from which glows a LED light and all around, the case is covered by a white matte finish (which does not retain any fingerprints). I could not see any vent holes present anywhere on the device (perhaps because Ubiquiti marketed the UAP-AC-PRO as also usable outdoors but not in the open), so, since it relies on passive cooling, the unit can get reasonably warm (Ubiquiti AC access points run hotter than the usual WAPs, but, so far, the UAP-AC-PRO did not overheat and I saw no performance loss).
I wouldn’t go as far as call it compact, but the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO is definitely a device of fair proportions (it measures 7.74 x 7.74 x 1.38 inches) and, while you could keep it on your desk (not that it would make much sense), the access point was specifically designed to be mounted on the wall or the ceiling. Taking into account the nature of its design, the UAP-AC-PRO is a non-intrusive, minimalistic device which will go well with the style of any room and it could actually improve it thanks to its built-in LED light.
Similarly to other newly released devices, the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO decided that the usually found array of LED lights which accurately show the status of your system is obsolete, so it went with a single LED light which will either show a solid colour or flash it intermittently, depending on the status of the device and network: solid white means that the access point is ready to be integrated, a flashing white LED means that the AP is initializing, while an alternate white blue flashing LED indicates that the device is busy (you should not unplug it); a solid blue LED indicates a successful integration into a network, a quick flashing blue LED shows that the controller software is trying to locate the AP and lastly, a steady blue LED with occasional flashes shows that the device is in isolates state.
Turn the device upside down to reveal a small Security Slot and a carved zone where you can find a recessed Reset button (to simply restart the device, press and release the button quickly and if you want to return the device to factory default settings, hold the button for more than 5 seconds), a USB 2.0 port and on the opposite sides of each other, rest two 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports (a main port and a secondary one used for bridging).
Note: Inside the package, you can find the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO unit, a mounting bracket, a ceiling backing plate, four flat head screws (M3x50), four keps nuts (M3), four screws (M2.9×20), four screw anchors, a 48V, 0.5A Gigabit PoE adapter with a Mount Bracket (only in the single-pack), a Power cord and a Quick Start Guide.
To perform a proper hardware installation of the device, you need to follow these steps: take the mounting bracket and fix it to the wall by drilling four holes and using the provided screw anchors along with the necessary screws (the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO uses the same mounting bracket as the UAP-PRO, so, if you already have the older model, it’s very easy to just replace the unit without making any other changes). Next, remove the port cover from the access point, connect an Ethernet cable to the main port and then, align the AP to the mounting bracket and rotate it into place until the lock tab engages.
The ceiling mounting process follows pretty much the same steps, but you need to add the ceiling backing plate before connecting the mounting bracket for better support (you don’t want it to fall on your head). The UAP-AC-PRO can be powered by a Ubiquiti Networks UniFi Switch, the provided Ubiquiti Networks Gigabit PoE adapter or by a 802.3af/802.3at PoE+ compliant switch (you can read here a list of the best ethernet switches on the market).
Ubiquiti provides you with the UniFi Controller software in order to make any configuration changes to the network. To get the latest version, you need to go to downloads.ubnt.com/unifi, download the suitable software version (compatible with Mac/Windows/Debian/Ubuntu Linux) and run the installer (which will eventually ask you to Launch a Browser to Manage the Network). Next, the wizard will guide you through setting up the location and timezone, selecting the device which you want to configure (in this case, choose the wireless access point), configuring the WiFi (SSID, security key and Enable Guest Access), the Controller Access (admin name, email and password), the Cloud Access and you’re done. From here on, you can log into the interface by using the chosen username and password.
The interface has a left vertical menu divided into two sections: the first includes the Dashboard (a graphical representation of the download and upload latency / throughput, the number of devices on the 2.4 and 5Ghz channels, the number of devices, clients and the Deep Packet Inspection), Map (you can view or create a graphical topology of your network), Devices (displays a list of all the UniFi devices discovered by the Controller), Clients (displays a list of the network clients and allows you to configure them), Statistics (number of Clients, the Top Access points, a Quick Look over the most active AP and client, as well as Recent Activities) and Insights. The second section includes the Events, Alerts, Settings and Chat with Us.
On the inside, the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO is equipped with a 775MHz Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 chipset (MIPS32 74K series processor), 128 MB of RAM, 16 MB of flash memory and a Qualcomm Atheros AR8337 switch chip. Furthermore, the UAP-AC-PRO is also equipped with a Qualcomm Atheros QCA988x 802.11a/n/ac chipset for the 5GHz radio and a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 b/g/n for the 2.4GHz radio (there are also three 3 dBi Dual-Band Antennas).
The Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO features a maximum theoretical speed of 1,300 Mbps using the 5GHz radio band (802.11ac standard) and a maximum theoretical speed of 450 Mbps using the 2.4GHz radio band (of course, using the 802.11n standard). These rates are theoretical only and, even in close-to-ideal conditions there’s a low chance one would actually experience such link rates.
So, to see how does the access point behave in the real world, I took a 3×3 laptop and tested the wireless performance in different spots inside the house. But first, it’s worth mentioning that Ubiquiti has implemented some technologies to enhance the wireless performance, such as the band steering (clients are moved to the most suitable and interference-free 5GHz channels), the simultaneous dual-band setup (both radios can operate at the same time, each with their own clients) and, of course, the 3×3 MIMO technology.
So, I first connected the device to the 5GHz radio band and, at close range (no more than 5 feet), I measured an average of 411 Mbps, while at no more than 30 feet, the speed decreased to 125 Mbps. Next, I switched to the 2.4GHz radio band and, at around 5 feet, I measured an average of 128 Mbps, while at 30 feet, the speed decreased to 96 Mbps.
4. EnGenius EAP1750H WDS / Wireless Access Point
EnGenius is a Taiwanese manufacturer of networking products, having its main focus towards the enterprise, business-class solutions and a bit less towards the home user products. The company has developed long-range wireless communication products and perfected radio frequency technologies for almost two decades and it has covered many types of products, including Gigabit switches, IP surveillance systems, indoors and outdoors access points (I actually took a closer look at the EnGenius Long Range ENS202EXT, a very capable outdoors WAP) and other types of unmanaged and managed wireless solutions.
To maintain the theme of this article, I am going to have a look at one of the more popular indoors access points from EnGenius, namely, the EnGenius EAP1750H. The device promises to deliver a proper wireless performance, while taking advantage of the latest technologies (like the Quantum Beam) to maintain a stable network.
The EnGenius EAP1750H’ design is very similar to the other access point in the list, featuring a round top side and a narrower base (similar to a thick mushroom). The whole device is made of white plastic, covered by a semi-glossy finish and on top side of the AP, there is a carved round canal which is a bit more reflective (and retains fingerprints a lot more, but who touches these devices on a daily basis?). Underneath the circular top, there are lots of airflow vent holes which ensure that the EAP1750H won’t overheat (every passive cooling device needs lots of vent holes and especially the AC routers/access points, which tend to become warm a lot faster).
Overall, the EAP1750H is a fairly compact device (it has a diameter of 6.3 inches and its height is 1.6 inches) and it’s quite lightweight (it weighs 0.65 lbs). The device is especially designed to be mounted on the ceiling (the only position available), therefore it won’t look any different than your usual smoke detector. Also, it’s interesting to see how EnGenius did not add anything special or out-of-the-ordinary to the design of the EAP1750H, so it will blend in nicely with any other appliances from an office room.
Returning to the top of the access point, on the outer circular zone, there are five LED lights which show the status of the WPS, WLAN 5GHz, WLAN 2.4GHz, the Ethernet port and for Power (the LED lights can be enabled or disabled individually from the interface). On the opposite side of the LED lights, there is a small hole for the recessed Reset button (you have to press and hold it for 10 seconds to restore the device to the factory default settings).
If you turn the device upside down, you can clearly see the two holes for ceiling mounting (or on the wall), the Kensington key lock hole (allows you to attach a cable lock) and a carved in canal for the wire and a rectangular zone which hides the informations label (contains the MAC1/2/3 addresses, the FCC ID and the Serial Number), the 12V DC-IN Power connector and the RJ-45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN port (802.3at PoE).
Note: Inside the package, there is the EnGenius EAP1750H unit, the power adapter, an RJ-45 Ethernet cable, a Quick Installation Guide, a mounting bracket, a T-Rail mounting kit and the ceiling and wall mount screw kit. Unfortunately, EnGenius did not add a PoE injector, so you need to purchase one separately if you want to take advantage of this functionality.
On the inside, the EnGenius EAP1750H is equipped with a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558 CPU, 16 MB flash memory (Macronix MX25L12845EMI-10G), 128MB of RAM (Nanya NT5TU32M16DG-AC x 2), a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558 and an Atheros AR8035-A Ethernet chipsets. There’s also a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558 3×3:3 chipset (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) for the 2.4GHz radio band and a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9880-BR4A 3×3:3 chipset (IEEE 802.11a/n/ac) for the 5GHz radio band.
The EnGenius EAP1750H features a maximum throughput of 450 Mbps using the 2.4GHz frequency and up to 1,300 Mbps using the 5GHz frequency. Obviously, you won’t get these speeds in real life conditions (where there are lots of interferences and crowded channels), so I put it to test using a laptop with a 3×3 wireless adapter. Before this, let’s not forget that the access point has three internal 4 dBi (for the 2.4 GHz radio band) and three 5dBi (for the 5 GHz radio band) omni-directional MIMO antennas and that the device uses the Quantum Beam technology (which is a fancy term for the BeamForming tech) and the Band Steering (which automatically shifts compatible clients to the 5GHz band, so the 2.4GHz band is less congested).
So, using the more crowded 2.4GHz frequency, at close range (about 15 feet), I measured an average of 125 Mbps and at 30 feet, the speed decreased to 94 Mbps. Furthermore, I switched to the 5GHz frequency (802.11ac standard) and, at 15 feet, I measured an average of 260 Mbps. Afterwards, I increased the distance to 30 feet and the speed decreased to 63 Mbps.
The EnGenius EAP1750H allows you to use a web utility so you can make the necessary configurations. It can be accessed by going to http://192.168.1.1 (you may need to make sure that the computer is in the same subnet as the access point), insert the default user name and password (admin for both) and then you can freely browse the user interface. Please note that the EnGenius EAP1750H can operate in Access Point Mode, in WDS AP Mode and in WDS Bridge Mode.
The user interface looks relatively simple and easy-to navigate, with a horizontal top menu which shows the number of Changes, allows you to Reset the device and Log Out and there’s a vertical menu which allows you to setup every aspect of your access point.
The main sections are the Overview, the Network, the Management and the System Manager. The Overview section shows the status of the device and the LAN (IPv4) and it also hold lists of all the devices that have connected to any of the two networks at any time. The Network section has three sub-tabs: Basic (allows you to change the IP settings – IPv4 and IPv6), Wireless (here, you get to customize the way the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands will be used – choose the Operation Mode, enable Band Steering, the Channel, the Transmit Power and so on; create Guest Networks, configure the Fast Handover and setup the VLAN Management) and WPS.
The Management section is compartmentalized into four sub-sections: Advanced (SNMP Settings, CLI Setting, SSH Setting, HTTPS Settings and Email Alert), Time Zone (date and Time Settings and Time Zone), WiFi Scheduler (Auto reboot Settings, WiFi Scheduler) and Tools (Ping Test Parameters, Traceroute Test Parameters, Speed Test Parameters, LED Control and Device Discovery). The System Manager section allows you to setup your administrator Account, upgrade the current Firmware, backup or restore any previous settings and view the System Log.
Note: The EnGenius EAP1750H can also be monitored using the EnGenius EZ Controller software.
5. Xclaim Xi-3 Indoor Wireless Access Point
XClaim Wireless is a subdivision of the Ruckus Company, which aims at small businesses to deliver enterprise-level products at an affordable price. Sure, XClaim is very young (launched in 2015), but Ruckus Wireless isn’t an unknown manufacturer in the networking world, as it has left its mark with the creation of the BeamFlex, an unique adaptive directional antenna technology. The array of products that Ruckus offers spans into the field of access points, controllers and other smart wireless devices.
One of the more popular products from Ruckus Wireless is the Xclaim Xi-3 Indoor Access Point, a device suitable for small businesses, where a stable and strong wireless network is mandatory. Let’s have a look at what can this product deliver.
The Xclaim Xi-3 design choice went for the simple minimalistic appeal and ended up looking quite similar to the Apple AirPort Express. It features a small, white, plastic case with a slight glossy finish and soft rounded corners. Sure, it won’t win any beauty contest, but it’s kind of strange to not have any design feature that stands out (although it won’t really matter a lot since we are talking about a networking device, which won’t be in the centre of attention).
The device is quite small (it measures 6.2×6.2×1.57 inches) and it’s very lightweight (it weighs 14.1 ounces), so, if space is a problem, then you don’t have to worry as it has a very small footprint. Besides the common horizontal position, you can also mount the access point on the wall and even on the ceiling (you can attach it to a drop ceiling t-bar). It is advisable to not choose the horizontal position because the device is very lightweight and there could be some concerns about the stability (regardless of the small four feet). Unfortunately, it seems that the package does not have a mounting plate included.
On the front edge of the Xclaim Xi-3, there is a single status LED light that will be red when the device is powered on, when it has no Internet access or if it has lost the connection to the cloud. The LED lights a solid green colour if the device is connected to either the Harmony app or to the CloudManager and will blink a green colour when it is waiting to be connected to either of the aforementioned applications.
Onto the bottom of the AP, there’s a label with the serial number and the MAC address and, in the immediate vicinity, there’s a carved zone where you can access the ports: a 12VDC Power port, two Ethernet 10/100/1000 ports (from which, one is a PoE port) and a recessed Reset button (accessible with a paper clip).
Note: Unlike other access points in the same price range, the Ruckus Wireless has included a PoE injector in the package. It would have been interesting if they would have also added the 12V DC power supply, but, as expected, they did not.
Now that we saw what to expect from the Xclaim Xi-3 in terms of design, let’s see what can we find on the inside. So, inside the case, there’s a dual band 2×2 QCA9557 CPU, backed by 256 MB DDR3 of RAM and 64 MB of flash memory. In terms of wireless hardware, you can find a QCA9557 chip for the 2.4GHz radio band and a QCA9882 2×2 802.11ac/a/b/g/n for the 5Ghz radio band.
The Xclaim Xi-3 has a theoretical throughput of up to 1.167 Gbps, but, this doesn’t take into account any type of interferences. So, let’s see how it fares in real life.
Using the 2.4Ghz radio band, the downlink throughput was up to 92 Mbps at close range and it decreased gradually at 15 feet, where I measured 86 Mbps and at 35 feet, where it reached up to 67 Mbps. The uplink throughput is a bit better at close range, managing to reach 97 Mbps and it maintained the speed at 15 feet (only a loss of one Mbps) and then it lost a part of its signal at 35 feet, where I measured 64Mbps. Sure, it was nothing impressive when compared with other routers in the same price range, but it should get the job done.
Using the 5Ghz radio band, the results are obviously better at close range, managing a downlink speed of 390Mbps at 5 feet and 337Mbps at 15 feet. At a longer distance (35 feet), there was a steep decrease to 51Mbps. Using the same radio band, the uplink throughput was a bit lower as I measured up to 322Mbps at 5 feet and then a steady decrease to 250Mbps at 15 feet and then to 72Mbps at 35 feet.
One of the Xclaim Xi-3’s greatest weaknesses is the interface. At first, Xclaim offered only the Harmony app, which didn’t have much in terms of configurations and afterwards, it did improve the user experience a bit when it implemented the CloudManager, which is a lot more intuitive and offers remote management anywhere in the world, where there’s an Internet connection.
The hardware setup is pretty much the same as with the other access point in this list. You have to plug in the PoE injector to a power outlet, connect your access point to the PoE port on the injector using an Ethernet cable and connect the second port from the injector to an Ethernet switch or to a cable modem.
Despite the fact that Ruckus prides itself with the BeamFlex technology, it’s surprising to see that the Xclaim Xi-3 does not have this feature implemented (although it has a form of Beamforming). Also, the device uses the Dynamic Channel Selection, which may seem like a good thing at first, but it isn’t. I experienced continuous channel changing and had to set the AP to use a manual channel to avoid the constant need for reconnecting. Afterwards, all went fine.
Now, let’s see how to setup the Xi-3 using the better CloudManager application (you can’t use it simultaneously with the Harmony app). First of all, you need to setup a CloudManager account. To do this, go to http://www.xclaimwireless.com, enter an email, username and password. Afterwards, login into your account and you will be prompted to Register the Access Point (enter the serial number found on the back of the device and choose a name).
The interface of the app consists of five tabs, Dashboard, Access Points, Networks, Reports and Settings. The Dashboard tab shows you the status of the Access Points connected to the network, the Online AP Health, the Top 3 Access Points and other status data.
The Access Points tab allows you to Register Access Points (done immediately after the first login), Add New APs, Upgrade All and refresh List. By accessing the Network tab, you can Create a Network, Add a New Network (insert the SSID, tags, set the status, security – WAP2, choose the radio band, VLAN and client isolation) and Refresh the List.
The Settings tab gives you the possibility to change the profile settings, as well as change the password and to Logout from the system.
6. ZyXEL WAC6503D-S 3×3 Wireless Access Point
ZyXEL Communications has been around for a very long time and even if it has its headquarters in Taiwan, it has branched towards Europe, North America and Asia. This means that after more than a couple of decades of existence, ZyXEL is one of the main suppliers of networking products in the world (both wired and wireless). I actually had a look at the ZyXEL PLA5456KIT AV2000 HomePlug AV2, a great powerline adapter and at the ZyXEL ZyWall USG40, a professional dual wan router and both devices were among the best considering their competition.
Now, it’s time to look at another ZyXEL device, the ZyXEL WAC6503D-S access point, an enterprise-level device that features the Smart Antenna technology, which should help businesses to gain better WiFi coverage using a small number of access points.
ZyXEL has followed the same design pattern as Linksys with its LAPAC1750PRO, adopting a hexagonal shaped case (a popular choice for business-type APs, besides the circular one). Just like LAPAC1750PRO, the edges aren’t sharp, but softly rounded and the colour choice is white, with a bit of gloss. The top is slightly raised, with the ZyXEL logo in the middle and before it reaching the edges, there’s a circular recessed zone that has some small holes that should improve the internal ventilation.
In terms of positioning, you get the horizontal option, where you can put the device flat on a surface, but, if you worry about space (especially if it will be installed in an office), it is recommended to either mount the device on the wall or on the ceiling (you can use the included rectangular mounting kit). One thing that took me by surprise is the weight of this AP, as at its 56 ounces it will deliver a high level of stability if you decide to keep it on a desk. Otherwise, you don’t really have to worry about its dimensions because it won’t stand out if mounted on the wall or ceiling (it’s no larger than the usual smoke detector – 9.0×9.0x2.0 inches).
From the top, on the edge of the circular recessed zone, you can find seven status LED lights responsible for Power/SYS (if it blinks a red colour 3 times and it stays off for 3 seconds it means that the Uplink is disconnected, if it blinks two times and stays off 3 seconds, the wireless module is either disabled or it has failed – for more info check out the manual – ftp://ftp.zyxel.fr/ftp_download/WAC6503D-S/user_guide/WAC6503D-S_1.0.pdf), Management (blinking means it’s searching for a controller), the 2.4GHz wireless radio band, the 5Ghz wireless radio band, Uplink (amber means the port is operating as a 100Mbps connection, otherwise, if it’s green, it operates as a Gigabit connection), LAN (amber – 100Mbps connection / green – 1000Mbps connection) and Locator.
The LED lights can be turned off by accessing the Maintenance tab, LEDs and then Suppression from the interface (we’ll talk about it later). Turn the device upside down and there’s the usual carved zone that gives you an easy access to all the ports: a 12V DC Power Port, an Ethernet Uplink port, a LAN1 Ethernet port, a Console port and a small, recessed Reset button.
Note: Unfortunately, ZyXEL did not include a PoE injector along in the package, you will have to purchase one separately if you want to use this feature.
We saw that the design of the WAC6503D-S is pleasant, so, it’s time to see what’s on the inside. The WAC6503D-S is equipped with a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9557 CPU, backed by 16MB of flash memory and 256MB of RAM memory. In terms of wireless hardware, the WAC6503D-S features a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9557 for the 2.4Ghz radio band and a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9882 for the 5Ghz radio band.
Now, let’s see how does the access point fare in terms of wireless performance. While using the 2.4GHz radio band, the WAC6503D-S managed a downlink throughput of up to 132 Mbps at close range and afterwards, the speed decreased to 125 Mbps at 15 feet and then it averaged at around 90 Mbps when at 35-40 feet away from the access point. Furthermore, I tested the uplink throughput and measured a maximum of 135Mbps, 5 feet away from the device. At 15 feet, I measured 124 Mbps and at a bigger distance (35 feet), the AP managed 81 Mbps.
Next, I switched to the 5Ghz radio band and there had been a clear improvement. At 5 feet, the WAC6503D-S managed a downlink throughput of 335 Mbps and then, at 15 feet, the speed decreased to 275 Mbps and lastly, at 35 feet, it only managed up to 66 Mbps. The uplink throughput at 5 feet was around 320Mbps and then, it slightly decreased to 290 Mbps at 15 feet. At 35-40 feet, the speed went up to 78Mbps.
ZyXEL features a Web Configurator that allows you to easily manage the access point. To access it, open up your favourite web browser and go to https://192.168.1.2, where you’ll be prompted to enter the username and password (by default, it’s admin and 1234) and click Login. Afterwards, you will be asked to change the default password. So, from here you can freely browse the interface.
On the main page there are multiple areas for you to explore, but first let’s see the upper right corner. Here, you can Logout, visit the Site Map, access the CLI popup windows and more. On the left, there are four main tabs for Dashboard, Monitor, Configuration and Maintenance. On the Dashboard you can find device information, the status of the system, the WLAN Interface status summary and any other type of general information.
The Monitor tab displays the Network status, Wireless statistics and the View Log. The Configuration tab is home to a series of sub-tabs: Network, Wireless, Object, System and Log and Report. The Network sub-tab allows you to configure the IP address for the Ethernet interface, as well as manage the VLAN settings and configure the Controller settings. The Wireless sub-tab is a bit more complex, as here you’ll be able to edit the AP info and manage all the APs, as well as configure the NWA/WAC monitors for rogue APs. Furthermore, there is the Load Balancing function, which is an awesome asset for businesses and you can configure the DCS (Dynamic Channel Selection).
The Object sub-tab allows you to create, manage and change the settings for all your users, as well as create and manage wireless radio settings and wireless SSIDs. Additionally, you can create and manage rogue AP monitoring files, WDS profiles and setup trusted certificates. The System sub-tab is where you can configure the system and the domain name for the NWA/WAC. The Maintenance menu consists of File Manager, Diagnostics, LEDs, Reboot and Shutdown.
7. Ubiquiti UAP-LR Enterprise Wireless Access Point
Ubiquiti Networks is a relatively young company that has a little over 10 years of existence, but it can already be considered an established name in the networking marketplace. The Ubiquiti products mainly address the enterprise clients and wireless broadband providers, but it also has its eye on the new technologies that have just started to emerge (outdoor wireless connection through airMAX and airFiber, as well as UniFi series for creating mesh networks and complete solar kits).
Considering the theme of this article, I will focus on one of the most used and praised small-business access point, the Ubiquiti UAP-LR, an enterprise-type AP that has a consumer-type price.
The UAP-LR features a minimalistic design, the case having a circular shape, which looks almost identical to a flush mount ceiling light (or a smoke detector?). On the middle of the device, there is a recessed circular zone which allows for a LED light to shine from underneath (similar to the OnHub).
The LED light from the top will quickly flash a green colour when trying to locate an AP (clicking the Locate in the controller software will also display the location of the access point), it will become solid green when the device is integrated into a network and if everything is working properly and it will be solid green with occasional flashing if the device is in an isolated state.
Ubiquiti UAP-LR can’t really be considered small, as it measures 10.0×3.5×10.0 inches and weighs 33.6 ounces so it could create some problems if space is important (and it usually is with offices). But, there is a solution, as the UAP-LR was created to be put either on a wall or on the ceiling (since the device is white and the ceiling is most likely also white, it will blend in nicely). The package includes a wall-mount bracket that simplifies a lot the way you can access and perform maintenance afterwards.
Note: The UAP-LR also comes with a 24V passive PoE injector.
On the bottom of the UAP-LR, there’s a circular piece of plastic that can be removed to reveal a label with the MAC address and, closer to the edge, there’s a carved zone that reaches towards an Ethernet 10/100 port (make sure to remove the small plastic piece to allow the cable to easily flow from underneath the device). Along the curvature of this zone, there is a small hole that has the role of resetting the access point to the default settings (you’ll need a paperclip to access the button).
Inside the case, the UAP-LR is equipped with an Atheros AR7241 CPU, backed by 64 MB DDR of RAM and 8 MB of flash memory. Also, there’s an Atheros AR9287 wireless card (2.4GHz radio) and an Anadigics AWL6153 Power Amplifier (x2). Unfortunately, the UAP-LR is not dual band, so no 5GHz radio.
Now that we had a look at the hardware, let’s see what kind of performance this access point can deliver. I measured the downlink and uplink speed using the only radio band available, the 2.4GHz (20MHz bandwidth mode).
The downlink speed at 5 feet reached a maximum of 72Mbps, it slightly decreased to 69Mbps at 15 feet and I measured 62 Mbps at 35 feet. The uplink speed reached a maximum of 70 Mbps at close range (5 feet), managed up to 67 Mbps at 15 feet and decreased to 54Mbps at 35 feet.
Since this is a ‘long range’ access point, I tested the AP even further, to 100 feet and tried to keep interferences to a minimum (an open space, so no walls) and the downlink speed was at around 26 Mbps and the uplink speed peaked at 15Mbps. But, if you’re in a building with lots of walls, this won’t be the case, as the signal won’t be able to reach 80-100 feet (in this case I would recommend a second access point). Sure, the results may not be extraordinary, but the coverage and signal strength are praise-worthy, considering the price of the device.
The UAP-LR isn’t really a consumer access point, meaning that setting it up and configuring it may seem a bit challenging, as it was created to accommodate potentially hundreds of clients, so it isn’t really a plug and play device.
The hardware installation is very easy, all you have to do is connect an Ethernet cable to the port on the AP and then into the PoE (Power over Ethernet) port from the adapter (small black box). Afterwards, connect the black cable to the adapter and to a power outlet. Lastly, all you have to do is to connect the Internet cable into the LAN port from the PoE injector.
Now comes the software installation, but you shouldn’t feel intimidated, as it’s really easy. First of all, you can run the CD (another option is to download the software from the web) and launch the installer or you can use the Android app called Unifi Easy Setup. I chose to install the software and afterwards accessed the controller through a web browser (after you install the software, click the Launch a Browser to Manage Wireless Network and you’re in). Next, you get to choose the SSID and a password for you primary network (you can also create a Guest SSID) and login to access the management interface. From here on you get a lot of options to fiddle with.
The interface consists of 6 primary tabs: Map (upload custom map images of you location or use Google Maps to get a visual representation of your network; you can also place access points on the map), Statistics (you get charts with the number of clients and the network traffic, as well as a visual representation of the traffic connected to your APs), Access Points (all the managed APs, each with its own icon, IP address, download and upload statistics, the transmit/receive channels and more), Users (all the users connected to the primary network of the AP), Guests (list of the users connected to the guest network) and Offline Clients (clients that have connected to the AP during a specified period of time).
This is definitely one of the most thoroughly done interface I have seen on an access point. For more about the configuration of the Ubiquiti UAP-LR can be found here: https://dl.ubnt.com/guides/UniFi/UniFi_AP_AP-LR_User_Guide.pdf
8. OM2P-HS Enterprise Wireless Access Point
Open Mesh is another young company that spawn into existence in 2005, but it didn’t have an aggressive marketing plan (especially in the fierce competition of the networking market), so it is slowly being known for its reliable products. The main focus of the company is to create enterprise-level wireless networks using the mesh technology. This technology should allow everybody to have access to the Internet at a lower cost and should deliver a higher level of stability.
One of the most popular products from Open Mesh is the OM2P-HS, an accessible access point that allows the creation of a huge mesh setup, thus being compatible with both the consumer and enterprise market.
Open Mesh wanted the OM2P-HS to be as simple as possible in order to make it ideal for system integrators and resellers, so you won’t find any logo on its devices. Besides that, the white case of the AP won’t attract any attention, being as small as a smartphone (measuring 3.5×4.5×4.0 inches) and as lightweight as one (only 8 ounces).
The upper part of the body curves at the middle and stretches across, making way for the four LED status lights responsible for Power, LAN (if the LED is blinking a green colour, then the OM2P-HS is receiving and sending data), WLAN (Access Point or Client Bridge Mode) and Link Quality (green means good quality and yellow means medium quality).
On the other side, there is another couple of LEDs, one for the 18-24vPOE and the other for 802.3af PoE. Now, you may wonder about space and positioning. You can obviously position the AP horizontally and, because underneath the device there are four feet, it should ensure a reasonable amount of stability. In reality it doesn’t, as the device is very small and light, so the ideal position would be either wall mounted or on the ceiling (you may need an enclosure for that).
While we saw that Ubiquiti UAP-LR is quite generous and has added the PoE injector inside the package, unfortunately, Open Mesh decided to sell the injector separately. Also, you may have seen the OM enclosures, that allow for a better external aspect and access, well, those are also sold separately. If you don’t want a separate enclosure, the standard AP provides you with some holes on the back, so you can wall mount the device.
All around the sides of the OM2P-HS there are airflow vents which surround the device and they end where the zone with the ports begins. You get two Ethernet 10/100 ports and a Power port. Also, underneath the AP, there is a sticker with printed info about the MAC address, the EAN and the SN.
The OM2P-HS is equipped with an Atheros AR9341 MIPS 74K CPU, clocked at 520 MHz, 64MB of DRAM and a dual internal antenna (802.11g/n 2.4 GHz WLAN standard). Similarly to the Ubiquiti UAP-LR, the OM2P-HS does not support the 5GHz radio band.
The testing procedure was pretty much the same as with the UAP-LR, I connected the access point to the Internet and have measured the download and upload speed using the 2.4GHz radio band.
At 5 feet, the OM2P-HS managed to reach a download speed of up to 86 Mbps. Moving a bit further, at 15 feet, the speed decreased to 74 Mbps and going even further, at 35 feet, the AP managed to deliver 40 Mbps. Furthermore, I measured an uplink speed of up to 75 Mbps at 5 feet. At 15 feet, I managed to get a maximum of 56 Mbps and at 35 feet, the speed decreased to 32 Mbps. So, basically, wherever I would move around the house I would get an average speed of 40 Mbps.
The OM2P-HS comes with a simple way to configure your network by accessing the CloudTrax controller. The CloudTrax controller is provided for free and it allows you to remotely control your network from anywhere in the world, all you need is an Internet connection (some may dislike that it depends on the cloud to function).
After you access the CloudTrax interface, you will be prompted to create a Master Login account and afterwards, you can create a new network (Network Name, password, email, network location and the email for notifications). From here on, the dashboard will allow you to add or remove nodes, view the traffic activity and overall, it gives you full access to your network. An interesting feature is the fully integrated PayPal system, so you can charge clients for using your network using their credit cards (great for hotels).
Other interesting features worth mentioning are the public and private SSIDs (so you get two independent networks) and the self-healing mesh. Like I said before, the OM2P-HS is something of a different breed, as while it is similar to most other access points from the list, it was created so you can build a mesh network. The self healing property ensures that even if a unit fails, its role is automatically taken by the unit in the close proximity, so you won’t notice any problem and can continue to surf the Internet uninterrupted.
9. Cisco Systems WAP561 Wireless Access Point
Cisco Systems has been in the networking business for a very long time, it holds a great number of network related patents (being a leading recipient, as a matter of fact) and its focus has always been towards enterprise routing and security products (although recently it has also taken an interest into the IoS technology).
Obviously, there is a large array of networking products of different types and shapes, but I’m going to focus on a member of the 500 series, the Cisco WAP561, a small business access point that offers simultaneous 3×3 dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n.
The designers from Cisco haven’t made any radical changes on the appearance of its business access points, so the WAP561 will look pretty similar to its predecessors and its siblings from the 500 series. The case is white, with a matte finish, rounded corners and two recessed zone along the front, with the cisco logo in-between. The overall appearance is pleasant, even though the access point is quite large: it measures 9.05×9.05×0.98 inches and it weighs 24.1 ounces.
This means that there could be some concerns regarding the occupied space. But, you don’t need to worry, as besides the horizontal position, you can also mount the WAP561 on the wall. Since this is a business access point, Cisco anticipated that the wall-mounted position will be the default one, so it has supplied the WAP561 with a mounting bracket, which delivers an easy access to the device and an easy removal in case maintenance is needed.
On the front of the WAP561, underneath the logo, you can find three status LED light for Power, WLAN (if it’s solid green, then the wireless radio 1 is active, otherwise if it’s solid amber, it means that the wireless radio 2 is active and, lastly, if the LED is solid blue, then both the wireless radios are operating in concurrent mode) and LAN (solid green means that the GE Ethernet link is active and solid amber means that the FE Ethernet link is active)
On the bottom you can find a label with printed information about the access point (the Serial Number, the MAC Address and the PID VID). Next to the label there’s an Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps port positioned into a carefully carved zone which allows for the cable to sit comfortably underneath the device.
Surprisingly enough, there is no Power port or switch, as the power is being supplied through the Ethernet port. So, there’s only one cable you need to connect to the WAP561 in order to make it operational.
Inside the case, the WAP561 features a Cavium CNS3420 CPU clocked at 600MHz, a 128 MB of RAM and 32 MB of flash memory. Furthermore, the wireless radio is being provided by a Broadcom BCM43431 dual-band 3×3 chip and a SiGe SE2594L dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wireless LAN Front End. There’s also an interesting built-in antenna sensor that has the role to optimise the radio configuration when the device is mounted on the wall.
Like I said before, this is a dual radio access point and in the case of the WAP561, we get a 2.4GHz radio band (20 MHz, 802.11b/g/n) and a 5GHz radio (20/40 MHz, 802.11a/n). Both radio bands also feature auto channel assignment. By default, the radios are disabled and both have the same SSID: ciscosb.
Now, in terms of wireless performance, the WAP561 is not among the most powerful I have tested, but it did well nevertheless. Using the 2.4GHz radio band, I measured a downlink speed 123 Mbps at 5 feet, it decreased a bit to 95 Mbps at 15 feet and lastly, it managed 56 Mbps at 35 feet. Next, I tested the uplink speed and the WAP561 went up to 112 Mbps at 5 feet, it maintained the speed and I have seen a slight increase to 114 Mbps at 15 feet and afterwards, it decreased at 72Mbps when tested at 35 feet.
Furthermore, I tested the access point using the 5GHz radio band and I got a downlink speed of 205 Mbps at close range, 165 Mbps at around 15 feet and a decrease to 88 Mbps at 35 feet. Next, I tested the uplink speed and got 151 Mbps at 5 feet, afterwards, it decreased slightly to 136 Mbps at 15 feet and there was a rather abrupt drop to 45 Mbps at 35 feet.
The WAP561 also allows you to access a web-based configuration utility by entering the IP address of the AP into a browser of your choice. Afterwards you have to enter the name and password (both are cisco) and access the interface. The WAP561 is very rich in features and you can access every single one of them through this interface.
The main page consists of a vertical menu on the left and the corresponding info on the right. The menu gives you access to the Getting Started page, where you can run the Setup Wizard, configure the radio, wireless network and LAN settings, run WPS and a lot other quick access options that you should consider when running the initial setup. Next, you can go to Status and Statistics, Administration, LAN, Wireless, System Security, Client QoS, SNMP, Captive Portal and Single Point Setup.
I won’t go in depth with all the features and options the WAP561 has, but I will point out the Single Point Setup, a great asset which most business owners will definitely appreciate, as it allows the AP to control up to 15 other access points (from the same model series) by creating a cluster, therefore allowing the sharing of parameters and information.
10. TP-LINK TL-WA901ND V4 Wireless Access Point
The first thing that comes in mind when thinking about the TP-Link products is affordability and reliability. Sure, no company delivers perfect products (and TP-Link has been riddled with problems from time to time), but the Chinese company has relentlessly pushed quality products on the fierce networking market.
It offers a large array of routers, adapters and switches and some other networking devices that serve millions of people worldwide. The access point from TP-Link (the TL-WA901ND) that I’m going to focus on is more of a consumer-type device and less suitable for small businesses, like the other access points from this list. But, since it’s very popular, let’s have a look at what it can deliver.
The design of the TL-WA901ND gives me mixed feelings, as while I definitely admire the concept, I cannot stop but feel like the case is a bit toy-like. So, you get a white glossy case, with a circuit pattern on top and with small holes that should ensure a good airflow. The plastic curves towards the sides and more acutely near the front of the device. The access point doesn’t lack style, as it does remind me a bit of some higher-end Netgear routers, but it does not have the premium feel of those devices and ends up looking more like an android ant head, especially due to its three detachable antennas.
In terms of positioning, you get two choices: either put it on a desk or mount it on the wall. If you choose the first option, know that the AP has basically the same footprint as a normally-sized router, measuring 6.9×4.7×1.1 inches and weighing 19.2 ounces.
The front panel of the TL-WA901ND is home to a series of LED status lights responsible for Power, System (on means the access point is initialising and off means that the device is working properly), Ethernet, Wireless, WPS (if it’s on, then a wireless device has successfully been added to the network by using the WPS function). The back of the device is where you’ll find an ON/OFF button, a Power port, an Ethernet 10/100Mbps RJ45 port and a recessed WPS/RESET button (to use the WPAS function you have to press it for less than 5 seconds, otherwise, you will perform the RESET function, which will return the device to its default settings).
Note: I was extremely happy when I learned that TP-Link adds a PoE injector inside the package free of charge (unlike other manufacturers that make you purchase it separately).
Now that we had a look at the design, let’s see what’s on the inside. The TL-WA901ND is equipped with an Atheros AR9343 CPU, clocked at 750 MHz (with a Qualcomm QCA956x SoC), 32 MB RAM and 4 MB flash memory. The wireless capability is being provided by an Atheros AR9380 wireless chip (2.4GHz radio band, 802.11b/g/n standard).
Performance-wise, the TP-LINK TL-WA901ND doesn’t feature mind-blowing speeds, but, considering its price, it will definitely be a great addition to a network with lots of WiFi dead zones.
At close range (no more than 5 feet), the access point managed an average downlink speed of 75Mbps. Going a bit further, at around 15 feet, the signal slightly decreases and I measured a maximum of 56Mbps. At 35 feet, the speed goes down to 22Mbps. Next, I tested the uplink wireless performance and, at close range, the access point managed up to 58Mbps. At 15 feet, I measured an average of 40 Mbps and at a longer range (around 35-40 feet and a thick concrete wall), the speed decreased to 15 Mbps.
I’m sure that some people have mistaken the TL-WA901ND for a router, but unfortunately for them, this device serves a different purpose. The proper way to setup the device is first to connect the Internet cable to a modem, afterwards, connect the modem to a router and next, use an Ethernet cable to connect the router to the access point through the PoE injector (use the LAN port). Afterwards, insert another Ethernet cable to the PoE port and into the access point.
In order to configure the TL-WA901ND you can access a Web-based utility by either typing http://tplinkap.net or the IP address of the AP into a browser of your choice. Afterwards, you will be prompted to insert the username and password (by default, it’s admin for both) and click Login. Next, you will undergo the Quick Setup Start and you will have to choose between five operation modes: use the device as an Access Point, Client, Repeater (Range Extender), Multi-SSID or in Bridge with AP mode.
Obviously, we will choose the Access Point mode, which is easy to setup: insert a name for you network (SSID), choose the channel, select the Wireless Security Mode (the WPA/WPA2-PSK is the best encryption) and enter a password to protect you network from unauthorized access.
Furthermore, the interface allows you to configure and manage the AP, by giving you access to five main tabs: Status (read-only list of the current status and configuration of the TL-WA901ND), WPS (allows you to add new wireless clients to the network quickly by function – PBC or PIN), Network (LAN, DHCP Settings and DHCP Client List), Wireless (access to Wireless Settings, Security, MAC Filtering, Advanced settings, Statistics and Throughput Monitor) and System Tools (SNMP, Diagnostic, Ping Watch Dog, Firmware Upgrade, Factory Defaults, Backup and Restore, Reboot, Password and System Log).
What should you take into account before choosing a wireless access point?
Wireless Performance and Range
Obviously, the most important aspects of a wireless access point is the downlink and uplink throughput and how far can the signal reach. For example, if you use the 2.4GHz radio band, chances are that the signal will go for a long way, but the speed won’t be strong, while if using the 5GHz radio band, the speed will be greatly improved, but don’t expect huge distances to be covered.
Also, you need to take into account the interferences, the number of clients, the surface that needs to be covered and if you need more than a single access point.
The Web Interface/App
This is also a very important aspect, because you need to be able to configure and, if needed control a large network. Ideally, a good interface is easy to navigate, the settings are clear and intuitive and the AP should have as many features as possible for you to fiddle with.
Also, you need to check out whether you can access the interface through an Internet browser or you need to use an app (or both) and if the software allows you to remotely control the network.
Lastly, we have the price to worry about, because you need to know where you stand based on your budget. Usually, the consumer-type access points are cheaper, but they lack a lot of the features of an enterprise-level AP.
You should also keep in mind that some popular products can be overpriced (because of their popularity) and that there could be some rare gems from yet-unknown or rising networking manufacturers that could deliver the same experience at a lower price.
What features should you look for in wireless access points?
The Power over Internet is quite a simple concept (but extremely important) that allows your access point to receive power through a twisted pair Ethernet cabling (so you get both electrical power and data, using a single cable).
Why is it useful? Many organizations like to place the wireless access points on the ceiling in order to help the wireless clients achieve the best possible range, but they have to rely on extension cords (which have an ugly appearance and require a qualified electrician to install them).
That’s why it’s better to use the PoE system, as you can install it yourself and it protects you devices from underpowering or overload. Some of the access points on the market have a PoE injector included in the package, while other do not (you will have to buy it separately), so be sure to check it out before purchasing, if this is a mandatory feature for your network.
Concurrent dual band
You may be surprised that some access points call themselves dual band, but, despite expectancies, it allows you to choose only one band at a time. A good example is the Linksys WAP300N, which has both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz radio bands, but you can only use one or the other.
I’ve touched the subject of load-balancing when I talked about the more popular dual-band routers on the market and the importance of this feature was clear for any business owner that values a stable network. Is this function also relevant for wireless access points? Absolutely yes.
First of all you need to understand that the load-balancing feature was created to be used with more than one access point. This is because its role is to diminish the network congestion by spreading the sessions among the existing APs in such a way that they share the client load.
So, if you have a large number of clients in a smaller space, instead of overloading a single access point, the load balancing spreads all the connected clients over all the APs, therefore there will be less interruptions and more bandwidth available.
The Man in the Middle (Defence against rogue access points)
A rogue access point is an unauthorized WAP installed (usually with malicious intent) on a secure network. Therefore, the network becomes vulnerable to different types of attacks and can be accessed either from inside the facility or remotely (the more common occurrence).
That is why it is very important that the access point to have a reliable wireless intrusion detection system which audits all the APs on the network on a regular basis to see if they are on the managed list and if they’re connected to the secured network or not.
The Beamforming technology allows your access point to focus the signal towards each client and to concentrate the data transmission towards a specific target, instead of broadcasting it all over the room, therefore minimizing the data waste.
If a few years ago this technology was optional and exotic, nowadays, almost all devices have this feature implemented (still, make sure to check before the purchase). Also, you need to know that every major manufacturer will have its own way of using this technology and it may have a different name and different performance, but the functionality should remain basically the same.
Mesh Networking Support
The mesh network support is one of the most important features to look for when buying an access point because it allows you to add other APs and create a network where all the nodes (APs) cooperate with each other when distributing the data.
An interesting characteristic of a mesh network is that the data is propagated along a path and it travels from one node to the other until it reaches its destination. This way, it has to find the best road and, if needed to reconfigure itself in case of broken paths (using self-healing algorithms).
It also allows for an interrupted experience when travelling into a large building, by automatically switching from AP to AP so you won’t notice any disconnects.
802.11n or 802.11ac?
Future-wise, an investment into Access points that feature the AC standard should be the better choice. If you want to create a network using APs compatible with the 802.11n standard, you don’t have to worry, because, if needed you can replace them in time and the N-access points and AC-access points are compatible with each other and work great with clients of both breeds.
Now, if you are curious about the technical differences between the two standards, let’s just say that the 802.11ac standard delivers up to 3 times faster speeds and, while a N-access point can handle no more than 30-35 clients in order to maintain a reasonable bandwidth for all, an AC-access point has no such limitations.
Lastly, the price could make a difference, because, as expected, the AC technology is way more expensive than the N technology.