The best wireless access point is a networking device that can keep up with the fast pace of tech development by implementing some of the latest technologies suitable for both small and medium businesses (allowing the creation of large scalable networks), as well as for the home user, especially as an equivalent to the mesh WiFi systems (for people with larger homes or simply, for tech enthusiasts). Considering that the demand for such devices is very high, there is now 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, I 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 (the 802.11ax is not quite there, yet).
UPDATE 08.13.2019: I have added the Zyxel NAP303 to the best wireless access points list
UPDATE 02.20.2019: The Xclaim Xi-3 AP has been removed from the list because the manufacturer decided to announce that the entire series will be EOL by 2021 (at the moment, the status is End of Sale).
THE BEST 802.11AC WIRELESS ACCESS POINTS
|Zyxel NAP303 Wireless Access Point||Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO Wireless Access Point||ZyXEL NWA1123-AC HD Wireless Access Point|
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|Linksys LAPAC1750C Wireless Access Point||Open Mesh A60 Wireless Access Point||TP-Link EAP245 Wireless Access Point|
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THE BEST 802.11n WIRELESS ACCESS POINTS
|OM2P-HS Wireless Access Point||Cisco Systems WAP561 Wireless Access Point||TP-LINK TL-WA901ND Wireless Access Point|
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The wireless access point has the role of converting the data received from a wired Ethernet cable into wireless signal (2.4GHz or 5GHz) and, since a wireless router can do pretty much the same thing, one my ask 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.
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. Zyxel NAP303 Nebula Wireless Access Point
The Zyxel NAP303 is an AC1750 Cloud-Managed wireless access point which was developed to offer a solid wireless performance, relying on the Smart Antenna technology to eliminate any interference (the antenna pattern keeps on adjusting depending on the client connection), on the mesh technology to create a larger network of compatible access points and it immediately integrates within the Nebula management platform, so it can be remotely managed and monitored alongside other Zyxel devices (including switches, gateways and Nebula / NebulaFlex access points).
As you will see, Zyxel insists on using the NAP303 along with other Nebula devices (there is no power cord in the package), but this is a device that focuses towards the SMB market, so, while a single gateway + access point isn’t completely out of the question (if you’re a network security-conscious home user), you will truly appreciate its features and performance when you’re going to pair it with a Nebula gateway (such as the NSG50), a Nebula Ethernet switch (such as the rack-mountable NSW100-10P) and at least another couple of mesh-compatible Zyxel access points.
Just like the Zyxel NWA1123-AC HD, the NAP303 is a fairly large access point, featuring a hexagonal shaped body, resembling a thicker flush mount light. The bottom of the device is made of a zinc alloy (which will make the device fairly heavy – it weighs 2.17 lb), while the top is made of a hard plastic, both sides being covered by a white matte finish. On the top, surrounding the glossy protruded Zyxel logo, there’s a narrow canal which hides some ventilation cut-outs (a rarity in this type of devices, but they do have an important role at keeping the internal temperature in check). These cut-out sections and the zinc alloy do make for a nice combination and are surprisingly effective at lowering the access point’s temperature (even when put under some stress).
The device was especially designed to be mounted on the wall or ceiling using the provided mounting bracket, but, if you want to keep it on a flat surface, Zyxel has added four small silicone feet that you can attach on the bottom of the NAP303 (in the designated areas), but be aware that the access point is one of the largest I have tested so far (it measures 9.28 x 8.95 x 2.43 inches), so it will occupy a bit more space than the likes of the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO. Returning to the top of the access point, on the circular zone, there are six LED indicators that have the role of showing the status of the Power (if it’s solid green, then the device is ready to use, but a solid red LED shows that the system has encountered an error), the Management (solid green indicates that the device is managed by the Nebula Control Center), the WLAN 2.4GHz, the WLAN 5GHz, the Uplink (amber shows a connection made at less than 1Gbps and green indicates a connection made at 1Gbps), the LAN and the Locator LED (useful if you have multiple access points deployed).
If you turn the device upside down, you can clearly see the two holes for mounting the device on the ceiling (or on the wall), the circular area for attaching the mounting bracket and next to them, there’s a carved in area where you can find the 12V DC-In Power connector (to power up the AP via a power cable), a Gigabit Ethernet Uplink port (to power up the device using either a PoE switch or a PoE adapter), a LAN1 Gigabit Ethernet port (to connect wired clients), an RJ45 Console port, a recessed Reset button (press it for about 10 seconds to return the AP to factory default settings) and a grounding screw.
Note: Unfortunately, Zyxel did not add a PoE injector, so you need to purchase one separately if you want to take advantage of this functionality – also, a strange omission is the lack of a power cable.
On the inside, the Zyxel NAP303 seems to be equipped in the same manner as the WAC6503D-S (it also has those strange antenna embedded on the top of the superior PCB – there’s another PCB underneath it), featuring a Qualcomm Atheros QCA8334-AL3C L2 Gigabit switch, 128 MB DRAM Nanya NT5TU64M16HG-AC, 128MB of RAM (Nanya NT5TU32M16DG-AC x 2), a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558-AT4A WLAN 802.11n SoC, a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9880-BR4A WLAN 802.11a/b/g/n/ac SoC and a Lattice LCMX02-256HC 4TG100C semiconductor. The wireless access point has a maximum throughput of 450 Mbps using the 2.4GHz frequency and up to 1,300 Mbps using the 5GHz frequency.
Some of the main features of the Zyxel NAP303 are the Smart Mesh technology which, similarly to the proprietary implementation on the WiFi systems, it has the role of inter-connecting multiple compatible access points in order to create optimized paths for the data (includes the ability to go through multiple hops in order to reach its destination). Furthermore, the NAP303 also relies on the Smart Antenna tech which, as I said in the intro, it adjusts the antenna pattern to ensure that the connected client receives the best signal (while also keeping the interference at bay) and there’s also the DCS (Dynamic Channel Selection), the Smart Client Steering, Load Balancing and MU-MIMO (which has the role of serving multiple clients at the same time, but it does require devices with compatible WiFi adapters – ideally, 3×3).
Despite being rated as an AC1750 device, you obviously won’t get these speeds in real life conditions (where there are lots of interference and some overhead), so, in order to see how it behaves in ordinary conditions, I put the device to test using a computer as a server (connected via an Ethernet cable to the AP) and another computer as the client (it’s equipped with the ASUS PCE-AC88 wireless adapter). So, using the 2.4GHz radio band, from the client to the server, at close range (about 5 feet), I measured an average of 173 Mbps and at 15 feet, I got an average of 154 bps; at 30 feet, the speed decreased to 129 Mbps. From the server to the client, at 5 feet, the AP delivered an average of 117 Mbps and it remained fairly consistent at 15 feet, where I measured 112 Mbps and at 30 feet, where I got 103 Mbps.
Afterwards, I switched to the 5GHz network (802.11ac standard) and, from the client to the server, at 5 feet, I measured an average of 537 Mbps, while at 15 feet, I got around 522 Mbps. Afterwards, I increased the distance to 30 feet and the speed decreased to 258 Mbps. From the server to the client, I measured an average of 308 Mbps at 5 feet, around 295 Mbps at 15 feet and an average of 170 Mbps at 30 feet.
The Zyxel NAP303 is designed to be used with the Nebula Control Center, but it still has a stand-alone user interface (accessible by going to its IP address – can be found using the ZON utility) but, unlike the satisfying experience of the NWA1123-AC HD, the stand-alone UI of the NAP303 is severely lacking, offering only a few basic options to configure. That’s why you should right away register the AP to the NCC by using either the Nebula app (Android or iOS) which does make the process very painless or using the Nebula Control Center which will require a few more steps. The NCC interface did not follow the UniFi blueprint (like the Open Mesh CloudTrax did), so, if you’re familiar to other Cloud controllers, then the Nebula environment is going to be a completely new experience.
The Dashboard will display blocks of info for every type of device connected including the AP area (which shows the number of Online APs, the Total number of APs and the Heavy Loading) or the AP Client area, but, to monitor and configure the access point, you need to go to the AP area (from the top menu) and, if you click on it, it will summon a small drop-down menu with options grouped into two categories: Monitor and Configure. Under Monitor, you can view all the adopted APs and by clicking on any of them, it will take you to a dedicated page which includes more in-depth details about the device (as well as some Live tools to help you diagnose any connection issue); there’s also the Client list (click on any to view more details about that specific client), the Event log, the Wireless health (a great way to see if your connection to the clients is properly optimized and if you need to run some features to make the connection better) and the Summary report (general AP stats).
The Configure group of options includes the SSIDs where you can set up general SSID settings for all the APs on the current Site (every new adopted access point will receive these settings); you can also configure the Radio settings (maximum output power, the channel width or the DCS setting), the Port setting (can be set for each individual AP), the Authentication settings (includes the WLAN security, enabling the Captive Portal), the Assisted roaming, the U-APSD, the Walled garden, the Layer 2 isolation or the Intra-BSS traffic blocking), the SSID schedule or the possibility of personalizing the Captive Portal (which is very useful especially for hotels or airports).
Note: The Nebula app does have some of the options of the NCC, but it is still more limited in features, so it should be used as an extension to the Nebula Control Center and not as the main way of monitoring and configuration.
2. 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 any 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 years.
Some of the Ubiquiti devices that I managed to have 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 access points 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 from 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 ventilation 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, and, so far, the UAP-AC-PRO did get hot on the bottom area when put under stress, but 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, since it lacks any silicone/rubber feet), 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 an unobtrusive, 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 (that you need to use when you want to unlock the device from its plate) and a carved-in area 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 (useful if you want to connect a PA system) and on the opposite sides of each other, rest two 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports (a Main port for powering on the device 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 (be aware that the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO-E lacks the PoE adapter).
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, remove the rubber seal, connect an Ethernet cable to the Main port and afterwards, 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 – be aware that you need to keep an instance of the UniFi controller always running on your main computer for local access.
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 laptop which will act as the server (get connected directly to the access point using a 1Gbps cable) and a computer equipped with an Asus PCE-AC88 WiFi adapter in order to test 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 devices to the 5GHz radio band and I tested the client to server performance: at close range (no more than 5 feet), I measured an average of 440 Mbps, while at no more than 30 feet, the speed decreased to 302 Mbps. Afterwards, I tested the server to client performance and, at 5 feet, I measured an average of 258 Mbps, while at 30 feet, the speed went down to 170 Mbps. Next, I switched to the 2.4GHz radio band and, testing the client to server performance, I got the following results: at around 5 feet, I measured an average of 107 Mbps, while at 30 feet, the speed remained consistent and I measured an average of 106 Mbps. Testing the server to client performance, I got the following results: at 5 feet, I measured around 101 Mbps, while at 30 feet, the speed slightly decreased to 90.5 Mbps.
3. Zyxel NWA1123-AC HD Dual-Band 3×3 Wireless Access Point
ZyXEL Communications is one of the main suppliers of networking products in the world (both wired and wireless) and in the span of two decades it not only became dominant in Asia, but it also successfully branched towards Europe and North America. Of course, my main focus is not really towards its top-tier corporate devices, but on the more SMB and possibly consumer-friendly networking equipment which borrows some of the professional-level functionality, but keeps the price as affordable as possible.
Considering the theme of the article, I’m going to have a look at another ZyXEL device, the ZyXEL NWA1123-AC HD, which is one of the latest PoE wireless access point from the Taiwanese company, featuring some of the most interesting 802.11ac Wave 2 features (such as the MU-MIMO and the BeamForming technologies) and, using the NebulaFlex controller, the user can control, monitor and configure multiple Zyxel devices on a single site or multiple locations (via the Cloud server). Of course, the access point can also be used as a standalone device, which should be the prefered option for home users.
ZyXEL has followed a similar design approach to the Linksys LAPAC2600PRO, adopting a hexagonal shaped case (a popular choice for business-type APs, besides the circular one), but it has avoided adding any sharp lines, so there is a smooth curve to the body of the access point.
Furthermore, similarly to most wireless access points that get mounted on the ceiling or on the wall, ZyXel decided to cover the case with a white matte finish, therefore, further enhancing the minimalist design of the device and ensuring that its neutral look won’t attract any attention. Unlike the ZyXEL WAC6503D-S which had the top side slightly raised, the NWA1123-AC HD has a more subtle transition to the circular middle area and the ZyXEL logo in the middle is now less prominent.
I did look around the case and tried to pinpoint some relevant cut-outs which would suggest that the case has a proper internal ventilation and except for some bottom side small holes, everything seems to be sealed off. But there’s a twist. When I opened the case, I noticed that the bottom part seems to be made of a zinc alloy and Zyxel relies on this system to keep the internal temperature at a reasonable level. And it works, since even if it was under a heavier load, the temperature remained decent (there were some warm spots on the bottom) and, so far, this does seem to be one of the coolest access point in its category.
In terms of positioning, you can always put the device flat on a surface, but you will notice that it lacks any silicone feet, so it will easily slide off. This means that the AP was created to be mounted on the wall/ceiling and you do get all the necessary equipment in the box (mounting plate and mounting screws). One thing that took me by surprise is the weight of this wireless access point, as at its 1.65 lbs, it is one of the heaviest wireless access points that I’ve tested (the reason for that is the metallic lower body part). Furthermore, 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 a flush mount lighting – it measures 8.31 x 8.78 x 1.54 inches).
Unlike the older WAC6503D-S which still kept the good ol’array of LED lights, the ZyXEL NWA1123-AC HD decided to adopt the same approach as the newer WiFi mesh systems and went with a single LED light which will show the status of the access point: if it’s green, then the device is On and functional (slow blinking amber, On for 1 second and Off for 1 second shows that the AP is booting up, while slow blinking three times and afterwards it turns Off for three seconds indicates that the device is discovering an access point controller); if the LED is bright blue then the wireless interface is activated, but no wireless clients are yet connected; a red LED indicates a system failure (fast blinking indicates a firmware update, slow blinking 3 seconds at a time shows that the Uplink port is disconnected); if the LED light is slowly blinking green (1 second at a time), then the wireless LAN is either disabled or it has failed.
I have said many times that I am not a fan of this type of approach since it certainly looks good and may make you feel that it is the simpler system, while it really isn’t and you will often find yourself checking the manual to see what’s going on with your device. The LED lights can be turned off by accessing the Maintenance tab > LEDs and then Suppression from the interface.
On the rear side of the device, you can find a special area that gives you an easy access to all the ports: a 12V DC-In Power Port, a Gigabit Ethernet Uplink / PoE port (802.3at / 802.3af – the maximum power draw is 15.5 W – if you connect both a power cable and use the PoE port, the DC-In port takes priority), a LAN1 Gigabit Ethernet port (for connecting clients – it doesn’t support the PoE technology), a 4-pin serial Console port, a Kensington Security slot and a small, recessed Reset button.
Note: Unfortunately, ZyXEL did not include a PoE injector in the package, so, you will have to purchase one separately if you want to use this feature – you can also use a PoE switch/router.
Inside the case, ZyXel has equipped the NWA1123-AC HD with a dual-band Broadcom BCM4752B0KRFBG Wave 2 3×3 chipset (800MHz), 256 MB NOR flash memory (Macronix MX25L25635MJ-10G), 256MB of RAM (WINBOND W632GU6MB-12) and a Realtek RTL8363NB Layer 2 Managed 2+2-Port 10/100/1000M Switch Controller. Furthermore, the ZyXEL NWA1123-AC HD is also equipped with a Broadcom BCM43525KMMLG SoC 3×3 Dual-Band 802.11ac.
Now, let’s see how does the access point fare in terms of wireless performance. While using the 2.4GHz radio band, from the server to the client, the NWA1123-AC HD managed an average throughput of 120Mbps at close range and afterwards, the speed decreased to 119 Mbps at 15 feet and then it averaged at around 90.5 Mbps at 30 feet away from the access point. Furthermore, I tested the server to client performance and measured an average of 103 Mbps, 5 feet away from the device. At 15 feet, I measured 101 Mbps and at a bigger distance (30 feet), the AP managed 91.4Mbps.
Next, I switched to the 5Ghz radio band and, as expected, things stand a lot better. From the client to the server, at 5 feet, the NWA1123-AC HD managed throughput of 489 Mbps and then, at 15 feet, the speed decreased to 460 Mbps and lastly, at 30 feet, it managed an average of 303 Mbps. The server to client performance at 5 feet was around 266 Mbps and then, it slightly decreased to 248 Mbps at 15 feet. At 30 feet, I measured an average of 190 Mbps.
If used in standalone mode, the ZyXEL NWA1123-AC HD features a Web Configurator that allows you to easily manage the access point (you can also use the Command-Line Interface CLI, SNMP or FTP).
On the main page there are multiple areas for you to explore, but first let’s see the top title bar which allows the users to Logout, initiate the setup Wizard, visit the Site Map, consult the Help or About sections, see the Object Reference or access the CLI popup windows (underneath this top menu, there’s a small Widget Settings shortcut). 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 (such as the Ethernet Neighbour, the WDS Downlink/Uplink Status or the System Resources).
The Monitor tab displays the Network status, Wireless statistics (AP Information, Station Info, WDS Link Info and Detected Device) and the View Log. The Configuration tab is home to a series of sub-tabs: Network, Wireless, Bluetooth, 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 (it also includes SSH, TELNET, FTP and SNMP). The Maintenance menu consists of File Manager, Diagnostics, LEDs, Antenna, Reboot and Shutdown.
In an SMB environment, it’s best to use the access point along with the dedicated Nebula controller which allows the centralised maintenance of multiple APs, as well as switches and gateways and gives the user a higher level of flexibility. Some of the most interesting features are the Map (which shows the location of the access points on a Google Maps area), the AP Smart Mesh (despite being in Beta stage, it allows the creation of a mesh network if you have more than one Zyxel access points deployed), the Live tools (useful for testing the connection and seeing the traffic), the Captive Portal (which allows the creation of personalized access pages for your guests and there are multiple authentication methods available) and the Client Steering.
4. Linksys LAPAC1750C 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 even in 2019 it is still being sold worldwide). 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.
Besides its wireless routers, Linksys has catered (for a long time) to the needs of the SMBs with the LAPAC access points series and, considering that more and more manufacturers have moved towards the adoption of a universal controller (just like in the corporate world), Linksys was forced to deliver a similar solution.
The LAPAC1750C is part of the new wireless access points that support the Cloud controller out-of-the-box, but besides this new software, the device is still identical (in terms of hardware) to the five year old LAPAC1750. Despite that, the LAPAC1750C is still suitable for today’s exigences (they rarely change that much in this market), so, it still respects the design trend of compact circular or hexagonal-shaped devices that can be easily positioned anywhere (even on the ceiling). The case of the LAPAC1750C is basically identical to any other from the LAPAC series, 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. There’s also 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.
When compared to the likes of Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO or even the Zyxel NWA1123-AC HD, the LAPAC1750C is among the largest I have tested so far, measuring 9.57 x 9.33 x 1.72 inches but it does weigh a bit less than the Zyxel AP (1.12 lbs). The LAPAC1750C is 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), but, 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 wireless 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), a single Ethernet Gigabit 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 or PoE adapter) and a red Reset button (press it for less than 15 seconds to power cycle the device and more than 15 seconds to return it to the defaults settings).
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 indicator will also blink a blue light if there is a firmware upgrade in progress and will be solid blue if at least one wireless client is connected; lastly, the LED indicator will be solid red if the booting process has failed or the firmware update was unsuccessful.
Note: While some other access points come with a PoE injector, Linksys has decided to not include one in the package.
Inside the case, Linksys has equipped the LAPAC2600 Pro with a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558-AT4A FK833N95 chipset, 128 MB of RAM clocked at 400 MHz (from ETRONTECH), 16MB of NOR Flash (from Macronix) and a couple of Ethernet Switch Chips: Qualcomm Atheros AR8035-A NJ828002 and Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558. Furthermore, the access point features a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9558 3×3 chip for the 2.4GHz Radio and a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9880 3×3 chip is used for the 5Ghz radio band.
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 LAPAC1750C may not outshine a AC1750 router in terms of wireless performance, even though the access point itself is branded as AC1750. Despite that, the LAPAC1750C Pro is a worthy performer and the test results are really good.
To test the wireless performance, I took two computers, one as a client (ASUS PCE-AC88), the other as a server and, first, I connected them to the 2.4Ghz radio band. This way, from the client to the server, the LAPAC1750C reached an average of 133 Mbps at close range (5 feet) and it slowly decreased to 120 Mbps at 30 feet. From the server to the client, I measured and average throughput of 104.9 Mbps (at 5 feet) and afterwards, I got 94.2 Mbps at 30 feet.
After I connected the computers to the 5GHz network, things were a lot better. At close range, from the client to the server, I measured an average speed of 564 Mbps and then, the speed decreased to 243 at 30 feet. From the server to the client, the access point managed to deliver an average of 302 Mbps and around 185 Mbps at 30 feet.
In terms of wireless performance enhancing features, the LAPAC1750C is quite bare-bones, lacking 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 it does come with support for the 802.11k Roaming technology which negates the need for re-authentication every time the client roams to a new node (Fast Basic Service Set Transition).
The local web-based utility will only work for one access point at a time (while the controller allows for a mass deployment of APs with fast an easy monitoring and configuration process), but it does have some additional features, such as WDS, Workgroup Bridge, SSID Isolation and RADIUS support for the Splash Page. I do expect that Linksys will make the Controller a more complete solution and I do hope that more types of devices are underway to be added under a single software.
5. 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.
6. TP-Link EAP245 Wireless Access Point
TP-Link has been building affordable consumer-friendly wireless access points for years, but, ever since Ubiquiti showed that there is profit to be made in the SMB area and the demand was very high for enterprise-level APs on the budget, the EAP series has been adjusted to accommodate both the needs of the regular consumer users and the exigences of smaller to medium companies that value the reliability and the scalability factor. The TP-Link EAP245 is one such device that promises to push back against Ubiquiti’s reach and to provide a similar level of performance and stability at a lower cost, so let’s see if it can deliver.
Similarly to most other ceiling wireless access points, the TP-Link EAP245 went with a minimalistic design, the case having a rectangular shape, resembling some flush mount ceiling lights (or smoke detectors?). The entire device is covered by a white matte finish, but, on the top, there is a rectangular glossy band to break the monotony; while the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-PRO positioned the LED within a recessed area on the top surface, the TP-Link EAP245 was a bit more conservative and it put a single small LED light to show the status of the device and network.
The LED indicator will quickly flash a yellow colour when the AP is upgrading the firmware, it will become solid green when the device is working properly and it will be flashing red if the device has experienced an error. The TP-Link EAP245 may not be the largest access point in its category, but it certainly has one of widest, measuring 8.1 x 7.1 x 1.5 inches and weighing 1.0 lbs – it’s nowhere near the slim profile of the UAP-AC-PRO. These dimensions make sure that the EAP245 will stand out when mounted on the ceiling or wall, but this may prove to be an advantage in terms of heat management. While I tested the device, it did get warm near the bottom label, but it never got hot (still, the best solution for maintaining the temperature as low as possible seems to be the use of a metal alloy, as can be seen with the Zyxel NWA1123-AC HD).
Note: The EAP245 was created solely to be mounted either on a wall or on the ceiling, so, while you may keep it on a desk, it lacks the necessary feet to keep the device steady.
On the bottom of the EAP245, there is a small label with info about the device (MAC address, Serial Number and more) and two cut-out areas which allow you to connect the mounting bracket. If you’re looking for the ports area, you’ll find it on one lateral side: from the left, there’s a Kensington lock, next to a recessed Reset button which, when pressed and held for 5 seconds, returns the AP to factory default settings; further to the left, there’s a single Ethernet Gigabit port (to connect to the router – it’s PoE compatible) and the Power port. Yes, unfortunately, TP-Link decided to not add an additional Ethernet port for wired clients for whatever reason (they’re not that expensive to implement), so, only wireless clients will be able to connect to the EAP245 – unless you use a PoE switch.
Inside the case, the EAP245 is equipped with a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 SoC, backed by 128Mb SPI NOR Flash memory (from GigaDevice). Also, there’s an Qualcomm Atheros QCA9563 b/g/n 3×3:3 chip (for the 2.4GHz radio) and a Qualcomm Atheros QCA9982 3×3:3 chip (for the 5GHz radio).
Now that we had a look at the hardware, let’s see what kind of performance this access point can deliver. After I connected two computers to the EAP245 (one to the 5GHz network and the other through a switch), from the client to the server, I measured an average of 645 Mbps at 5 feet and 352 Mbps at 30 feet; from the server to the client, the AP delivered 328 Mbps at 5 feet and 147 at 30 feet. Afterwards, I connected the wireless client to the 2.4GHz network and, from the client to the server, at 5 feet, I measured an average of 151 Mbps and, at 30 feet, the speed went down to 104 Mbps; from the server to the client, I measured and average of 109 Mbps, while at 30 feet, the throughput decreased to 50.4 Mbps.
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 (or PoE switch) and, using a second Ethernet cable, connect the adapter’s LAN port to the router; alternatively, simply use the Power cable and connect the access point to the router using the Ethernet cable (no PoE involved).
The TP-Link EAP245 can either be run as a standalone device (the usual choice for consumer users) or as part of a larger environment by using the Omada controller. To do the former, you need to install the proprietary app on a mobile device and, under Standalone APs, you will be able to view some status info about the EAP245, as well as perform a basic configuration.
Using the controller opens up more options and the ability to configure more than one EAP access point under the same software – the problem is that at the moment, the Omada controller can only adopt and monitor access points, so it will feel more limited than the UniFi. If you decide to run Omada locally, you will need to run a local instance on your host computer.
Some of the main features that you will be able to find are the Rogue AP detection, Fast Roaming (compatible only with 802.11k/v clients), Airtime Fairness, Band Steering, Auto FailOver and the Mesh ability; there’s also the Portal section (very useful for hotels since it allow the creation of personalized Terms of Service for guest users, as well as the ability to change the Authentication type – Voucher, Facebook, SMS, Simple Password, RADIUS or more), QoS, and Management VLAN.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. TP-LINK TL-WA901ND V5 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 Shenzhen-based company has relentlessly pushed competitive products on the fierce networking market (the manufacturer offers a large array of routers, adapters, Ethernet switches and other networking devices that serve millions of people worldwide). The product that I’m going to focus on is an access point from TP-Link (the TL-WA901ND) which 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 still very popular (and it has recently got its fifth refresh), let’s have a look at what it can deliver.
The design of the TL-WA901ND V5 remains unchanged from the previous versions, so it still gives me mixed feelings, as while I definitely admire the concept, I cannot stop feeling that the case has a bit of a toy-like look. You get a white glossy case, with a circuit pattern on top, with small holes that should ensure a decent airflow and, on the top side, the plastic curves towards the sides and more acutely near the front of the device. The access point doesn’t necessarily lack style, but it does not have the premium feel of the higher-end routers 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 (using the two holes on the bottom side). If you choose the first option, know that the access point has basically the same footprint as a normally-sized router, measuring 7.67 x 5.12 x 1.43 in 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 (if it is on, it means that the access point is initialising and if it’s off, it 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 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 (it’s still limited to a Fast Ethernet port, but expected considering the price tag) 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: It seems that TP-Link decided to add 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 Qualcomm Atheros TP9343-AL3A CPU, clocked at 750 MHz (with a Qualcomm QCA956x SoC), 32 MB RAM (Zentel A3S56040GTP) and 4 MB flash memory (from Winbond). 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 decent 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 55Mbps. At 35 feet, the speed goes down to an average of 20Mbps. Next, I tested the uplink wireless performance and, at close range, the access point managed up to 60Mbps. At 15 feet, I measured an average of 36 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 wireless router (especially because of the design choice), but unfortunately for them, this device serves a different purpose. The proper way to setup the access point 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 https://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 available) 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.