Today the market is flooded with a range of wireless access points. There are dozens of important features to consider, so much variation in cost and several different performance parameters, that it can become quite confusing to decide which one is right for you. To address most of these concerns, we ripped apart 13 wireless access points with a barrage of tests, and analyzed them for over a dozen features. You'll find their individual reviews in the subsequent pages, followed by a table comparing the important features as well as the performance results. These include eight access points of 802.11b and five of 802.11g standards. But, before that, we'll look at the important features that should be considered when buying an access point, followed by the performance parameters. All performance and features parameters discussed here, along with the price and warranty of each access point, have been included in our analysis for the shootout. As usual, we used the Brown-Gibson model to arrive at the weightages for these parameters.
Speaking of standards, it's still not legal to use 802.11g-based products without a license. Only 802.11b based ones can be used indoors freely. While it's not very expensive to obtain a license, it's a long drawn process. Alternatively, you could go for an 802.11b access point that's upgradable to the g standard, apply for a license and then upgrade once you get the license. It's, therefore, an important feature to consider when going for an 802.11b access point. If you have a license or don't mind putting in the effort to get one, then you could also go for 802.11g based access points as they have a maximum throughput capability of 54 Mbps, unlike 802.11b that can deliver only 11 Mbps. Plus, the g standard is backward compatible with b, so even if you have b based wireless clients, they would still work, albeit at 11 Mbps.
How much security?
Security has always been a concern in wireless networks, so it's important to check out the security features of an access point before you buy it. First, define the level of security you need in your setup. For instance, if your office is in a crowded area and the chances of your WiFi signal going out of your premise is high, then it's better to go for tighter security because it would be easy for someone from outside to misuse your WiFi network. What level of accessibility are you planning to provide through your WiFi network to your mobile users? Is it just to surf the Net or will they also be able to access your servers? There are various security modes providing different levels of protection. The most basic is WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy) encryption, which is present by default in all access points. But, Wireless Equivalent Privacy has been found to be weak and, therefore, not always suitable for security a WiFi network. Look for other security modes, such as MAC-address based filtering, Radius-based authentication and WPA before you go out on your hunt for the right access point.
Modes of operation
Most access points can be used in more ways than one, but this functionality varies across vendors. Besides working as a standard access point, it can also work as an access point-to-access point bridge, repeater, gateway and more . Having more modes of operation gives an organization the flexibility to use the access point in any way they need. So, support for more modes is always better.
How easy is it for you to manage your access point? Most of them provide a Web-based interface for management, but that's not enough. Look for more management features available in this interface. Does it support SNMP, so that if you have your network management software running in your organization, it can easily be added in? Is it simple support for SNMP or can you also set traps for certain conditions so it sends out information to the administrator every time there's a problem? What other information can the access point provide? Does it maintain log files of all system activity? What level of activity can it put in the log file? What kind of statistics can it display about itself? The more management features it has, the easier it will be on the network administrator.