by May 11, 2004 0 comments



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.

Which standard? 
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.

Management features
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. 

Load balancing and fault tolerance
If the number of users connecting to a particular access point with load-balancing support increases beyond a predefined limit, it will shift some users to a nearby access point. This feature can be useful if you have high user density per access point. So, look for one that supports load balancing. Fault tolerance, of course, means that if one access point goes down due to some reason, then the clients connecting to it should be diverted to another access point.

Other features
There are several other features that need to be considered. One is automatic channel selection, which becomes important if you’re deploying lots of access points. This way the administrator doesn’t have to manually define each channel, thereby reducing chances of human error. Can the antenna of the access point be upgraded to a different type or of higher power? What kind of software ships with the access point? How useful is it when deploying WiFi? Does the access point support power over Ethernet? This can be useful if you’re placing an access point where you don’t have a power connection nearby.

What about the quality of the power adapter itself? We noticed that several access points still shipped with the bulky transformer-based adapters. Today, most devices come with the lightweight, SMPS-based adapters, which have a longer life because they consume lesser power and generate lesser heat. So, an SMPS-based adapter is always preferable over transformer based one. 

Performance parameters 
There are a number of parameters that we considered for performance. For measuring all data transfers, we used NetIQ’s Qcheck benchmark. The tests are as follows: 

Max range: What’s the maximum distance that a client can go from an access point without loosing connectivity and also be able to transfer data? While doing this test, we ensured there were no obstructions between the access point and the client. We stopped measuring beyond 200 mtrs as only a few Access Points showed connectivity beyond that distance.

Max range with max signal strength: While the signal strength of an access point reduces with distance, up till what distance can an access point keep it in excellent condition? The higher this is, the better.Here again we stopped measuring beyond 150 mtrs for same reasons as above.

Max throughput: For clients connected in close vicinity to the access point, what’s the maximum throughput that it can offer? Surely, it’s impossible to obtain 11 and 54 Mbps, the maximum theoretical limits of 802.11b and g standards, respectively. So, we measured the maximum that each access point could provide with a client when: 

  • It used a WiFi card from the same vendor.

  • It used a third-party WiFi card. Most laptops shipping today are Centrino based, which means that they use an Intel WiFi card. For this test, we used a Centrino-based laptop. 

Latency: We measured the average latency between the client and the access point while transferring some data. Here, lower latency is better.

Throughput with streaming data: This becomes important when you’re using WiFi for applications that require a constant stream of data without any break., like voice and video apps. For this, we configured the test to maintain 1000 Kbps for 15 seconds. 

Resistance to interference: The 2.4 GHz frequency band that’s used by all these access points is susceptible to interference from other devices like cordless phones and Bluetooth. We checked how susceptible was an Access Point to such interference by measuring the throughput with a Bluetooth device in between. 

A few tips Finally, here are a few tips to keep in mind. 

  • Please check that the features mentioned on the packaging of your access point are actually there. In one access point we found the packaging said 256 bit WEP encryption, while it actually only supported 128. 

  • Before setting up an access point, read the instructions carefully. Some access points provide a MAC address that has to be entered during the installation.

  • Place the access point where there’s minimum interference from other devices. Usually, it’s advisable to place it near the ceiling.

  • Many access points specify how to position their antennas, so please check the manuals for that. Don’t tamper with the antenna when it’s working. 

  • Coexistence of 802.11g and 802.11b wireless clients on the same wireless network could slow down your network performance. So, when upgrading to 802.11g, also try to shift your clients to the same. 

Lastly, there’s a wide price variation that we found in all the access points, ranging from Rs 8,000 to Rs 52,000. So, choose carefully, depending upon the features you want.

Neha Shamshery, Sanjay Majumder, Sushil Oswal

802.11b ACCESS POINTS

D Link 1000 AP+   
Rs 8,000/-  


It is a combination of performance and price that makes this Access Point the winner. It shines out in maximum throughput, which measured highest of the lot. If it’s used with its own WiFi cards, it’s supposed to double the throughput. Rightfully, when tested with its own card, it resulted in 10 Mbps throughput, while with a Centrino laptop, it managed 5 Mbps. It even managed a 9 Mbps with interference from Bluetooth. It also gave the lowest latency. It was the second highest in streaming after Cisco. In features, it supports load balancing and fault tolerance. Overall, a good choice for enterprise
networks. RQS#E75 or SMS 130575 to 9811800601

CISCO 1200  
Rs 15,000/-  


This was the most feature rich Access Point of the lot, and was also the second highest in performance. The only place where it took a beating was the high price tag of around Rs 34K, which was the second highest. In performance, this Access Point not only gave us the maximum range of about 216 mtrs, its connectivity was also rock solid. It also gave the best streaming throughput of 999 kbps, and worked very well with the Centrino based WiFi card. Coming to features, it had the largest number of security features of the lot, which makes it a good choice where WiFi security is of prime importance. Plus, it had lots of management and monitoring features, which give exhaustive analysis of your wireless system. It was amongst the few to support pseudo VLANs for added security.RQS#E78 or SMS 130578 to 9811800601

Buffalo WLM-L11G  
Rs 27,929/-  

This is a new entrant in the Indian wireless market and was found to be the most feature rich of the lot, after Cisco and 3Com. It has extensive security features with advanced encryption methods. This was the only Access Point to have all the three features: Load balancing, fault tolerance and power over Ethernet. Again, it was the only one to support the Spanning Tree Protocol. Unfortunately, the Access Point wasn’t shipped to us with an antenna, which could possibly be the reason why the maximum range it gave us was only about 55 mtrs, lowest of the lot. It did fine in the other tests.RQS#E76 or SMS 130576 to 9811800601

Compex WP11B+  
Rs 8,000/-  


This is a basic Access Point with an average features set and performance. Perhaps that’s also why it’s the lowest priced of the lot, making it a good buy for small offices. It’s maximum range was found to be good at about 180 mtrs, and maximum range with excellent signal strength was also among the best at 145 mtrs. However, it was more vulnerable to interference from Bluetooth devices than the rest. It’s throughput dropped from 5 Mbps to 2 Mbps when we introduced an active Bluetooth device in between. Features wise, this only supports 802.11b, so it can’t be upgraded to 802.11g. On the positive side, it supported the maximum number of modes of operation, making it a very flexible device. The Access Point was shipped with an external antenna to increase the wireless coverage. And it offers a channel selection option for different countries. This was also one of the few Access Points to support Pseudo VLANs.RQS#E77or SMS 130577 to 9811800601

DAX 910 ABO  
Rs 9,500/-  

This is an overall average Access Point in performance, price, as well as features. In performance, it managed to give a maximum range of about 105 mtrs. However, we noticed that its WiFi card was highly sensitive to direction.At longer distances, it remained connected as long as the WiFi card was facing the Access Point, but dropped connection the moment it was moved away. While maintaining connection, it managed to give excellent signal strength even up to 70 mtrs. This Access Point was susceptible to interference from Bluetooth, wherein its rate dropped from 5 to 2 Mbps when we introduced the interference. The Access Point supports power over Ethernet, but the power injector adapter is optional. It supports MAC and Ethernet based filtering, and has quite a few options for controlling traffic in the latter option. There is also a feature called association control where in you can limit the number of clients that can be associated with the access point. RQS#E79 or SMS 130579 to 9811800601

3COM 8200  
Rs 52,150/-  

This Access Point was among the top three in performance. It comes with a decent set of features, but looses out in price. The first two parameters make it suitable for enterprise deployment, but at Rs 52k, it was the most expensive of the lot. We managed to get a signal even at a distance of 205 mtrs, and excellent signal strength in 150 mtrs radius. You need to position the antenna at 45-degree angle to the Access Point for optimal performance. It managed to provide good throughput to our client even with interference in between. The Access Point is upgradeable to 802.11g, and supports power over Ethernet. The software bundle includes 3CDaemon TFT/FTP server and Wireless Infrastructure Device Manager. There’s also a 60-days trial copy of 3Com Network Supervisor. Plus, it has some decent management features such as a multi-level log file and an SNTP (Simple Network Time Protocol) server. Decent security features are also in the offing. RQS#E80 or SMS 130580 to 9811800601

Net4 India Long Range  
Rs 9,800/-  

This was the second cheapest Access Point of the lot but, at the same time, was skimpy in features compared to the rest. Being a barebones Access Point makes it suitable only for smaller offices, or a company wanting to provide basic wireless connectivity. It did support the maximum number of channels though, and its maximum range for wireless connectivity lives up to its name giving 200 mtrs. Its maximum range with excellent signal strength was also great at 160 mtrs Its maximum throughput was average both with its own WiFi card and Centrino . The Access Point was quite susceptible to interference from a Bluetooth signal, since its throughput dropped considerably when we added the interference. RQS#E81 or SMS 130581 to 9811800601 

NetGear ME 103  
Rs 15,000/-  

Like the Access Point from Dax, this one is also average in performance, features and price, but there are a couple of places where it stands out. For one, it gave us the second highest range of the lot at around 210 mtrs. Then, this was also amongst the lowest priced Access Points of the lot, costing just Rs 15k. It supports both MAC based filtering and RADIUS based authentication for security. Also, it was among the few to support both NetBIOS and WINS protocols, which makes it easy to fit into a Windows network. One small crib though was the power adapter, which was bulky and had square pins. Though, it came with a round pin add-on adapter for this it’s still inconvenient while plugging in.RQS#E82 or SMS 130582 to 9811800601

802.11g ACCESS POINTS

D-Link DWL-2000AP+
Rs 8,500/-

D-Link also emerged winner in this category, owing to its performance, which was best in the lot. Also, it was the best priced. In performance, the Access Point gave the maximum connectivity range at 200 mtrs. Also, it maintained its signal strength in this range. It also did very well in the streaming test, which means it’s good for sustained transfer rates. Its resistance to interference was also pretty good, with the throughput dropping only by 2 Mbps from 13 to 11 when the interference was added. On the features front, it supports four different modes of operation, making it very flexible in terms of
application. RQS#E83 or SMS 130583 to 9811800601

Compex WPL 54G
Rs 9,500/-


Good performance and pricing makes this the runner up in this category. It had the second highest connectivity range of about 160 mtrs and gave the highest throughput of the lot at 14 Mbps. In features, it supports the highest number of modes of operation. One interesting mode here is that, it can be used as a basic WiFi card simply by connecting it to a PC’s Ethernet port with an ordinary cross-over cable. In security, it supports both MAC based filtering as well as RADIUS server based authentication. Overall, a good choice given its price and
performance. RQS#E84 or SMS 130584 to 9811800601

Buffalo WL M2
Rs 37,036/-

This was the most feature rich of the lot, but at the same time, the costliest of all 802.11g Access Points. It supports load balancing, fault tolerance and power over Ethernet. The injector for power over Ethernet is optional. It supports both bridging and routing operation modes plus, MAC address filtering and RADIUS server based authentication for security. Like its counterpart in 802.11b, this one also wasn’t shipped with an external antenna, which could possibly be why it suffered in the maximum wireless range and the other performance
tests. RQS#E85 or SMS 130585to 9811800601

Net Gear WG602
Rs 9,500/-

This was an overall average Access Point in performance and features, but pretty low in pricing. It was the second cheapest of the lot, along with the Compex. It has the basic Access Point features, supporting only the Access Point mode of operation, and MAC address based filtering as the only additional security mode besides the 128-bit WEP encryption. In performance, it gave a decent range of 160 mtrs, and the range with excellent signal strength was also good at 85 mtrs. While measuring throughput, we noticed that when the Access Point was configured to work in ‘Best Data Rate’ option, we could only get about 5 Mbps throughput from our wireless client. However, when we set the data rate to 54 Mbps, it rose to 8 Mbps. Interestingly, we noticed the reverse situation in the other 802.11g Access Points. The NetGear also measured very low latency, which is good. Overall, given the price, it’s a good choice for small
offices. RQS#E86 or SMS 130586 to 9811800601

3Com 11G WL525
Rs 13,930/-

This Access Point was a good performer similar to the runner up from Compex in this category. It gave a maximum connectivity range of around 200 mtrs, while its maximum throughput at excellent signal strength was 13 Mbps. Also, its resistance to interference was also pretty high, as its throughput only dipped by 1 Mbps. It also had the best latency of only 2 ms, and even works well with Centrino based WiFi cards. It didn’t really impress us in features though, as it had a basic features set. Plus, it was the second costliest in its category. However, one good thing about it is that it was the only one with unlimited lifetime
warranty. RQS#E87 or SMS 130587 to 9811800601

WiFi Access Points’ Performance Results

 

WiFi
Access Points’ Performance Results
802.11b
Access Points
Model Max
wireless
range
Max
range
with excellent
signal strength
Max
throughput
Latency Streaming
rate
Throughput
with bluetooth
interference
Throughput
with Intel
PRO
wireless
  mtrs mtrs Mbps ms kbps Mbps Mbps
3Com
8200/8500
206 150 4.5 4 532 4.1285 5
Buffalo
WLM-L 11g
56 50 5 4 564 4.219 5
Compex
WP 11 B+
181 145 5 4 554 2 5
Dax
910 ABO
103 70 5 4 510 2 5
D-Link
DWL-1000 AP+
200 150 10 3 980 9 5
Net
Gear ME 103
209 48.5 4.5 4 490 4 5
Cisco
1200
216 57 6.5 3 999 5.4 6
Net4India
Long Range AP
200 160 5 5 480 0.3 5
802.11g
Access Points
Compex
WPL 54G
161 48 14.4 4 954 11  
3Com
11g wl 525
147 53 12.5 2 428 11.5  
D-Link
DWL-2000AP+
200 200 13 2 1000 11.4  
Buffalo
WL M2
58 47 7 8 345 2  
Net
Gear WG602
160 85 8 2 985 8  

WiFi Access Points’ Features

 WiFi
Access Points’ Features
Model Price Contact Operation Security S/W Maximum Mgmt Power
Adapter
3Com
8200
52,150 3Com
India, Delhi
Ph: 26293177
Fax: 26236509  
E-mail: upender_singh@3com.com 
Not
mentioned
Radius
server,
local bridge
filter, MAC
based, PPPoE
MD5, TTLS, Peap
3C
Daemon
NW
Supervisior

 

13 System
Log error,
message, SNTP Event log, Spanning
tree, station status
PoE
Injector
Buffalo
WLM-L 11G
27,929 Japan
Nepal ICT, Nepal
Ph: 977-1-4770789, 
Fax: 977-1-4771306,
E-mail: rtakatsu@buffalo-india.com 
AP,
Repeater,
AP-AP
Bridging
MAC,
Radius,
MIC, TKIP,
IBSS
Air
station,
client
manager
11 AP
Info,log
file,transfer
packet condition
SMPS
Compex
WP 11 B+
8,000 Rashi
Peripherals, MumbaiPh: 28221013, Fax: 28221012 
E-mail: compex@rptechindia.com 
AP,
AP client,
Broadband Gateway, Wireless Ethernet
Adapter, Wireless Bridge Link
MAC,
Radius
NP

find utility software
13 Log
file, statsics
and ap info
SMPS
Dax
910 ABO
24,985 Dax
Networks,
Chennai Ph:24323558,
Fax: 24357267 
E-mail: sujit@daxnetworks.com 
AP,
Point-to-Point bridging, AP client
MAC,
Ethernet
based
Nw
mgmt client monitoring utility
11 System 
Log and complete
information of ap
SMPS
D-Link
DWL
– 1000 AP+
8,000 D-Link
India, Mumbai
Ph: 26526696,
Fax: 26528914
E-mail: sales@dlink.co.in 
AP,
Point-to-Point and Point-to-multipoint bridging, wireless 
client, wireless
repeater
MAC,
Radius
AP
Manager
13 Log
File, Stastics,
Device Info File
SMPS
Net
Gear
ME 103
15,000 Micro
Systems
Enterprises, Delhi
Ph: 51606590 Fax: 26434346 
E-mail: rkbatra@mseinfo.com 
AP,
Point-to-Point andPoint-to-
Multipoint bridging
Radius,
MAC,
EAP
Music
software, N/w tutorial
13 Stastics
info, Activity log and AP info
Transformer
Cisco
Aironet 1200
34,543 Proactive
Data Systems, Delhi Ph: 26961588, Fax +91-011- 26851698 E-mail: virender@proactive.co.in 
AP,
Repeater
TKIP,CKIP,
CMIC, CKIP+ CMIC,TKIP+ 
WEP,MAC,Radius
Server
Wireless
Mgmt s/w
11 Event
Log,
Stats,Error
 
info
SMPS
Net4India
Long Range AP
9,800 Net
4 India, Delhi
Ph: 26104192, Fax: 26102187 E-mail:
infohps@net4india.net
AP,
Client
bridge
MAC
based
fiter
AP
Config Utility

 

14 AP
status
Square
Pins,
Transformer
802.11g
Access Points
Compex
WPL 54G
9,500 Rashi
Peripherals, Mumbai Ph: 28221013, Fax:
28221012 E-mail: compex@rptechindia.com
AP,
AP Client,
Gateway, Wireless Routing Client, Wireless Ethernet Adapter
MAC,

Radius
NP
find
utility software
13 Log
file, statsics and ap info
SMPS
3Com
11g WL525
13,930 3Com
India, Delhi  
Ph: 26293177, Fax: 26236509  E-mail:
upender_singh@3com.com
AP,
Client
Bridge
MAC,
WPA
AP
Discovering
Program
13 Log,Stats Square
Pins, Transformer
D-Link
DWL 2000 AP+
8,500 D-Link
India, Mumbai  
Ph: 26526696, Fax: 26528914  

E-mail: sales@dlink.co.in
AP,
Point-to-Point and
Point-to-Multi-
point bridging,
Wireless Client
MAC,
Radius, WPA, TKIP
AP
Manager
13 Log
File,  S tastics, Device Info
File
SMPS
Buffalo
WL M2
37,036 Japan
Nepal ICT, Nepal    
Ph: 977-1-4770789, Fax: 977-1-4771306,
E-mail: rtakatsu@buffalo-india.com 
AP,
Bridging,
Routing
MAC,
Radius
Air
station, client manager
11 AP
Info,log file,transfer packet condition. spanning tree protocol
SMPS
Net
Gear wg 602
9,500 Micro
Systems Enterprises,
Delhi Ph: 51606590
Fax: 26434346  
E-mail: rkbatra@mseinfo.com 
AP
Mode
MAC Music
software.  N/W tutorial
13 Only
AP
info is available
Square
Pins, Transformer
LB:
Load Balancing, FT: Fault Tolerance, PoE: Power over Ethernet, DRS:
Dynamic Rate Shifting, ACS: Automatic Channel Selection *Optional.
All access points support minimum 128-bit WEP encryption

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