For some time I’ve been using a relatively good D-Link DIR-655 wireless router effectively as my wireless access point. However, there are places in the house that it just can’t reach. Part of this is because of its physical location which is dictated by the placement of my ADSL modem and switch and is not optimal for the building. Unfortunately, it’s configured in a way such that it needs a cable to the modem and a cable to my main switch as well as a power supply. The need for all three cables means that it is very hard to relocate to the ideal location.
Furthermore, we’re in the process of designing a new house, where I plan to simplify the network topology and wiring for the WiFi access point. I’ve decided to check the revised plan will work as expected before making decisions related to the design of the house that may be slightly painful to reverse later.
So, it was time to look for a new wireless access point. To keep it simple I want a pure access point – no ADSL modem, no DHCP server, no switch. It needs to support a variety of legacy devices as well as the very latest, so it needs to support B, G and N WiFi. I hope that one access point will form the basis of the WiFi support for the new house, but it will be a big house, and it is possible that one router might not be enough to cover it all. This is especially true if there ends up being foil covered insulation in the floors preventing signal propagation up and down floors. In this case I need an access point that will play nicely with additional access points to provide full building coverage.
To place the access point in the ideal location it would be easiest to have a single cable. This can be achieved using Power over Ethernet (PoE) where a DC power supply is transmitted down the Ethernet cable, meaning that just a single ethernet cable needs to be routed to the access point. There is no need for a local power socket, and this will help avoid the need for a power socket neer the access point in the new house, with it’s associated ugly wall wart. Native PoE support in the access point would also remove the need for a power splitter, again keeping the setup clutter free.
Finally, it would be nice to be able to setup a guest network with limited access to local resources for our visitors.
Devices that support all of these requirements tend to be professional quality devices, intended for use in offices and businesses. This is fine by me, although it does push the price up a little. Most of the mainstream professional networking companies have products in this market, but the most cost effective (by quite a long way) seems to be ZyXEL. After research I decided to go with their NWA-1100-N access point which provides all of the features, including native PoE support, that I was looking for at a reasonable price (for this class of product).
At the time I bought it, there was an offer including free 3 year next business day replacement from ZyXEL direct (I have applied for this support but I am waiting for the license to come through) which makes it worry free for the next 3 years at least.
My experiences with the router have generally been good. The web interface is simple, clear and uncluttered and extremely responsive (in fact so quick that I frequently need to double check that I actually clicked a button). Furthermore, none of the changes so far seem to require a reboot of the access point, which has not been the case with any other similar device I have ever owned. This makes setup and tweaking a doddle.
The wireless performance, even when in a non-optimal location, is also excellent – much better than the D-Link. In fact, it’s good enough that I can leave it where it is for now and still get a signal anywhere in the house! Using my new Squeezebox Radio as a signal strength device, it easily reaches the full length of our garden (around 35 metres or more each way) albeit with some degradation with more walls in the way. It is hindered by our hot water cylinder but unlike the D-Link it still just about manages to get a wireless signal to the other side.
Devices also seem much faster connecting to the ZyXEL than my old D-Link, leading to a much better user experience for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
I have had a couple of problems with legacy devices on a WEP network, where it won’t support shared and open authentication simultaneously, but a little thought and a second wireless virtual network on a newer encryption standard soon got around that problem.
There are still a few things I need to setup, like MAC filtering on the WEP network and the Guest network, and I haven’t got anywhere near using the full power of the access point, or trying to saturate the wireless network but so far the performance and functionality has been perfect.
The access point, therefore, comes extremely highly recommended.
Note – I have temporarily mislaid my plugin power meter, so I’m not able to check the power consumption. As soon as I find it again I’ll take some measurements and post an update.