Netgear has traditionally been associated with consumer and small business networking markets but its ProSafe Smart Wireless Controller moves the focus much further up the scale. The WFS709TP delivers an appliance-based wireless network monitoring and security solution that is priced for smaller businesses but is sophisticated enough for larger companies as well.
The controller works with Netgear's light access points (APs) which provide wireless client services, enforce security and offer monitoring facilities. As they only receive their configurations from the controller this makes centralised management much easier as you decide on your wireless security policies from the controller and deploy them to the APs. For testing we used three WGL102 light APs, which provide 802.11b/g services but the WAGL102 offers 802.11a as well.
The controller has eight switched Fast Ethernet ports which are all PoE enabled and it supports up to sixteen light APs. Wireless security is managed by placing the controller ports in different VLANs, which each have their own security policy. You can configure a range of functions including an SSID, WPA/WPA2 encryption plus advanced authentication, which can be an internal database or RADIUS server. When you're happy with your settings then they can be deployed where the controller passes them directly to the APs.
For testing we installed the appliance in our lab, placed one AP close by and positioned two others around fifty metres away to create a decent sized triangle. We had no problems powering them all using PoE through the building network infrastructure. At this stage installation went right up the Swanee as the manual fails to cover many topics in sufficient depth making configuration an extremely frustrating process. We ended up calling in Netgear support and as none was available in the UK we had to talk to the US over an eight hour time difference.
Ideally, you start with the AP planning phase where you create a map of your building, provide its dimensions and select from a range of criteria such as the wireless services you want to provide, overlapping coverage for AP fault tolerance and desired rates. The appliance then works out how many APs you'll need and positions them as to satisfy your requirements. We imported a JPEG of the ground floor of our office complex and also designated areas such as the car park and loading bay as wireless free zones. Hitting the Initialize button locates the APs where Netgear thinks they'll do the best job. Bizarrely, pressing the Start button is supposed to hone positioning but all this did was dump two of the suggested AP locations outside the building.