Businesses looking to deploy wireless networks are faced with a number of problems including access point (AP) placement to give the best coverage, the facilities to enable clients to roam freely across the entire wireless area and, of course, security. There are a wide range of solutions available but, as we saw in our review of Netgear's ProSafe Wireless Smart Controller, not all are as clever as they make out.
ZyXEL's latest NXC-8160 Wireless Channel Blanket Controller takes a completely different path to the majority. It's the result of an agreement between ZyXEL and Extricom and, as it full name indicates, it aims to provide a complete wireless umbrella for your business along with seamless client roaming but without the hassle of cell planning. Essentially, you just add APs wherever you want to ensure that the area where the services are being delivered is blanketed with overlapping channels. This solution is aimed particularly at environments where standard wireless network deployment is considered too difficult. The seamless roaming facilities also target applications such as voice and video as mobile clients should be able to move from AP to the next without any loss of service.
The NXC-8160 provides the foundation of this solution and it only works with ZyXEL's NWA-8500 lightweight APs. These are about as light as it gets as they have absolutely no intelligence and take all their configuration settings and updates from the controller. In a nutshell, they simply provide a conduit for wireless clients who are actually associating with the controller via these APs. Note that the APs cannot identify rogue APs or contain them and, as we found during testing, offer no monitoring facilities at all.
Ease of deployment is a key feature and we can heartily agree with ZyXEL's claims in this regard.
We installed the controller and one AP in our lab and positioned two more in other offices at around fifty metres away to create a reasonable sized triangle of coverage. The APs are 802.3af PoE compliant and we had no problems with the controller powering them through the building's network infrastructure. Another bonus of the APs is they contain dual radios supporting 802.11a and b/g services. The controller can support up to eight APs and for larger deployment you can have up to six controllers where one is designated the master, which manages the other units and provides them with their configurations. To provide LAN and Internet access services to our test clients we used a Boston Supermicro dual 3GHz Xeon 5160 server configured as a Windows Server 2003 R2 domain controller.