There may be plenty of wireless hotspots in the UK but they’re not always that well advertised making it a real pain for mobile workers looking for a quick Internet fix. Windows XP and its zero configuration wireless features make life a lot easier but this still means firing up your notebook to see what’s available. ZyXEL’s new AG-225H could be the answer as this little baby is a combined wireless network locator, 802.11a/b/g USB adapter and access point as well. We have heard the device being likened by some to a wireless sniffer but this isn’t strictly correct as the device merely displays basic information about the networks it finds and doesn’t have the ability to intercept wireless data packets.
The AG-225H is a well designed, pocket sized package that comes complete with a short carrying cord and a USB extender cable. The front panel is home to a small LCD panel and the unit can be powered on and off with a switch underneath, while the two buttons on the upper surface are used to initiate a wireless scan and to scroll through the list of identified access points. It would have been nice if the LCD display was backlit - especially as the unit uses a Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) battery which is recharged whenever connected to a USB port.
To test ZyXEL’s wireless scanning capabilities we took the device for a stroll round a large two-story office building. Having already scanned the building with an AirMagnet SmartEdge enterprise level wireless sensor we already had a clear picture of how many access points were running and what their details were so we could easily gauge how accurate the AG-225H was. Overall, the results were impressive as the device found all seven of the access points previously discovered. Its range is around the same as a standard wireless PC Card so if the adapter can find an AP then you should be able to log on to it.
The device operates in three modes and defaults to displaying all available APs regardless of their security settings. A Free mode only shows those APs that have no security enabled whilst the D mode locks on to the selected AP and periodically keeps track of it. The LCD display provides plenty of information about each AP as it shows the SSID, the channel in use, whether it is an 802.11a, b or g AP, if WPA or WEP is in use and the signal strength. So if you’re on the receiving end how do you stop your AP from being picked up by the AG-225H? All you need do is switch off SSID broadcasting or turn on SSID masking (whichever method your AP uses) and the AP will no longer appear in the device’s display panel.