- Review Price: £81.00
Wireless networking is gaining popularity by the day and more and more business users are taking advantage of WiFi hotspots in airports, hotels and coffee shops. Most WiFi usage is over the 802.11b standard, as it offers affordable solutions with excellent range and has been around for a few years now. However it is limited to a maximum throughput of 11Mbit/sec, and most of the time you won’t get more than half of this.
It’s here that 802.11g comes in as it offers a massive speed increase at 54Mbit/sec. The only downside here is that you loose some of the range of 802.11b, but on the other hand, as 802.11g is using the same 2.4GHz frequency range, you can still use 802.11b devices with an 802.11g access point. Depending on your needs you have to take all this into consideration before you set up a wireless network, but there is little point in going for an 802.11b access point these days as the price difference is minimal.
Enter the Buffalo AirStation WLA-G54C 802.11g wireless access point, one of the most compact access points on the market. It could be mistaken for any of Buffalo’s other products from its AirStation range as they all share the same basic chassis. The WLA-G54C is a basic access point that caters more for the home or small office user and should cope well with 10-20 clients.
Connecting the WLA-G54C up is a breeze. All you do is plug it into your wired network or ADSL/Cable modem router and connect the power adapter. From there on in it gets a little more complicated, as you need some basic network knowledge to get it up and running. The supplied CD installs the access point to the existing network, but during the installation a shortcut on the desktop is created that is supposed to give you quick access to the admin interface.
However, this doesn’t seem to work with the supplied CD as the IP address ends up being 0.0.0.0 instead of the IP address that the access point was allocated. This is easy enough to fix if you know what IP address was allocated, but that’s not always easy to find out. Hopefully this is something Buffalo will rectify on a future driver CD.
Despite this small snag the access point gets installed properly and does work. As long as you have a Buffalo wireless adaptor around you can get around this problem by installing Buffalo’s client manager software in which you can locate the access point. You can also change various settings here and load the web based admin interface of the access point.
Once this is loaded up you’re faced with two security configuration options, one for setting up a trusted Mac address list and one for WEP encryption settings. There is also a button that takes you in to the advanced settings. This is where you can get a bit lost in all the different settings and even cause the access point to stop working if you’re not careful. Luckily there is hard reset button at the bottom of the unit for this kind of situation.
It is a shame that Buffalo doesn’t provide a better printed manual as all the information about the various settings in the admin interface are provided in PDF format. Although most products now ship with electronic documentation, I still prefer having a detailed paper manual in front of me. The PDF file covers most of the available settings, but as it pertains to more than one product, some settings differ from the manual.
Most things are pretty self explanatory, but you might want to change the wireless channel and set up the Mac address filtering, as this limits the hacking potential of your access point. The advantage of using Mac address filtering over WEP is that you don’t loose any speed, but the data going across the airwaves is not encrypted which might be an issue if you’re transmitting sensitive information.
You also get a built in DHCP server, which can be switched off if you already use this feature on your router. This can however be useful, as you can set up you wireless network do use a different IP range from your wired network. You also have the option to use the WLA-G54C as a wireless bridge, but why you would want to do this is a bit of a mystery. However, as I discovered, the WLA-G54C can be found for very similar prices to that of Buffalo’s wireless bridge and if you can find it for less, then it’s a viable alternative.
One other security feature that’s worth enabling is to lock the configuration of the access point to the wired network, as this prevents anyone using a wireless device to make any changes to the access point. If you’re using the WLA-G54C exclusively with Buffalo 802.11g wireless adapters then there is a Turbo option in the access point that improves the data throughput rate and this can be handy if you plan to transfer large chunks of data across the airwaves.
Overall the installation and setup of the WLA-G54C was pretty straightforward apart from the initial issue during the software installation. Once set up and configured the WLA-G54C will just sit there and do what it’s supposed to do.
Buffalo supplies everything you need to get going in the box. There is of course a small power brick, a flat network cable, a desktop stand and a wall mount. It’s great to see a network cable in the box as you often have to find your own when purchasing a network product.
This review isn’t quite over yet as I had a play to see how good the range was and did some file transfer tests to gauge throughput. In general terms the range was excellent and I had no problems using a Buffalo USB adapter and a wireless bridge with the WLA-G54C access point. I had excellent to good reception everywhere around my flat and the transfer rate never dropped below 54Mbit. This is very impressive but if you find yourself having problems in your local environment Buffalo offers a booster antenna (the WLE-NDR) that is meant to boost the signal strength of the access point.
Unfortunately, connecting this up didn’t seem to make any noticeable difference, whether using the access point in Turbo mode, 802.11g or 802.11b configurations. Nor did it make any difference to two other wireless network adapters. However, this proves one thing and that is that the WLA-G54C features a very good internal antenna already.
In terms of performance, there is little to complain about, although the transfer test might vary depending on your setup. I used a Buffalo WLI-USB-G54 adapter to test the transfer speed, but to limit any interference factors this was done at about one meter range. This might not show real world performance, but it will give an indication of the speeds you can expect to see from an 802.11g wireless network.
I copied a 14.3MB file from one PC to another and you can see the results on the graphs on the following page. However, it’s still important to remember that even 802.11g doesn’t come close to a wired network in terms of speed, but it is a lot faster than the older 802.11b standard. The turbo setting in the access point did increase the performance somewhat, but not as much as I expected.
But more importantly I also used a Buffalo WLI-TX1-G54 wireless bridge with my Kiss DP-500 DVD/DivX player to see if it was possible to stream high-quality video over 802.11g. I can happily report that this is definitely the case and I played several DivX and DVD video streams over the wireless connection without any problems.
To sum it all up, the WLA-G54C from Buffalo is a great product and as long as you have a basic grasp of networking it won’t be too hard to set up, but let’s hope that Buffalo fixes the problem with the installation CD. The price is also reasonable at £81.07 inc VAT, but if you don’t already have a network infrastructure in place, it might be worth looking at an integrated router with wireless capabilities.
The Buffalo AirStation WLA-G54C is a compact, feature rich 802.11g wireless access point that should appeal to a wide range of users. The signal range is good and will make a solid basis for your wireless network needs.
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