- Review Price: £1879.99
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.
The controller offer a basic web management interface, which opens with a rundown on, the status of its PoE LAN ports, both radios, and which ports have active APs attached to them. Deployment really is very simple as you determine what wireless services are provided and you can choose from 802.11a, b and b/g operations. Select a channel and the data rates for it and activate rate adaptation if you wish. SSIDs are created next and for each one you associate a radio with it and pick from WEP or WPA/WPA2 encryption and add RADIUS server authentication if required. This is where the controller shines as it enables you to advertise multiple SSIDs in the same area with each one providing different services. SSID masking can be enabled, you can stop clients on one SSID from seeing those on another and also implement VLAN membership.
Monitoring really is a weak point as the web interface doesn’t provide any information about the clients associated with the APs. To gather this information you need to activate the controller’s Syslog service but even this isn’t particularly enlightening. We pointed the controller at a system running the Kiwi Syslog server where we were able to see our wireless clients along with their MAC address but nothing else of any value.
(centre)”’The NXC-8160 is designed to work with ZyXEL’s NWA-8500 lightweight APs. (£276 inc. VAT).”’(/centre)—-
To test the roaming feature we loaded up a Fujitsu Siemens LifeBook with a TRENDnet 802.11n wireless PC Card. We configured our test SSID with 802.11b/g services along WPA-PSK encryption and had no problems logging on. Our domain controller’s DHCP server happily handed out an IP address and we were able to access the LAN and Internet. We then set the laptop up to Ping the domain controller continuously and went for a wander round the offices. As we moved away from the AP in the lab we saw signal strength drop to around 25 per cent after which we were automatically switched to the next one. At no time did the wireless client complain and the Ping test only recorded a couple of timeouts at worst as we were moved from one AP to another. As far as we were concerned our roaming was, indeed, quite seamless.
We were very impressed with the NXC-8160 during testing as it makes wireless network deployment an absolute cake-walk. Monitoring facilities are almost non-existent and considering the APs are total lightweights we would have expected them to be more competitively priced but your clients will be able to wander freely under their umbrella with no loss of services.
”’(centre)The web interface opens with a status report on all connected APs and active radios.—-
(centre)For each radio you can pick from 802.11a, b and g and choose the channel plus supported rates.—-
(centre)Multiple SSIDs are supported and need to be assigned to the relevant radio.—-
(centre)There are plenty of options and security choices for each SSID.—-
(centre)Using the Syslog service we could monitor wireless clients but it’s not an ideal solution.—-
Score in detail
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