- Review Price: £531.69
The increasing popularity of wireless hotspots has been driven by a demand for businesses such as hotels, restaurants, public houses and coffee shops to provide their customers with on-demand Internet access. There are plenty of solutions on the market but the majority of these are aimed are larger companies with in-house IT support. Smaller businesses that want to charge for these facilities aren’t so lucky as there are very few solutions that specifically target these users.
SMC’s Wireless Hotspot package was one of the first to market last year and impressed us with its ease of use. Now ZyXEL has jumped on the bandwagon with its G-4100 which delivers a single boxed kit solution complete with access point and ticket printer. Price-wise, the ZyXEL option is slightly more costly than SMC’s so is it worth the extra outlay?
If you want your customers to know you have wireless services then ZyXEL is definitely the one to go for as the chunky access point (AP) with its big blue pulsing emblem will look a lot more obvious when it’s mounted on the wall. It comes equipped with four standard switched Fast Ethernet ports and the Ethernet WAN port means you’ll need a suitable external modem to front the Internet connection. Choose SMC if you want multiple Internet connections with failover and load balancing as its AP supports up to four ADSL or cable modems. Note also that unlike SMC the G-4100 only offers NAT protection and does not include an SPI firewall.
Installation is easy enough as a wizard is provided which steps deftly though setting up Internet access, the wireless AP, email redirection, billing and accounting. The kit includes a thermal printer which uses standard thermal till rolls and comes with a four metre cable so it can be positioned some distance from the AP. If you want to dish out wireless access without using a PC the buttons on its front panel offer a simple means of providing three different periods of billed access. However, the printer also has a PS/2 port which accepts an optional keypad if you want more buttons at your disposal.
The web interface is easy enough to use and when it comes to setting up billing you’ll quickly see how many features are provided. Authentication comes first and you can disable it if you’re the generous sort, use the AP’s internal user database or employ external primary and secondary RADIUS servers instead. For billing you choose the currency and the units along with their airtime value in hours and minutes. If you’re just using the printer you press the button that corresponds with the time they’ve purchased and it’ll print a ticket with a predefined username and password, the allotted time and the period they have to activate the account before it times out.
Once a user has logged in you can let them get on with their business or transport them straight to a portal page which could contain general information or advertisements. You can also specify up to 32 URLs that a user can access without having to log in first. Called walled gardens these appear underneath the login screen and can be used for a variety of purposes such as advertising from third parties where you may be able to rake in some more revenue. You can also redirect them to a URL that displays a user agreement for the services purchased and enforce a connection over HTTPS so their login credentials are encrypted.
There’s plenty of wizard based assistance and you can use the thermal printer or one attached to a PC for printing tickets.
The billing process is applied equally to LAN and WLAN users and on first loading a web browser they are taken to a login page where they enter the details on their ticket. Once past this phase Internet access is granted and a small window is provided with a countdown timer. If you want your LAN users to circumvent authentication you can use the pass-through feature and enter their IP or MAC addresses.
Unlike the SMC AP you can’t decide whether to stop wireless traffic from being passed to the LAN ports as the ZyXEL AP appears to implement this blocking by default with no option to turn it off. During testing we also came across a major problem and we strongly recommend upgrading to the latest firmware. Our AP was supplied with vZB.3 firmware and we found the unit would constantly reboot if a LAN port was in use. Definitely bizarre but upgrading to vZB.5 appeared to resolve this.
Wireless security is good with WEP and WPA encryption plus RADIUS authentication and MAC address filtering on the list. Web site access can be controlled but only by using a basic URL blocking list. Usefully, you can also set up basic bandwidth management by setting a limit on upstream and downstream capacities which are applied equally to all users.
It may be marginally more expensive than the SMC alternative and not quite as sophisticated but ZyXEL’s Hotspot bundle still looks a good alternative. Setting up billing for wireless Internet access is a simple process and the AP provides plenty of options for authentication with some smart advertising features
You can decide what air time value is to be assigned to the three buttons on the thermal printer.
Specific LAN users or address ranges can be allowed to bypass the authentication process.
Users are presented with a logon screen and once authenticated receive a countdown timer page as well.
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.