An Introduction To The Wireless Access Point
Recommend this product?
Are you new to wireless home networking? Not sure what you need to get started? In most cases, you need a wireless router, which combines a wireless access point with a port-level NAT router. This allows you to share one Internet IP address among multiple devices and provides a basic level of security. If you're looking a wireless router, my current recommendation is the SMC WBR14T-G. Wireless access points, such as this D-Link, are designed for situations where one needs to add wireless access to an existing network - note that some DSL modems have built-in routers and are perfect candidates for a wireless access point. Wireless routers can be setup as plain access points, however it is somewhat more difficult, as they need to be configured "just right" and be assigned a static IP address in most cases.
My Project - How The D-Link Was Chosen
Okay, so I was asked by several people at my church to setup a Wi-Fi "hotspot" which met our needs and provided security and public Internet access. The security was accomplished by using a software program called ChilliSpot running on an Ubuntu Linux machine for authentication, and IPTABLES for access control Samba to create a bridged file server. All that was left was for the actual wireless access points to be chosen and RF surveys done to determine the necessary number.
In the short term, I'm not anticipating huge numbers of users, and cheap consumer APs can be bought far cheaper than enterprise-class APs with better range and more users. In other words, using MORE less expensive APs was the better option. The choice came down to a Motorola AP and this D-Link for one reason and one alone - they were cheap :) Like I said in my review of the D-Link DI-524, D-Link sells on price. They're dirt cheap. I got one of these units for about $42 US. That's a great price on an AP.
My final RF site plans call for four of these units to be installed in the church, however only one is currently installed. An additional two units may be installed in the more distant future to cover additional gaps. Due to support headaches with the DI-524, I've seriously reconsidered my use of this product to finish the deployment, but I'm worried about whether a competing product will provide seamless roaming. Regardless, I may be ordering 3 APs of another brand to finish the installation and simply locating this D-Link in an area where it won't be overlapping adjacent APs anyways (in our sanctuary, then covering the whole youth and children's area with a competing product)
How well does it work?
The D-Link unit in question works quite well and provides surprisingly reasonable coverage for a consumer-level access point. The little stubby 2.2dBi antenna could surely be replaced to gain even better horizontal plane coverage, but I've not done so - instead choosing greater coverage between floors and the use of more access points. The unit has yet to show signs of overloading, but as we've not advertised the service's availability at all, I don't believe that we've exceeded 4 or 5 simultaneous users. The real test will be if it gets popular, we're planning to make additional content available in the future and that might just overload it. We'll see what happens.
One unfortunate issue I've encountered is that if I restart the ChilliSpot Daemon the router totally locks up. Not just can't get an IP, but can't even connect. This is likely as much Chilli's fault as the AP though the AP should, in my opinion, recover more gracefully. If the whole computer is restarted, everything is fine. If Chilli is restarted, nothing short of a power cycle will get this access point running again. This was a hassle during initial setup and configuration, but is unlikely to ever prove more than a rare and slight annoyance in the future.
What Features Does It Offer?
Well, it's not a wireless router, so there are no routing features to compare. Compared to a router, this is a relatively simple device, and it's harder for a company to get an access point WRONG. Certainly, quality and compatibility wise it blows away the DI-524 router. In the shipping firmware, WEP and WPA-TKIP security (both PSK and RADIUS) are supported; firmware 1.02 adds WPA2-AES security. Therefore, this AP is ready for the security needs of even the most demanding users - the US Government. I haven't tested these security features as we're running the wireless link unencrypted - the hotspot server and ChilliSpot are our security measures.
The transmit power and receiver sensitivity are only mediocre, unfortunately. This means that this is not a unit designed to serve large areas. Units designed to serve large areas cost a lot more, hence why I'm using more of these things in a cell-type setup. Even the most powerful units can only cover a few rooms in our installation due to our concrete walls, so more of these is cheaper and still provides better coverage.
Installation and Configuration - OOBE
In most networking product reviews, I would place this section near the beginning, but as this is a product targeting a somewhat more sophisticated user than a wireless router I have saved it until after the more important stuff. Overall, it's quite good. Physically the unit looks almost identical to the DI-524 except it has less LEDs and only one RJ-45 jack. To configure this unit, you must first connect to it wirelessly, assign your wireless card a static IP in it's default range, then go to it's configuration page. My recommendation is to setup your security, SSID, and anything else requiring a restart. Then either enable it's DHCP client to automatically get an IP address (what I did) or assign it a static IP address on your network. Make sure you change your computer's network settings back to what they were (likely DHCP). Then just plug the AP into your network and you're good to go. Relatively simple and easy, but since it does require (like any AP) some changes to your network configuration for initial setup, it's not the plug-n-play ease of most wireless routers. That just goes with the territory and is not a product weakness.
Installation is convenient, including vertical stands, rubber feet for horizontal installation, and wall mounting screws and anchors. Whatever your installation method of choice, the DI-524 will prove to include what you need for a basic install.
Unlike a wireless router, a wireless access point does not have nearly as much to say about it. This unit provides surprisingly decent range for it's class, is reasonably stable and seems well-built. Initial setup is quite easy and the unit performs well. Questionable D-Link support plus it's inability to recover from a restart of the Chilli daemon (which is what's giving it DHCP) without a hard reset is why I must give the unit only four stars. And yes, most likely, I'll proceed with using additional D-Link DWL-G700APs to complete our installation. But the support nightmare with my DI-524 will make sure I test the unit out thoroughly during the return period and that I assume the warranty to be non-existant and consider the unit disposable.
Amount Paid (US$): 43
Driver Availability: Other