Review: New Gigabit Wi-Fi options for enterprise, SMB, SOHO

Meru hits enterprise sweet spot, EnGenius and ZyXEL target SMBs with 802.11ac access points.


Last year, we reviewed two 802.11ac access points and . Earlier this year, we reviewed five mobile 802.11ac devices. Now we take a look at five more 802.11ac devices that have hit the market: four access points and one wireless bridge.

The access points in this round of tests include the enterprise-class Meru AP832, the SMB-class APs EnGenius EAP1750H and ZyXEL NWA1123-AC, and the Amped Wireless APA20 designed for homes and small offices. Then there is the enterprise-class HP 501 Wireless Bridge.

For the access point performance tests, we used four 802.11ac clients: the Samsung Galaxy S5, ASUS AC1750 Dual-band Wireless PCI-E Adapter, MacBook Air, and the HP 501 Wireless Bridge. The ASUS client was included in the previous access point review, while the others were added to the test-bed this time.

+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD: MacBook Pro delivers blazing speed in Gigabit Wi-Fi test +

Though the HP 501 Wireless Bridge is one of the reviewed products, it can’t be tested in the same way as the access points because it’s essentially a wireless client. But you can get an idea of its performance by comparing the results from the various clients in the access point tests.

We found the average maximum throughput speeds for the access points were in the range of 217 to 442Mbps. On the low end was the Amped Wireless APA20, one of the access points that only supports two spatial streams; all the other access points support three streams. On the high end was the EnGenius AP, also beating the throughput speeds of the Cisco and Ubiquiti access points tested last year, when comparing the results from the ASUS client tests. (Watch the slideshow version of this story.)

Net results access points

Here are the individual results:

Meru AP832

The AP832 from Meru is an enterprise-class access point priced at $1,295, which we tested using its MC1550 wireless controller ($1,295). The access point has two dual-band radios, supporting up to two concurrent 5GHz three spatial streams. This gives you maximum theoretical data rates per radio of 450Mbps with 802.11n or 1.3Gbps with 802.11ac.

We reviewed the AP832e model with six dual-band 4/6dBi gain omnidirectional antennas. They also offer the AP832i model with 3/4dBi gain internal omnidirectional antennas.

The Meru access point has a look and feel similar to other traditional enterprise or business class access points. It’s all white and has a front/top cover that curves down towards the sides and creates a lip around the main body of the access point. It includes three different mounting brackets: 15/16” T-bar & wall-mount combo adapter, 9/16” T-bar adapter, and flat-surface wall-mount bracket.

The access point is about 8 inches square and 2 inches high. It weighs almost two pounds with a mounting bracket. On the top of the front/top of the access point you see just one LED status light. On the back/bottom you’ll find a DC input jack, one gigabit Ethernet port with PoE, and a second gigabit Ethernet port. There’s also a USB port for future use, possibly for WAN backhaul.

The wireless controller’s initial setup must be made using the command-line interface (CLI) via a serial connection to the access point on a laptop or computer. From the CLI, you follow the prompts to set basic settings, like the country, hostname, password, and network connectivity. This is a straightforward process. Once complete you can then access the CLI via an SSH2 connection or use the web-based GUI.

On the web-based interface we found the typical enterprise-level look and feel, settings, and user experience. It supports centralized, distributed, mesh, bridged, and VPN tunneled modes. It also supports both implicit and explicit beamforming, which was enabled during our performance testing.

Overall the Meru AP832 is a solid access point. Though it's priced higher than the other two access points in this review, it provides more enterprise features and functionality. One major difference is that it offers two dual-band radios, allowing the ability to run both radios with 802.11ac. Though Meru didn’t blow us away in our performance testing, its access point could possibly be tuned for better results and may also be able to handle multiple simultaneous clients better than the other access points.

EnGenius EAP1750H

The 802.11ac 3x3 Dual Band Ceiling-Mount Wireless Access Point (EAP1750H) from EnGenius is priced at $399 and is designed for SMB environments. It includes one radio for 2.4GHz and another for 5GHz. Both support up to three spatial streams, giving you maximum theoretical data rates of 450Mbps with 802.11n or 1.3Gbps with 802.11ac. The access point doesn’t require a wireless controller, but could be managed with their free SNMP-based EZ Controller software.

Like the ZyXEL access point, this EnGenius access point has internal antennas. Combined with the 4 dBi 2.4 GHz antenna and the 5 dBi 5 GHz antenna, the access point offers high transmit RF power of 28 dBm for 2.4 GHz and 26 dBm on 5GHz. It also features their beamforming technology called Quantum Beam and Band Steering functionality to help ensure dual band clients utilize the 5GHz band.

Also, like the ZyXEL access point, this EnGenius model has the smoke detector look. However, it is slightly larger in diameter at 6 ½ inches and slightly smaller in height at 1 ½ inches. It is also very lightweight at about half a pound.

The access point is all white in color and on the top/front are LED status lights. On the bottom/back you’ll find just a power input jack and PoE Ethernet jack. It comes with a simple mounting bracket, t-rail mounts, and screws.

The installation and configuration of the EnGenius access point was straightforward. Similar to any other non-managed access point, you access the web-based GUI via a default IP to configure the network and wireless settings. However, it could be a bit more convenient if the default IP wasn’t a popular router IP of The GUI is very simplistic and easy to use, but I didn’t find any initial configuration wizard to help set the basic settings or any on-screen help to explain settings.

In the web-based GUI we found the typical business-class access point features, such as multiple BSSIDs and VLAN support. It provides QoS functionality, supporting 802.11e/WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) and the ability to offer varying degrees of bandwidth limits, but it doesn’t allow manual configuring of WMM categories like voice, video, or background.

In addition to the normal access point mode, it can serve as a client bridge or Wireless Distribution System (WDS) access point or bridge. It also includes a potentially convenient guest network feature. It allows you to quickly and easily enable a guest SSID for 2.4GHz and/or 5GHz and specify the guest network subnet and DHCP details.

In all, the EnGenius EAP1750H access point is a great choice for SMBs. It’s the fastest access point we’ve seen yet and is great that EnGenius provides free access point management software.


The 802.11n/ac Ceiling Mount PoE Access Point (NWA1123-AC) from ZyXEL is priced at $199 and is designed for SMB environments. It includes one radio for 2.4GHz and another for 5GHz. Both support up to two spatial streams, giving you maximum theoretical data rates of 300Mbps with 802.11n and 866Mbps with 802.11ac. The access point doesn’t require a wireless controller, but could be managed with its SNMP-based tools offered via their Enterprise Network Center, which you can purchase.

This is a round ceiling or wall mount access point with the smoke detector look. It measures about 5 inches in diameter and about 2 inches in height. It’s a very lightweight device, at about half a pound.

This ZyXEL access point has internal antennas: 3dBi gain for 2.4Ghz and 5dBi for 5GHz. On the top/front of the access point is a simple LED status light. On the bottom/back you’ll find just a power input jack and Ethernet. It comes with a simple mounting bracket and screws.

Installation and configuration was straightforward. It was similar to any other non-managed access point: it has a default IP that you must connect to via the web-based GUI in order to configure the desired network and wireless settings. Though the GUI itself is attractive and user-friendly, I didn’t find any initial configuration wizard to help set the basic settings or any on-screen help to explain settings.

The ZyXEL includes all the usual business-class access point features, such as multiple BSSIDs, VLAN support, and QoS. Among the usual access point mode, this ZyXEL access point also supports wireless client and repeater modes. However, we didn’t find any quick and easy way to setup wireless guest SSIDs like similar access points.

We found the ZyXEL NWA1123-AC access point to be an economical option for SMBs. Though it can’t provide the throughput rates the other access points can, as it only supports two spatial streams, we found it to be a solid access point. It lacks true beamforming as well, but we were told by the vendor that it does have some type of built-in RF performance optimizer.

Amped Wireless APA20

The High Power 700mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi Access Point (APA20) from Amped Wireless is priced at $199.99 and is designed for home and small office environments. Its dual-band radio supports up to two spatial streams, giving you maximum theoretical data rates of 300Mbps with 802.11n and 866Mbps with 802.11ac. Unlike most other access points, this one also has a 4-port gigabit Ethernet switch and a USB 2.0 port.

To help achieve maximum performance, the Amped Wireless AP features a total of 10 amplifiers: two 2.4GHz amplifiers, four 5.0GHz amplifiers, and four low noise amplifiers. It also has three high-gain 5dBi antennas. One antenna dedicated for both bands and then the third antenna is dual-band.

This Amped Wireless AP has a look and feel much like a home or small office router. It has a pretty slick appearance; a black bottom case with the vent holes showing in the front and a smooth reflective plastic top covering with curving sides. The only gripe here is that the plastic top covering retains oily or dirty fingerprints and smudges well.

The unit measures about 9 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and an inch tall, excluding the antennas. It’s relatively light-weight at just over 1 pound. In addition to setting it on a flat table or surface, it can be sat upright with the included stand or mounted on the wall using the built-in screw holes on the bottom.

On the front of the unit you’ll find status lights for each of the ports or interfaces. The back of the unit looks much like a typical wireless router. However, instead of an Internet/WAN port, it’s labeled Network. You’ll also find four Ethernet ports to connect wired devices and a USB 2.0 port to plug in a USB drive to share on the network. Additionally, there’s a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button.

The setup and configuration process for the Amped Wireless AP was very quick and easy. You plug the access point into the router or network with DHCP enabled and it gets its IP address automatically. It even sets a default security passphrase of “wireless”. Though it’s not a complex or secure passphrase, you can easily change it via the web-based interface.

To access the web-based interface of the unit you can enter a URL instead of having to find and enter its IP address—very convenient. You can hit the Basic Setup button to access the initial setup wizard, which helps you set the date/time, SSIDs, and security passphrases. We found the web-based interface to be user-friendly and helpful. Although not very apparent, on each page you can click the Helpful Tips shortcut to read more about the settings and what they do.

For each band you can create four additional SSIDs, which they refer to as Guest Networks. You can set each SSID with separate wireless band, security, and throughput.

We found the USB drive sharing easy to setup and configure. Simply plug in a drive and it’s automatically available as a Windows share on the network, similar to shared folders.

Overall, the Amped Wireless APA20 is a great choice for home and small office networks. Though it scored last in our performance tests, it offers great features. The integrated Ethernet switch offers connectivity for additional wired devices and the USB port provides a simple NAS solution. Plus it supports multiple/guest SSIDs and offers on-screen help when configuring the access point via the web-based interface.

AP performance chart

HP 501 Wireless Client Bridge

This device isn’t an access point, but rather a wireless client bridge. The HP 501 Wireless Client Bridge is priced at $369 and is targeted for business and enterprise environments. It includes a dual-band radio supporting up to three spatial streams, giving you maximum theoretical data rates of 450Mbps with 802.11n or 1.3Gbps with 802.11ac.

It allows you to connect one Ethernet client device (or up to 15 with a switch) or an RS-232 serial device to the wireless LAN, giving wired-only devices or legacy wireless devices modern Wi-Fi connectivity.

The form factor of the HP wireless bridge differs from the access points we reviewed. It’s all white with an industrial look and feel due to the metal casing and exposed screws. It’s square-shaped, about 5 inches tall, 6 inches long, and 1 ½ inches wide. It weighs in at about 2 pounds.

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