Review: Early Wave 2 Wi-Fi access points show promise

We review 5 products suitable for everything from SMBs to enterprise networks.

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Extreme Networks AP3935

The Extreme Networks AP3935i is ceiling/wall mount enterprise-class access point. The unit must be deployed via ExtremeCloud or an on-premise controller. They claim this unit can provide theoretical data rates of up to 800Mbps in the 2.4-GHz band and up to 1,733Mbps in 5GHz, giving you up to 2,533Mbps of simultaneous throughput. However, with this unit we only saw up to 384.7Mbps of simultaneous throughput. After averaging all the speed tests, it performed the slowest.

This unit has a white and gray color scheme: a gray metal bottom with a white plastic top cover. It’s a curved square shaped unit, measuring about 8.5 inches wide on each side and about 2.5 inches high. The model we tested has integrated antennas, however, they do offer a model with external antenna support.

+ MORE ON EXTREME: Extreme Networks CEO touts open SDN strategy, robust wireless as key assets in changing net market +

On the top of the access point you see the status LED lights for the power, both LAN connections, and both Wi-Fi radios. On the bottom you find the three Ethernet ports: the main PoE LAN port, an secondary LAN port for Link Aggregation, and a console port. There’s also a pinhole for restoring factory defaults and a power input. Plus there’s two screw holes for simple mounting.

Along with the unit comes quick reference guides for mounting and powering on the access point and for connecting it to the ExtremeCloud controller. Mounting brackets for flat wall or ceiling and drop ceiling t-bar mounting are separately offered.

Keep in mind that although the firmware for the AP3935 is the same whether you are managing them via ExtremeCloud or via their on-premise controller, the features that are available are different depending upon the management solution you choose. Some advanced features available when using the on-premise controller are not yet available on ExtremeCloud, though they are planned to be added in coming releases. These features include, but aren’t limited to, additional wireless modes (mesh, WDS, bridging, etc), 802.1X supplicant, and rogue access point detection (WIDS and WIPS). Since it was suggested by the vendor to use ExtremeCloud during our evaluation, that’s the GUI and settings we discuss. However, we do list features in the access point comparison table that are only available when using the on-premise controller.

feature comparison Stephen Sauer/Network World

When logging into ExtremeCloud for the first time, you’re prompted to set your location, time, initial SSID, and wireless password. The access point should automatically detect ExtremeCloud and register, otherwise you can register to your account online or with their Android or iOS app by scanning the unit’s QR code. We evaluated this unit using the access point firmware Version 10.11.01.0210 and ExtremeCloud version 3.11.02-25.

ExtremeCloud’s web GUI has a menu on the left. The first tab is the Dashboard, showing charts of various stats, like for number of clients, throughput, top access points, top clients, and application categories for client traffic.

The next tab from the menu is Device Groups, which lets you assign SSIDs, access points, and switches to different groups to support configuration via groups.

The Networks tab shows a list of the SSIDs configured and clicking on an SSID lets you view and change the settings, as well as see charts on throughput and usage. Though you can enable a captive portal, it must be an external captive portal.

Under the Devices tab, you can choose Access Points or Switches to see a list of the devices and to view or change their settings.

On the Clients tab, you can view a list of all the clients on the networks. Clicking a client from that list gives you quite a bit of information, including charts on its usage.

Under the Policy tab, you can configure roles, service classes, VLANs, and data rate restrictions.

Under the Admin tab, you can define additional admin accounts, view and search the logs, and some other general settings.

On every page of the ExtremeCloud’s web GUI you’ll see your email address in the upper-right corner. You can click that and hit Online Help to bring up the documentation in another browser tab, which takes you to the description of the settings for the page you’re on.

Linksys LAPAC2600

This Linksys LAPAC2600 is a ceiling/wall mount access point, targeted towards SMBs, which also supports WDS and workgroup bridge modes. It has an internal wireless controller feature, which they refer to as clustering, supporting up to 16 access points. The company claims the access point provides theoretical data rates of up to 800Mbps in the 2.4-GHz band and up to 1,733Mbps in 5GHz, giving you up to 2,533Mbps of simultaneous throughput. In our testing, we saw a simultaneous throughput max of 753.1Mbps in 5GHz, the highest we saw in all the testing, placing this unit in first place.

This Linksys unit has a white hexagon-shaped case, measuring about 9.5 inches around and about 2 inches tall. On the front/top is a LED status light. On the back/bottom of the unit you’ll find two Ethernet ports: one for the main network port with PoE support and another for link aggregation. Plus there’s the reset button and power input.

+ MORE ON LINKSYS: Linksys WRT1900AC Wi-Fi router: Faster than anything we've tested +

Along with the unit comes a mounting bracket, quick start guide, CD with full documentation, and a power adapter.

We evaluated this Linksys unit with firmware Version 1.0.01.000. When you plug it into the LAN, it will first try to get an IP via DHCP. If that doesn’t work, it will then assign itself a default IP. When you access the web GUI, you’re met by the System Summary page. You can then access the remaining pages of the System Status tab on the menu to the left: LAN Status, Wireless Status, Wireless Clients, Statistics, and Log View.

The next tab, Quick Start, gives you a setup wizard that helps you set the admin credentials, host name and time, IP configuration, and basic wireless and VLAN settings.

The next tab, Configuration, is where you find the majority of the settings. The Administration menu is where you’d configure the settings for the admin access and accounts, time, logging, and the access point’s LED lights. In the LAN menu you find all the basic LAN settings, plus their 802.1X supplicant feature. The Wireless menu contains all the usual settings, including rogue access point detection, WDS, and workgroup bridge features.

The Captive Portal menu is where you can configure the optional web-based authentication for the Wi-Fi users. They can be authenticated via usernames and passwords defined in the local database or via RADIUS, or no password to simply display terms and conditions. The ACL menu allows you to define access control lists to better regulate traffic, which can be defined on a per SSID basis. The Cluster menu allows you to configure the internal wireless controller functionality, which supports central management of up to 16 access points.

The Maintenance tab is where you find the firmware upgrade and configuration backup, restore, and reset options. Additionally, there’s simple ping testing, packet capturing, and logging tools.

The last tab, Support, simply gives you to link the main support webpage for Linksys. However, on every main page of the web GUI there’s a Help link in the upper-right corner. Clicking it pops up a window with a description of the settings for the page you’re currently on.

How we tested the performance of 802.11ac Wave 2 access points

We used IxChariot to run throughput tests on the access points with three wireless test clients: Macbook Air (MD760LL/A), Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, and three Linksys AC600 (WUSB6100M) USB adapters.

The Macbook and Galaxy S5 (both 802.11ac Wave 1) were tested with each access point individually, while the three Linksys AC600 (802.11ac Wave 2) USB adapters were used to simultaneously test with three different PCs to test MU-MIMO performance.

On the access points, I enabled WPA2/AES security and auto channel-width (or set to 80MHz if auto wasn’t available), and set the 5Ghz channel to 153. The wired connections between the access points and testing endpoints were made via Gigabit Ethernet with CAT-5 cables.

During the testing, the distance between the access points and wireless test clients was about 20 feet with one wall and hollow wood door blocking the line of sight. The ceiling mount access points (Cisco, Extreme, and Linksys) were placed near the ceiling pointing down and the other access points (Amped and ASUS) were positioned in the same spot with their antennas pointing up.

I ran the tests with the IxChariot High_Performance_Throughput.scr script for one minute with each client in the 5GHz band. I simultaneously tested both the TCP uplink (client to AP) and downlink (AP to client), which I add to account for the total simultaneous throughput. For the MU-MIMO test with the three Linksys AC600 USB adapters, I added each of the three client’s simultaneous throughput. I ran each access point/client test three times and report the average of those three tests here for both the average throughput and maximum throughput during the one minute runs.

I should note that the results from the MU-MIMO tests didn’t meet our expectations for any of the access points tested, which could be an issue with the Linksys AC600 USB adapters used on the test clients. They were the only Wave 2 802.11ac USB adapters on the market at the time, thus the only ones we could use for our testing. One reason the results might be lower is that we simultaneously tested the downlink and uplink. Remember, MU-MIMO only helps on the downlink side (access point to the client). However, even the additional downlink-only tests I performed (not documented here) showed MU-MIMO going actually slower for most of the access points than regular SU-MIMO connections.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer. Through On Spot Techs he provides Wi-Fi design and site surveying services. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service.

This story, "Review: Early Wave 2 Wi-Fi access points show promise" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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