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Netgear WC7600 Review, A Premium Wireless Controller to Manage Hundreds of Access Points

People expect WiFi everywhere. Putting up a guest Access Point at your local Starbucks (one will handle all the slow-drinking laptop and tablet users in any one store) requires nothing special. Installing and managing scores to hundreds of access points, one in every room of a school, hotel, apartment complex, or dormitory or the like can be a Grande problem for resellers. Until they discover Netgear's new WC7600 Premium Wireless Controller, that is.

The 1U WC7600 has a single Ethernet port on the front of the box. That's it. Some may argue it should be on the back of the unit, but either way, you know immediately this is a controller, not the distribution point. In our test set, Netgear sent along a ProSAFE Plus 16-port Gigabit Switch with PoE. There are several models, but we received the JGS516PE with eight PoE (Power over Ethernet) ports and eight regular Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Setup and Configuration

The private Internet address block of 192.168.0.xxx is used by default on the various pieces of gear for the wireless distribution setup. This meant reconfiguring the admin workstation to 192.168.0.10 in order to reach the WC7600 admin webserver at 192.168.0.250.

Topographically, the ProSAFE Gigabit Switch model JGS516PE connected to our existing switch, the WC7600, and from that to admin PC. Two wireless access points, new Netgear WN370 models, were plugged into PoE ports on the switch.

Starting up, we got to the admin login screen on the WC7600, put in Netgear's default admin username and password for password (the system didn't force us to change the password immediately, which it probably should), and we opened the admin server pages. General stuff first – set the wireless controller name, and time zone and NTP server (Netgear has one at time-a.netgear.com). And we changed the IP address from the clunky 192.168.0.250 to 10.0.1.44 to match our network. Reboot, reconnect to the admin link at the new IP address, and off you go.

Next order of business required us to enable the DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol) server on the WC7600 in order to use DHCP Option 43. This is a recent vendor specific option that downloads the certificate needed to support HTTPS and a secure TLS (Transport Layer Security) connection with the server, and support registration and authentication. Started by Microsoft's Lync Server 2010, Option 43 is used by Cisco Aironet Access Points and Aruba Networks along with some others, including, obviously, Netgear. Access points usually have licenses, and this helps authenticate and track them.

First, change the WC7600s IP address to fit your network. For this test, we converted everything to fit our existing internal network IP address range of 10.0.1.x. To enable DHCP Option 43, we went to the Configuration tab -> System -> DHCP Server page and clicked the "Add" button on the bottom of the page. We're adding DHCP support for VLAN networks here.

Then we restarted our admin session after the system updated, and plugged in our WN370 Wireless Access Points, connected over PoE to the Gigabit switch. But we had to find them to manage them, so we went to Access Point -> Discovery, left the Out of Factory and L2 Subnet APs radio button checked, and clicked Next. The WC7600 searched the network for the APs, found them, and we added them to the Managed AP list.

Once the APs are found, WiFi details like SSID must be setup. That's under Configuration -> Profile -> Basic -> Radio. The defaults look OK in the supplied template, although we changes the name to something catchier than NG_11g-01. For Network Authentication, the default is Open System, which would be useful for hotels for example. All the major authentication options are available, including Radius support. You can add multiple profiles to address multiple security needs. A school might have a guest profile, a basic encryption option like Shared Key to support students, and WAP2 with Radius for faculty and staff.

About the Author

James E. Gaskin's picture

JAMES E. GASKIN is a ChannelPro contributing editor and former reseller based in Dallas.

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