Wireless routers integrate almost everything you need to set up a small wireless LAN, saving money and reducing the box count for clients.
By Alan R. Frank
Wireless routers are the Swiss Army knives of wireless networking, typically combining a wireless access point, a router, and a firewall. The wireless router is essentially an entire wireless LAN—the infrastructure side of it, at least—in one compact package. It’s the most popular way to set up a WLAN in a home, and many small businesses as well. By integrating all or most of what you’ll need to set up a small-area WLAN, a wireless router can save money while dramatically cutting the box count—making it a nice solution when the area to be served is small enough that one device can provide complete RF coverage.
But wireless routers aren’t for everyone. Businesses large enough to need multiple access points (APs) typically opt for a stand-alone router, stand-alone APs, and often, a WLAN controller. Peter Newton, director of SMB product marketing for Netgear, observes: “If you’re looking at a 10-person office or less, the tendency to use consumer-grade or retail-purchased wireless firewalls is much higher. As you get to maybe 20- to 25-person offices, people typically are no longer interested in having that wireless functionality integrated into their security device, in large part because the security device starts getting put into a wiring closet, which is not the right place to put an access point.”
Gartner principal analyst Tim Zimmerman also notes that businesses that must comply with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards may need intrusion detection capability. For that, you’ll need stand-alone APs and a WLAN controller that supports intrusion detection and/or prevention.
While the majority of WLAN routers are targeted to consumers, there are a few models designed for the small business market—including Cisco’s RV 120W and the Netgear ProSafe SRXN3205. Businesses are likely to appreciate and/or require additional security features, such as virtual private network (VPN) capabilities that allow employees to securely connect to the LAN from the Internet.
The following is just a sampling of the latest WLAN router offerings. All pricing in the accompanying spec chart is manufacturer suggested retail.
Buffalo Technology WZR-HP-G300NH
Buffalo Technology Inc. has embraced the DD-WRT open source firmware for wireless routers, and is offering it in several of its products, including this one. According to the company, DD-WRT adds a number of higher-end features not found on all wireless routers, including VLAN tagging and support for multiple service set identifiers (SSIDs). This WLAN router can be easily switched between wireless router, access point, or WLAN extender modes. A USB port allows connecting an external USB drive for simple NAS (network-attached storage) functionality. www.buffalotech.com
Cisco RV 120W Wireless-N VPN Firewall
Cisco classifies the RV 120W as a business-grade product, as exemplified by its built-in IPSec VPN endpoint capability. The business-class routers are also tested extensively with various session initiation protocol (SIP) implementations—important for businesses using Voice over IP (VoIP) with SIP trunking. This router supports both IPv4 and IPv6. www.cisco.com
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D-Link Xtreme N 450 Dual-Band Gigabit Router DIR-665
One of the few WLAN routers supporting three spatial streams, the DIR-665 from D-Link Corp. has a rated throughput (at the physical layer) of 450Mbps (compared with 300Mbps for two-stream devices). Connect a USB printer or storage device to this unit’s USB port and it can be shared by network users. www.dlink.com
Netgear ProSafe Wireless-N VPN Firewall SRXN3205
ProSafe is Netgear’s business-class product line. This unit supports virtual LANs (VLANs) and up to eight SSIDs. It functions as a VPN endpoint for both IPSec and SSL VPNs (with IPSec being used for site-to-site security, and SSL for mobile clients that need secure access to the site). www.netgear.com
TRENDnet 450Mbps Wireless-N Gigabit Router TEW-691GR
Supporting three spatial streams, the TEW-691GR has a rated throughput (at the physical layer) of 450Mbps. For those companies that have in-house Web servers or other Internet-facing servers (FTP, email, and so on), the firewall supports a “demilitarized zone” (DMZ); users on the Internet can reach servers in the DMZ without having to traverse the firewall. www.trendnet.com
ALAN R. FRANK (email@example.com) is a networking consultant and freelance writer covering networking and communications technologies.