It's too early for 11g
COMPUTERWORLD - APRIL 2003
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Today's 802.11g hardware may add speed, but it also adds headaches

A FEW wireless vendors have decided to get a jump on the competition by releasing 802.11g equipment prior to the specification actually being ratified. By keeping their options open via software, these manufacturers hope to snap up a large chunk of the available 11g market now while still offering their customers full 11g compatibility, once the spec is approved, via firmware upgrades. This gave us a chance to get an early look at 11g, in the form of two consumer kits, before enterprise gear is widely available.

We examined two 802.11g access kits from Linksys Group and D-Link Systems. Linksys sent us three WPC54G Wireless-G notebook adapters, two WAP54G Wireless-G access points, and one WRT54G Wireless-G broadband router. D-Link sent its DI-624 AirPlusXtremeG wireless broadband router as well as two DWL-G650 AirPlusXtremeG access cards.

Both broadband routers provide the same basic feature set, noncertified support for 802.11g, standard support for 802.11b, up to 128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption, four autosensing 10/100 ports, and NAT. Both also provide a certain amount of content filtering based on conditions such as MAC (media access control) address, IP address, and URLs or domain names. However, neither has managed to make this filtering configuration overly intuitive even in their wizard interfaces, and both have aimed it directly at the home user rather than the corporate user.

This doesn't mean these routers are entirely useless in an enterprise setting, though they would be relegated to remote office scenarios, especially for workgroups that frequently move

or are located together only temporarily. For such situations, both companies have also included VPN pass-through capabilities-again aimed at the home telecommuter, but with enough horsepower to support a local workgroup if the need arose. You might also use this multisession IPsec support to implement roaming, but we feel there are better centralised solutions for this on the market today, such as those offered by BlueSocket and NetMotion Wireless.

Given these limitations on the router products, we decided to concentrate our testing more on access-point functionality and how they would integrate into existing network infrastructure. A key consideration is the issue of placement. Unlike other networking equipment, wireless access points can't be hidden away in a switching closet. As such, the form factor of these devices needs to be both attractive and versatile.

Linksys lived up to these requirements, providing their not-unattractive typical purple and grey case that can be flat or wall mounted. If set up flat, the case can stack with other Linksys networking devices, such as workgroup hubs or their new wireless range-extender. D-Link's router case (which is very similar to their access-point box) is also attractive and has wall-mount capability, though we found Linksys's device much easier and faster to mount.