Hot hotspot gateways

Four products that deliver Wi-Fi guest access

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4ipnet Wireless Hotspot Gateway Kit: Advanced, pricey

The Wireless Hotspot Gateway (HSG260) from 4ipnet provides public and private 802.11n wireless access, targeted for mid-sized deployments. We reviewed their kit (HSG260-WTG2) that also includes the ticket printer (PRT200) and a dial-pad (SDS200W) to generate access codes for guests. The kit is available at $1,150 via 4ipnet, or the gateway separately at $600 and the dial-pad at $560, all with a one-year manufacturer warranty.

The hotspot gateway provides separate public and private access via two different wireless SSIDs and the ability to assign its four Ethernet ports to either network. Additional access points can be wired to the Ethernet ports or wirelessly connected via the quick/auto WDS link feature.

It features a fully customizable captive portal, supports predefined local user accounts, on-demand user account creation with the ticket printer, self-service credit card billing, and RADIUS authentication. It supports up to 500 local predefined user accounts and 2,000 on-demand accounts created by the ticket printer. The gateway, network, and hotspot settings are all highly configurable.

We found the installation of the hotspot kit to be easy. After logging into the web-based admin interface of the gateway you can run the Setup Wizard to configure a new password, WAN settings, and a local hotspot user account. Then you can access the main menu that categorizes the settings via five main tabs: System, Users, Network, Utilities and Status.

On the System tab you'll find sub-tabs for the general settings, including the disclaimer page and redirect URL. Other sub-tabs include WAN, WAN Traffic and IPv6 settings. The LAN Port Mapping sub-tab allows you to change the default Ethernet port assignments of the gateway. Additionally, the Service Zones sub-tab shows the general status and settings for the private and public zones. Plus it includes the general wireless settings of the gateway, such as the band, channel and channel width.

On the Users tab you'll find sub-tabs for authentication, scheduling, firewall, QoS, and custom routing settings. Many of the settings are policy-based to allow for fine-tuning among the different attributes: private vs. public users, user group assignments, time of day, etc.

On the Network tab you'll find sub-tabs for the following settings: NAT, privileges, IP monitoring, walled garden, proxy server, local DNS, DDNS, client mobility, and layer 2 firewall.

On the Utilities tab you'll find sub-tabs for configuring admin accounts, configuration back and restore, firmware upgrading, and SSL certificate configuration. Plus you'll find some web-based network tools, like Wake-on-LAN, Ping, and Trace Route.

On the last tab, Status, you'll find sub-tabs displaying status and detail information for the system, interfaces, routing, users and sessions, and DHCP leases. Plus you can configure SYSLOG and notifications via email and/or FTP.

We setup the ticket printer (PRT200 POS Printer) and dial-pad (SDS200W Device Server) that are included in the kit. Installation was easy; the ticket printer connects to the dial-pad via a serial cable and the dial-pad automatically connects via Wi-Fi to the hotspot gateway.

After configuring the on-demand authentication and billing settings, you can press the desired billing plan number on the dial-pad and hit Enter to print off the login details for the user. Included on the print-out is the username and password for the user, SSID for the hotspot, quota and expiration details, and price. And on the bottom is a QR code that users with smartphones or tablets can scan to automatically log them into the hotspot. Additionally, the 4ipnet printer had the best print quality among those we reviewed.

Overall, the 4ipnet Wireless Hotspot Gateway is an advanced solution that supports just about any hotspot type or requirement. Though it's the most expensive solution we reviewed, it's one of the most configurable and customizable. It can provide both a private and public network and supports quick/automatic WDS links for wirelessly connecting up to two additional access points. The ticket printer offers high quality printing for generating hotspot accounts and even auto-logon with a scanable QR code.

Selecting a Hotspot Solution

Out of the four hotspot solutions we reviewed, you should find one that will fit your needs and budget. If you're looking for something cheap and simple to offer free hotspot access, consider the GuestGate MK II. If you're looking for something a bit more advanced that provides billing and ticket printer support, consider the Guest Internet solution, but keep in mind that you must supply the access point for wireless access.

If you require an advanced hotspot solution, consider the ZyXEL or 4ipnet solutions we reviewed. Both support several billing plans and credit card processors and have compatible ticket printers. We found 4ipnet to be the most configurable and higher quality solution, but costs nearly 70% more than ZyXEL's solution that offers similar functionality.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer — keep up with his writings on Facebook. He's also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs, an on-site computer services company.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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