Review: Gigabit Wi-Fi access points for SMBs

Cisco, D-Link, Edimax deliver impressive speeds, solid management tools

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Last year we reviewed five of the first Gigabit Wi-Fi access points to hit the market. This time around, we’re testing three new entrants: the Cisco WAP371, D-Link’s DAP-2695, and the Edimax WAP-1750.

Each product is a three-stream (3x3) 802.11ac access point designed for small and midsized business (SMB) environments and up. Each includes a built-in controller to centrally manage multiple access points.

The Cisco unit cost the most and was the slowest in our throughput tests, but it was also the easiest to set up and came packed with useful features. The WAP371 offers a setup wizard, built-in controller for up to eight access points, great captive portal functionality, band steering, and packet capture. (Captive portal functionality is used to set up guest users, band steering helps with performance and packet capture is useful for troubleshooting.)

Priced $10 less than the Cisco access point, the D-Link access point offered good throughput results, a built-in controller supporting up to 32 access points, band steering, and advanced security functionality. However, the product lacked a setup wizard. (Watch the slideshow version of this review.)

We found the Edimax unit to be the least expensive and fastest and had a built-in controller supporting up to eight access points, plus it had an internal RADIUS server. While including some relatively unique features, such as Power Over Ethernet (PoE) and a built-in beeper to help locate the access point, it lacked two fairly common features: band steering and captive portal. However, Edimax says both are coming in the next update.

wi fi net results

Here are the individual reviews:

Cisco WAP371

The Cisco WAP371 is targeted for small-to-midsize business (SMB) environments and is priced at $399. It contains one three-stream (3x3) 5GHz radio, supporting theoretical data rates up to 1,300Mbps for 802.11ac and 450Mbps for 802.11n, and one two-stream (2x2) radio for 2.4GHz. The recommended number of active users is 64 per access point or up to 40 users per band/radio.

This Cisco unit has a white plastic body, which is square shaped with curved corners, measuring about 9 inches long and wide and about 1.7 inches tall. At just under 2 lbs, it’s lighter than the metal D-Link unit, but heavier than the Edimax unit. Unlike the other two APs, there are no visible antennas, but there’s two 2dBi antennas inside the unit. On the top/front there are three basic LED status lights.

Cisco access point

On one side, there’s a PoE Gigabit LAN port, a reset button, optional AC power input, and a power button.

The ceiling/wall mounting kit, Ethernet cable, Quick Start Guide, and Product CD are included with the unit. The AC adapter and a PoE injector are sold separately.

The default IP configuration for this unit is DHCP, so after plugging it in for the first time you must find the assigned IP address. Other than looking at your router or switch status, you can download their FindIT tool or use some other discovery tool. Once you access the web-based configuration screen you’re presented with a setup wizard that helps you quickly configure the main settings: IP details, Single Point Setup, time, password, wireless radios, and captive portal for guest authentication.

We found the setup wizard, installation, and configuration processes to be straightforward. Single Point Setup is Cisco's name for their central controller-less access point management solution. You can create a cluster on one access point and then join up to seven more access points to that cluster and they’ll inherit the same configuration settings, with a few exceptions, such as manually selected channels. Though you must bring up the web-based configuration screen for each access point, it’s a very quick process to join them to an existing cluster.

No matter which access point you make configuration changes on when using Single Point Setup, the settings will automatically be propagated to all other access points in that same cluster. Of course, some settings are excluded from the synchronizing, such as IP and bridging settings. However, you cannot selectively disable the synchronization of certain settings like you can with the two other access points.

When navigating through the unit’s web-based GUI, we found it supports wireless bridging and client bridge mode in addition to the traditional access point mode. It supports one management VLAN and up to 16 additional VLANs for use on up to 16 virtual SSIDs.

We also found some advanced features, such as band steering to help ensure capable clients connect to the typically less congested 5GHz band instead of 2.4GHz, load balancing to ensure access points aren’t overloaded, and rogue access point detection to stay alert of any unauthorized access points in the area.

The unit also has captive portal functionality for authenticating guests via a local database or external RADIUS and/or requiring acceptance of the usage agreement. The access point also has a packet capture feature that you can use to remotely collect 802.11 packets received by the access point, useful for advanced troubleshooting.

On top of each page of the web-based GUI you can hit the Help link, which brings up the help documentation to that specific topic. We found each feature and setting to be fairly well described.

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