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Buffalo wireless router impresses

Feb 24, 20034 mins
Cellular NetworksUnified Communications

New 802.11g gear is full-featured and easy to set up

The Buffalo Technology line of AirStation 802.11g products takes its place in the middle ground: They’re easy enough for home users yet sophisticated enough to keep many IT managers happy.

We tested the new WBR G54 AirStation 54M bit/sec Broadband Router and AirStation 54M bit/sec CardBus Card. Installation and setup went fairly well, although the quick-start guide could use some work. It contains 18 steps, some with multiple options, and in many cases asks for unnecessary information. However, the AirStation correctly configured itself with my cable modem without hitch or interruption. When I plugged the router into the network via one of its four switched ports, it automatically found the proper IP address – a nice touch missing in many routers.

The CardBus Card installed easily and configured itself properly with the CD-ROM software utilities. Unlike earlier generation wireless PC Cards I’ve tested, the AirStation card found the wireless router and received the proper address configuration. Not clearly indicated in the quick-start guide was the need to reboot. Instructions for home users should say so.

Two outside walls away (office out across patio and back into the den) I averaged 50% throughput even with 40-bit Wireless Equivalent Privacy enabled. Not too bad, and the connection let me play MP3s from the network without a dropped note. Forty bits protects home users adequately, and for businesses, 128-bit encryption is available with up to four different encryption keys, as is support for multiple keys.

Even without providing paper documentation, Buffalo provides plenty of handholding. Help files come bundled with the PC Card client configuration manager, in the router’s browser-based administration utility, and on the CD-ROM. Almost every entry in the administration utility includes a “Show me the help file” icon, which pops open a description of the item along with explanations for each choice.

How we did it

We plugged the AirStation wireless router in between the RCA Cable Modem provided by AT&T Broadband and an existing Ethernet 100Base-T network. Wired and wireless clients accessed the router and performed management duties. We tested Internet access for wired and wireless clients, as well as file transfer speed and connection reliability to wireless clients.

The CardBus Card installation includes a client manager utility that shows connection strength (by a percentage of bandwidth number at the bottom of the utility window) and lists all the AirStation access points found in the area. Home users won’t need this, typically, except to check signal strength, but companies with multiple wireless access points will appreciate this screen. IP address changes can be made, and you can check connection strength and perform diagnostics from any wireless client.

The administration utility is well done, providing plenty of information. Notably, the AirStation is the first low-end wireless router I’ve seen include intrusion detection, detailed log files and traffic statistics. The screens are well laid out and a left-hand menu eases navigation. Under management, you’ll find the clumsily named “Transfer Packet Condition” utility, which counts data packets passed through the router to and from the wired LAN, the broadband connection and the wireless LAN clients. Headings show the number of packets sent and received, as well as error packets. While overkill for some home users, the views are unobtrusive and provide IT departments with important information.

Street price for the WBR G54 Wireless router/access point is only $130, and the PC CardBus Card costs about $60. Even with business-class management features, the router best serves the home and small-office network. Larger companies might want VPN passthrough support, which the device lacks (and competitors Efficient Networks and NetGear offer). And since the 802.11g specification was just recently ratified, unproven vendor interoperability might limit a firm’s enthusiasm for a new vendor without a full enterprise product line.