ZyXEL NWA-3160 Wireless Access Point review

27 Jan 2010

The dual-band NWA-3160 offers a low-cost solution for managed wireless networks, but buy the NWA-3166 if you need support for 802.11n

Price when reviewed: 
163inc VAT
5

Managed wireless networks can be expensive for smaller businesses but ZyXEL breaks the mould as its NWA-3160 offers a cost-effective alternative to the big names. ZyXEL offers good value as the NWA-3160 is around £140 whereas HP's MSM410, for example, costs nearly four times that.

The NWA-3160 only supports 802.11abg and not 802.11n, though this is no surprise as ZyXEL has been the slowest of all vendors to support this. There is, however, an 11n version - the NWA-3166 - available to buy. For management, you don't require an extra appliance as you can use one AP in standalone mode and when you're ready, add more with one unit reconfigured as an AP Controller.

The designated AP Controller manages other NWA-3160 units and ZyXEL recently released a firmware upgrade that adds support for up to 24 compatible APs. In managed mode, ZyXEL creates a CAPWAP (control and provisioning of wireless access points) network where one AP acts as a central point and all other APs that join the network take their settings from it.

When a managed AP joins the CAPWAP network it looks for a controller AP. If the controller is in manual mode you browse its list of discovered APs and decide which ones can be managed. Auto mode does it all for you but managed APs must take their address from a DHCP server with the vendor class identifier Option 43 enabled.

ZyXEL NWA-3160 Wireless Access Point

Take time out to understand ZyXEL's radio profiles before diving in. Each one defines 2.4GHz or 5GHz operations and has up to eight SSID profiles assigned where each one specifies a security mode. Plus each SSID profile can contain details of one of four RADIUS servers, a Layer 2 isolation profile that determines what resources wireless clients can see, and MAC address filters.

Add in the fact that the NWA-3160 can act as a RADIUS server, and you have a well-rounded wireless security solution. You also get predefined profiles for guest wireless access and one for VoIP, which applies QoS to this traffic, but once you get the hang of profiles they're easy enough.

The NWA-3610 detects rogue APs and can scan periodically for them. This works well as the test unit found 14 APs operating in our office complex and advised us of their MAC address and security mode. Known units can be added to a friendly list where they'll then be ignored. No containment options are provided as the AP just fires off a warning email if it spots a new AP in the rogue list.

Without 11n on the menu, performance is going to be low, and with a laptop connected over 802.11g we saw average speeds of around 25Mbits/sec for drag-and-drop copies. Moving over to 5GHz 802.11a operations saw no significant differences, and with the laptop moved to the other end of the office about 35ft away we saw speeds drop by around 25%.

Wireless performance is an issue, and for the best throughput the 11n NWA-3166 would be a better potential choice - especially as it includes the same security and management features. If you only need 802.11abg support, though, the NWA-3160 is well worth considering.

Details

Price ex VAT £139
Price inc VAT £163
Overall rating 5
Performance 3
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5
WiFi standard 802.11g

Wireless standards

802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support no

Features

Exterior antennae 2

Security

WEP support yes
WPA support yes

Dimensions

Dimensions 139 x 199 x 48mm (WDH)