Actiontec 54Mbps (802.11g) Wireless Access Point

Reviewed by: Jim Huddle, CNE5 CBS MCSE ES-RC, send e-mail
Published by: Actiontec, go to the web site
Requires: PC: Pentium Class CPU, Ethernet port and TCP/IP, Web Browser; Client: 802.1b or g card
MSRP: $129.95 (access point)

What fun I've had with this unit. So much fun that Howard had to remind me in his gentle manner to actually write the review. So I'm sitting by the pool on a very pleasant October evening, tapping away at a laptop. I'm about 100 feet away from the access point in a straight line. There are also three interior walls and a cinder block wall between the laptop and the access point, not to mention the second floor issue. The status tab on Prism Wireless Settings in the Windows system tray is showing Link Quality and Strength of 57 percent. Life is good.

While this review is about the access point itself, Actiontec also has a 54Mbps PC card that has an MSRP of $79.95. The company shipped one to us and it's described at the end of this review.

Setting up the access point to be operational is pretty simple. You attach the unit to a hub or switch with the supplied cable, then install the Locator software on a PC. Installing the locator takes about two minutes. It auto starts and once you click Install Software and hit the Next button a couple of times it's done. Double click the locator icon to start the setup.

The locator itself is simply a way to find the access point (or points if you have more than one). From it, you assign the access point to an IP address on your network segment or let the access point acquire an address by itself if you are using DHCP. Once the access point shows it has an IP address, you can either double click the access point icon or the Web button. This will load your web browser and allow you to configure the access point for your needs. While the access point is fully functional at that point and will allow wireless cards to connect, we recommend that you spend some time configuring the security and administrator settings.

There are a lot of general configuration settings available through the web interface, but most installations set up and run perfectly using the defaults. The only setting you really have to be concerned with is Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), a security protocol for wireless local area networks (WLANs) defined in the 802.11b standard. WEP aims to provide security by encrypting data over radio waves so that it is protected as it is transmitted from one end point to another. WEP is designed to provide the same level of security as that of a wired LAN. The Actiontec access point supports 128 or 64 bit WEP and allows you to limit access to Media Access control (MAC) addresses you enter. MAC provides hardware addresses that uniquely identifies each node of a network. You can also make the access point invisible to wireless sniffers (RF detectors which can be used to locate open wireless networks), though you will then need to manually set your own wireless device(s) to the access point's SSID so they can connect. Spend some time in the configuration and think it through when you make your choices. You don't want to open your network to any wandering laptop.

Connection distance from the access point is a concern (as it is with any wireless application). Actiontec's specs give a distance of up to 300 ft indoors and 1750 ft outdoors. I tested the unit both at home and at the office and it performed well. I also used an 802.11b PC card and while it was slower, I noticed no degradation in either signal capture or retention. I was even able to retain connection while in one of our communication rooms, which is notorious for clobbering anything wireless.

Actiontec's PC card is also simple to set up. Plug the card into an available PCMCIA slot. When the Windows New Hardware Wizard pops up, insert the CD and tell the Wizard to look for the drivers on the CD. It'll load the drivers and prompt you to reboot. After reboot the card will connect to the access point and acquire an address. However, if you've activated WEP on the access point, the card won't connect until you configure WEP on the card as well. You will notice a green icon in your system tray. Double click this icon to open the configuration window to set the card's network name, WEP, channel and domain. Once the card's settings match the access point, the card will connect and you're set.

This is a nice unit and well worth a look. It's simplicity of setup is nicely complemented by the abundance of options you have available. Actiontec's support web site is also pretty good. It's easy to navigate to the support area and the information there is well laid out. The access point is highly recommended.

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