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ZyXEL ZyAIR B-3000 and B-420: Intelligent Wireless LAN 802.11b Access

About a year ago, we tried to set-up a home phoneline network for four different computers on 3 different floors. However, we were plagued with technical problems, and ended up running CAT 5 wiring across the house. Since then, wireless networking has lifted off, and we have tested the ZyXEL ZyAIR B-3000 and its companion, the B-420 for their performance, features and reliability. The B-3000 is a wireless access point, with a maximal theoretical bit rate of 11 Mbps, capable of dealing with up to 32 user accounts, and the B-420 is a wireless ethernet adapter, and as such, can be plugged directly into any RJ-45 port.
Features
The Product
  • High Level of Network Security Based on WPA*
  • Connect Multiple Sites with Bridge Function
  • Connect Multiple Sites with Bridge Function
  • Scalable and Easy to Deploy
  • Seamless Link Quality Around the Home and Office


ZyXEL

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 8.5 10
8.0/10

 

External

Many of the ZyAIR external stations look alike from the outside. Compactly shaped, the stations can work stand-alone, or be wall-mounted for better signal strength. Four multi-coloured LEDs display status: PWR, ETHN, BDG/RPG as well as the ZyAIR icon.

These convey information such as presence of a bridge connection, the speed of the ethernet connection, the status of data (sending/receiving) and much more.

On a more entertaining note, the “breathing” ZyAIR icon glows a fluorescent blue, signalling data transfer, makes for a nice lighting effect (while it has no real functional value, it is a good finishing touch).

Setup

The ZyAIR series runs on the wireless Wi-Fi (802.1b) specifications. Our set-up was with three desktop computers, one B-3000 access point, and two B-420 adapters. They were placed on different floors, separated by walls and ceilings by about 30 metres. Hardware set-up was as simple as screwing on antennas and plugging in the units into ethernet and power.

Also, if power outputs aren’t conveniently available, the ZyAIR units can run on POE (power over ethernet) but a separate POE device is required. While the B-420 adapters, as well as B-300 (not tested) are great for decentralized ad-hoc networks (peer-to-peer style), the B-3000 is a centrepiece for larger infrastructure networks (with the access point acting as a hub for the network).

Configuration and security

The B-3000 and B-420 require no drivers to function, as they plug directly through ethernet. One thing I was pleased with was available configuration and options: it is simple enough for most home users, yet has powerful features to suit the tastes of network administrators. The one-of-a-kind menu system is very useful, and can be accessed through a web-based interface, and even telnet. The ZyAIR menu requires that the default password be changed upon start-up, and we find it to be a very good measure for security reasons.

The next measure of privacy is the WEP encryption, which can be 64-bit, 128-bit, or disabled. MAC filtering is available on the B-3000, enabling it not only to grant, but also deny access to the wireless network based on MAC addresses (MAC address is derived from WLAN network interface card hardware).

Both units are also compatible with MD5-CHAP (part of the 802.1x standard). MD5-CHAP based authentication is very simple and easy to set-up, requiring only user names and passwords to be created. It is fully supported by Windows XP. For tougher security, however RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service, for B-3000 only) is recommended since all user IDs and passwords are stored on a remote server that way, and is less likely to be breached. All access is to the Wi-Fi network is authenticated, and user accounts are handled directly, so security is kept tight with both the ZyAIR B-3000 and B-420.

Features

The B-3000 supports a wealth of features which that can also be accessed through the web-based menu. It can alternate between 3 operating modes: Access Point, Multiple ESS (Extended Service Set) and Bridge. “Access Point” is quite self-explanatory. In multiple ESS mode, only stations with the same ESSID can communicate with one another.

That way, stations can be grouped together as in a Virtual LAN, and each VLAN can have their own set of WEP keys. Finally, bridge mode allows the B-3000 to connect two wired networks. The B-420, on the other hand can operate in Ad Hoc mode, in which it connects to peer wireless stations, Infrastructure mode, which communicates through a single access point (the B-3000 in our case), and can also operate as a bridge for two wired network segments.

Performance

Relative to many other similar wireless networking packages, the ZyAIR terminals showed very strong signal strength. In our tests, signals between the B-3000 and B-420 held up above 4 Mbps to about a distance of 40 metres. Obviously these results will certainly be different depending on location and obstructions.

One of the departments in which the ZyAIR series could improve on is speed; these units certainly aren’t speed freaks. We achieved peak transfer rates of 5.02 Mbps when the units were 4 metres apart. At this distance, average transfer rates were between 4 Mbps and 5 Mbps.

Summation

The ZyAIR units stood up to all our tests, and we were impressed by the quality of ZyTEL products. As mentioned before, our only complaint was speed, but then again the 802.1b standard does impose limitations in that regard. Signal strength and range are outstanding for both units. With MSRP of 149$ for the B-300 and 125$ for the B-420, they are a steal. The B-3000 is a must-have for SOHOs and small businesses with secure wireless networking needs, and the B-420, a great starting point, or expansion for smaller wireless ad hoc or infrastructure networks.

Amit Rahman
04.02.12





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