Review: ZyXEL Wireless N Hotspot Gateway
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Pros: Supports 802.11n, internal authentication and billing.
Cons: Has no private network port.
Online Price: $420 - 540
Setting up a public Wi-Fi hotspot isn't as easy as installing a wireless router like you'd do for a private network. For the protection and convenience of the hotspot provider and users, a hotspot gateway should be used.
A hotspot gateway enables key hotspot features like captive portal so users must agree to terms of service, redirection so you can promote your site to users, authentication to control access with usernames and passwords, and billing functionality to charge for hotspot access.
The hotspot gateway we reviewed is the Wireless N Hotspot Gateway (model # N4100), released from ZyXEL in May 2010. They say it's the world's first hotspot gateway sporting the newer 802.11n standard with higher data rates and more range than 802.11g. The MSRP is $750 with the ticket printer and $590 without. However, you can probably find online prices around $530 with the printer and $420 without.
At first glance, this ZyXEL gateway looks like a promising way to offer visitors and customers with wireless Internet. Let's see what we found in our review.
Supported hotspot types or scenarios
We first wanted to see what Wi-Fi hotspot types or scenarios are supported by the gateway. We also wanted to see how to configure them. Here are our findings for each typical hotspot type:
- Free with only captive portal user agreement: Yes, this scenario is supported. The first time a user connects and opens their browser, they'll be redirected to a webpage where they must click "I Agree" before they receive full Internet access. The administrator just has to enable the User Agreement authentication type and provide the URL of the redirect page. This URL must point to a custom webpage, hosted on a third-party server, which the administrator has created with the basic HTML code provided.
- Free with accounts auto generated: Yes, this is possible. A clerk can use the ticket printer or a computer-connected printer with Web-based interface to print the auto generated account information, then provide this this to users so they can use the username and password to login. For this, administrators will enable the Built-In authentication type and configure one or more billing profiles to set access limits. This would be a very similar process to setting up paid-access, only with zero dollars for the cost.
- Free with accounts generated manually: You cannot create your own usernames and passwords for users with the built-in authentication database. To do this you could, however, use RADIUS authentication. There are hosted RADIUS services that might offer manual account creation along with many other features.
- Charge credit cards through hotspot captive portal: Yes, this is supported. Users would be stopped by the captive portal and required to make credit card payment before full Internet access is granted. The administrator enables Credit Card Service feature, input credit processor details, and configures one or more billing profiles. The following credit processors are supported: Authorize.net, iValidate.net, Secure Pay, WorldPay, and PayPal.
- Charge cash/credit through other means, like existing cash register: Yes, you can do this. After payment is made by other means, the clerk can use the ticket printer or computer-connected printer with web-based interface to get auto generated account information. The administrator must enable the Built-In authentication type and configure one or more billing profiles. This is a similar process to setting up free access with accounts auto generated, except the administrator will need to input prices.
- RADIUS-based authentication: This is supported as well. This enables you to use a RADIUS/AAA server for the authentication, which can open the door to features and functionality beyond what the gateway can provide. If you don't have your own server, you could check out hosted services.
Hotspot features and functionality
During our review we found nearly all of the typical features of hotspot gateways. This includes walled-garden, so you can let users' access select sites before they login. Pass-through, so devices without browsing capability can connect. Support of HTTPS/SSL encryption for captive portal, so user and payment data is secured. Speed limiting, so users get their fair share of bandwidth.
We also came across a useful feature not always found in hotspot gateways. It lets you display advertisements to users. You can input the URLs you want to display and tell it how often to display them.
We didn't find any private network ports or features that would help you segregate the public and private networks. This isn't always included on gateways. However, this would be great for smaller businesses that don't have VLAN capabilities or the budget to pay for a separate Internet connection for the hotspot.
Setup and configuration
In our review we configured the gateway with most of the scenarios discussed earlier. We looked for user-friendliness, quality of help and documentation, and customization. They scored well on all these aspects. Their web-based configuration screens don't provide much on-screen help but their manual gives you all the details. All the screens seen by the hotspot users can be customized with your text, logo, and terms.
The only concern was when setting up the ticket printer. The gateway was set with the wrong default IP of 192.168.1.250 for the printer; the actual IP address of the printer was 192.168.1.7.
Our final thoughts
After our review we didn't have any major concerns. This ZyXEL gateway is a solid product and can be used with nearly any hotspot application. Again, just keep in mind it doesn't help separate itself from any private network you might have on the same Internet connection.
Eric Geier is the founder of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi networks with the Enterprise mode of WPA/WPA2 encryption. He is also a freelance tech writer, and has authored many networking and computing books for brands like For Dummies and Cisco Press.