RealTime IT News

EnGenius Long Range Wireless Router + Print Server

Model Number: EL-2511SR Plus ($349)

While at a trade show I stumbled across a company called EnGenius Technologies that specializes in making long range 802.11b products -- supposedly nine times the coverage of regular access points. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to put these products to the test. Difficulties in dealing with EnGenius's customer support department meant that it has taken a few months to get an evaluation unit, but the unit finally arrived. Unfortunately, the unit was disappointing at best.

Pros

  • Wireless range and throughput similar to that of other 802.11b products
  • Decent WAN throughput
  • Option to use either DSL, cable modem, analog or ISDN modem.

Cons

  • Difficult to configure
  • Lacks support for L2TP VPNs
  • Doesn't live up to its claims of extremely long range
  • Questionable reliability

BASIC FEATURES

The EnGenius Long Range Wireless Router + Print Server is a wireless routing access point with a built in firewall, DHCP server, and print server. The unit also supports triggered port mappings for special applications and supports the use of virtual servers. Although it features a serial port and an RJ-45 WAN port, the serial port isn't used for fail over as is the case in many competing products. You can use either broadband connection or a dial up connection, but not both.

SETUP/INSTALLATION

Weeks ago, a 3Com wireless access point that I've been using for quite some time finally croaked. At first I was in panic mode, as it was late at night and the stores were all closed. Then I remembered the EnGenius unit that had come in the mail earlier that day. What better time to begin testing it.

Initially, I attached one of the unit's LAN ports to the uplink port on my hub and applied power. The unit is designed to use a default IP address of 192.168.0.3, and was configured with the DHCP server on. Therefore, I had to configure one of my workstations to accept addresses assigned automatically. After doing so, I was able to get an IP address. I used the Web interface to assign the unit the IP address, channel, and SSID that had been used by my previous access point. After doing so, all of my wireless clients were able to use the unit with no problems and with no reconfiguration.

Over the next week, I was too busy to really do any serious testing, but I continued to use the unit as an access point with no problems. I then left town for a little over a week, but kept the unit running while I was gone. Upon returning, it was a few days before I attempted to do any wireless communications. When I did, I ran into some really strange problems.

None of my wireless clients could access the Internet, despite the fact that my Internet connection was working. Wireless clients could ping the access point, plus the wireless clients and most of the wired clients on the network, but could not ping the machine that was acting as my firewall/router. In all fairness, my Internet connection was running through a Microsoft ISA Server rather than directly through the unit, but I still found it strange.

My next thought was to open the device's configuration interface just to make sure that nothing had changed. It took a long time for a wired client to open the Web interface. When it did open, the device would hang when I attempted to login. I power cycled the unit and tried the login process again, and got the same thing. To make a long story short, the problem grew progressively worse until I couldn't even get to the login screen. I unplugged the unit over night since it was malfunctioning. About 36 hours later I plugged it back in and tried one last time -- everything worked perfectly. I could access the configuration site and my wireless clients could access the Internet and could ping all of my servers.

I decided to attach the device's WAN port to my DSL modem and connect to the Internet directly through the router, but encountered more problems. These weren't due to the device malfunctioning (although I was beginning to wonder), but rather to the device's archaic configuration Web interface. My ISP uses PPPoE. Normally, when I review routers I am able to connect the router to my ISP in a matter of seconds by filling in a few simple fields such as the user name and password. However, this time the PPPoE options were scattered all over the place.

What further complicated the problem was that the device didn't like having a DNS address manually set. I could only get DNS to function when I allowed my ISP to assign the DNS server address to the unit. It also kept "forgetting" my PPPoE password. After about every other configuration change that I would make, I would have to reset my password.

After a password related logon failure, the unit wouldn't display a message saying anything about the password. The message would simply be "Can't Connect." The unit does have a logging option, but the logs weren't much help either. In the end, I just had to figure things out for my self. The minimal documentation that comes with the unit is absolutely worthless.

PERFORMANCE

Once connected to the Internet, I ran a test to see what type of throughput could be achieved. Because of where I live, my local phone company only offers DSL speeds of up to 384 KBPS. I ran the DSL speed tests located at www.broadbandreports.com at about 10:00 PM, when traffic should have been relatively light. The speed test reported a download speed of 330 KBPS and an upload speed of 335 KBPS. These readings are consistent with those taken when testing other DSL products. Therefore, there were no noticeable WAN speed problems.

WIRELESS

I had originally been introduced to the EnGenius product line at the Itec conference in Charlotte, NC, last June. The EL-2511 product line caught my attention because it boasted unprecedented range because of a proprietary technology. Of course, you must use an EnGenius wireless NIC to get the full benefit of the extended range. So, I began my testing using a standard Linksys wireless NIC, then I switched to the EnGenius NIC to see the difference. I conducted the tests by using QCHECK from NetIQ to measure the average throughput between a wireless client and a client on the wired network. With each test I took at least three readings and am reporting the approximate average.

On average, the Linksys card delivered a 4.7 to 4.8Mbps speed through the EnGenius while in the house, dropping only to 3.0Mbps when in a room with heave metal duct work two floors away. Outside at a 100 feet away I still got 4.6Mbps, but anything more than a quarter of a mile away, I of course lost the signal completely (or it was so week Qcheck wouldn't register a reading).

At this point I switched from the Linksys card to the Engenius card, and repeated the tests both with and without 128 bit WEP enabled. The EnGenius didn't fair much better, and in some cases was worse. Speed topped out again at 4.8Mbps, usually dropping about one tenth when 128-bit WEP was enabled. It faired a little better in the heavy ductwork room, getting 4.3Mbps (3.7Mbps with WEP on).

Outside, where hopes were highest, I saw virtually the same performance as the Linksys, though in spots were the Linksys got even a weak signal the EnGenius card got none. The Linksys card doesn't even claim to be a long range card like the EnGenius card does. I can't even place the blame on the location, as while reviewing another product I was able to sustain communications in this location with no problems.

VIRTUAL SERVERS and PORT MAPPING

The EL-2511SR's virtual server feature does work, but isn't nearly as user friendly as that of most of the other units that I've tested. The EnGenius unit limits you to 20 virtual servers. Rather than simply selecting the virtual server type (HTTP, FTP, etc.), the unit requires you to specify the server port, the server IP address, and check an enable button. One of the things that I found disturbing about this feature was that the server IPs must fall within the 192.168.0.X range. The unit makes no provisions for virtual servers with other addresses.

ACCESS CONTROL

I found the EL-2511SR's access control and security features almost impossibly difficult to configure. Upon testing the unit with Shields Up from http://grc.com I found that port 113 was simply closed rather than running in Stealth mode as was the case with every other firewall that I have ever tested. I decided that it was no problem, that I would just change the port settings. However, I was never able to locate any port settings and therefore could not do anything to change it to Stealth status.

SUMMARY

In conclusion, I wouldn't recommend this product to anyone. It's unreliable, extremely difficult to configure, lacks many standard features found on similar products, and doesn't begin to live up to its claims about extra long range.