Actiontec 54Mbps Wireless Access Point

Model: HWS05490-01($499.99 MSRP)

If you’ve been wishing for faster wireless networking speeds, you may be intrigued
by products based on the 54Mbps 802.11a technology. Actiontec’s competent entry,
the 54Mbps Wireless Access Point, offers easy installation; a system that resides
and works with existing networks, even 802.11b wireless networks; and comes
with convenient 24/7 toll-free support. Performance was in the usual 802.11a
areas (though nowhere near advertised specifications), and the range was barely
adequate. Luckily, the expensive $499 list price, this product is available
from Internet sources for about $200, a much more competitive price.

Pros:

  • Easy configuration
  • Compact device

Cons:

  • Weak connectivity between floors .

BASIC FEATURES

Actiontec’s 54Mbps Wireless Access Point and 54Mbps Wireless Card are the first
in the company’s line of 802.11a products that are based on the Atheros AR5000
WLAN chipset. The access point connects effectively with wired and wireless
networks and provides a transmitter and receiver that communicate with wireless
network interface cards (NICs).

The Actiontec Access Point is designed to offer performance up to 54 Mbps with
a range of 100 feet indoors and 400 feet outdoors, and support for up to 60
simultaneous users. A turbo mode transfers data at rates up to 72 Mbps. Operating
in the 5GHz frequency band (5.15 and 5.35 GHz), it minimizes interference with
2.4GHz phones and other devices, and allows it to co-exist with 802.11b networks.
The access point supports networking and management features including SNMP,
IP filtering, and roaming.

Physically, the access point is approximately the size of an external CD-ROM
drive and has the footprint of a half-sheet of notebook paper. Three LEDs indicate
power, connection with an ethernet LAN, and wireless activity. The device features
two flip-up antennas, ports for Ethernet and serial connections, and a reset
button that may be activated with the tip of a pen or paperclip. If you like,
you can mount the access point on the wall either horizontal or vertically.
It is compatible with Windows 98 and higher.

SETUP/INSTALLATION

As with most Actiontec products, setup is straightforward. To start, plug in
the access point’s AC adapter, and connect the device to a network hub, using
the included Ethernet cable. For my testing, I connected it to Actiontec’s Wireless
Cable/DSL router, which was, in turn, connected to my network’s DSL modem. The
brief "Quick Start Installation Guide" walks you through all the necessary
steps.

After connecting to power and a network, you insert the "Buddy CD-ROM"
into a network computer, and the program offers step-by-step instructions to
configure the device. The "Start Here" document adequately outlines
this procedure. In my testing, I was up and running within fifteen minutes using
the device’s default settings.

A User’s Guide offers more step-by-step information on configuring the access
point, as well as troubleshooting tips and answers to frequently-asked questions.
I found that the documentation gave me all of the information that I needed
to adequately connect and configure the device. Everything worked right out
of the box and was easy to configure through the Web interface.

Actiontec offers a one-year warranty and, if you run into problems, excellent
24-hour, toll-free technical support. I called tech support several times and
each time I called, late at night and in the afternoons Pacific Time, I had
no problems reaching a technician within a reasonable time. However, I only
knew about the toll free number because I had previously evaluated other Actiontec
products. The documentation that came with the access point only listed a toll
number with hours between 6am and 11pm Mountain Time.

Using the supplied drivers, I installed the Actiontec 54 Mbps wireless PC card
in a Celeron-based notebook that was running Windows 2000. The PC card installed
without a hitch and was quickly up and running.

PERFORMANCE

In my testing, it turned in typical 802.11a numbers: I achieved average throughput
of 23.9 Mbps under ideal (close) conditions. When I moved downstairs, approximately
25 feet away from my loft office, the performance dropped to 21 Mbps. When I
moved further, some 40 feet away, the 54 Mbps card lost contact and couldn’t
maintain an adequate connection to measure.

Through drywall and on the floor immediately below, I obtained average performance
of just under 7Mbps. While this is indeed greater than that 802.11b systems,
the range was far less than the advertised specifications.

In turbo mode, which uses two channels to increase the throughput rate, the
access point and PC card achieved an average of 33.4 Mbps, an increase of almost
40 percent over normal mode, but not even half of the touted 72 Mbps throughput.
Performance drop-off in terms of distance was comparable with my experiences
in normal mode. I verified my test results with an Actiontec technician who
said that my numbers were not unusual.

WEP encryption did not affect performance, as Actiontec claimed. The system
worked just fine when microwave ovens and cordless phones were operated at the
same time.

SECURITY

Encryption capabilities support both the WEP 40-bit standard and RC4 128-bit
standard. It’s not necessarily high security, but better than nothing. If you
like, you can protect the unit’s administration utilities and settings with
passwords. Configuring encryption is straightforward through the access point’s
Web-based interface.

SUMMARY

Actiontec’s 54Mbps Wireless Access Point is a competent product that effectively
bridges wireless and wired networks and offers performance that’s greater than
that of 802.11b systems. I was impressed with the device’s easy setup and configuration
and 24-hour, toll free technical support, and the throughput was typical of
802.11a networks, but unimpressed with the device’s range — again a standard
problem with 802.11a.

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