NetPassage 16 Broadband Internet Gateway

Model: NetPassage 16 (MSRP: $129.99)

The NetPassage 16 from Compex (www.cpx.com) is a low cost device that allows
you to share a broadband Internet connection with both wired and wireless clients.
Like most other Internet sharing devices, the NetPassage 16 uses a built in
DHCP server to distribute IP addresses to attached clients. It then functions
as a proxy server, relaying traffic between network clients and the Internet.

Pros:

  • Supports dial-up in case broadband fails
  • Fault tolerance through use of multiple NetPassage 16 units
  • Works as Access Point as well as Internet gateway

Cons:

  • No built in modem
  • Only supports serial modems, not USB
  • Price increases to get bundled WLAN PC Card
  • No PC Card eject button
  • Must use COMPEX wireless NIC

Setup/Installation

The initial setup process was relatively easy. It involved attaching the NetPassage
16 to a DSL modem and to the network’s main hub. I also inserted a wireless
network card to test the wireless capabilities.

Upon power up, the NetPassage 16 acts as a DHCP server and assigns IP addresses
to the network clients, both wireless and wired. The next step is to enter the
NetPassage 16’s IP address into a Web browser to access the various configuration
screens. For this process to work properly, the workstation must be configured
to use a dynamic IP address, and can’t be set up to use a proxy server.

Once you’ve entered the NetPassage 16 management interface, the configuration
is very simple and straight forward. The interface allows you to do things like
change the password, set IP address ranges, and enter modem dialing properties.

Basic Features

What really sets the NetPassage 16 apart from other low budget Internet sharing
devices is its versatility. The NetPassage 16 is loaded with extra features
that make it a must have in any SOHO. One such feature is support for an external
modem, which allows the NetPassage 16 to automatically establish a dial up connection
to an ISP, should the primary broadband connection become unavailable. For telecommuters,
it even supports client side VPN pass through using PPTP and IPSec protocols.

You can connect multiple NetPassage 16 units to your network. Doing so allows
you to achieve scalability by routing traffic through multiple Internet connections.
This means that your network clients will see a strong performance benefit because
the Internet traffic is being distributed through multiple Internet connections
and through multiple proxies. Likewise, using multiple NetPassage 16 units provides
a degree of fault tolerance in that if one broadband Internet connection were
to fail, then the NetPassage 16’s fail over capabilities would automatically
reroute traffic through the functional connection

Another feature that I really liked was that the NetPassage 16 natively supports
802.11B wireless clients. In fact, if you don’t already have a wireless access
point, the NetPassage 16 can be used as an access point.

Although I definitely liked the NetPassage 16’s feature set, it seems to me
that COMPEX could have made the product much better. For example, although the
NetPassage 16 can use a modem to dial into an ISP in the event that a broadband
connection fails, the unit doesn’t have a built in modem. Instead, the NetPassage
16 simply offers a built in serial port and comes with a serial cable that you
can use to attach an external modem. I would like to see an internal modem integrated
into future versions of the product.

Although the NetPassage 16 supports wireless clients, the unit I was furnished
with requires you to supply your own wireless network card. However, I found
that Compex now offers a NetPassage 16 bundled with a wireless network card.
This unit has an MSRP of just over $200.

Performance

The NetPassage 16’s primary WAN interface is a 10 Mbps RJ-45 port. The 10 Mbps
speed is adequate since few cable modem or DSL connections within the budget
constraints of most small businesses transfer data above 2Mbps. The four port
switch built into the unit supports 10/100 Mbps JR-45 Ethernet connections.
PCs may be either connected directly to these ports or the ports may be linked
to other hubs. The unit’s serial port is a standard UART port capable of supporting
an external 56K serial modem – no USB.

Finally, the unit’s PCMCIA socket supports a wireless network card. During
my initial tests, I was able to use a third party wireless NIC. However, this
NIC soon failed, and after talking to tech support, I discovered that the NetPassage
16 is only designed to work with the Compex NIC. I was disappointed to see that
the NetPassage 16 didn’t have an eject button. I ruined a perfectly good wireless
NIC, because I had no choice but to pull the card out by the antenna

For a wireless performance test, I routed 1000 KB of data from the wired network
to a wireless client through the NetPassage 16. In my tests, the average throughput
(as measured by QCheck) was an incredibly slow 843kbps — about a quarter of
the average 802.11b product. I hooked my 3Com access point back up and ran the
test against it in case I was doing something wrong, and the 3Com unit was running
at about 5 Mbps. I even went so far as to attempt to use several different brands
of NICs in my laptop just in case I had a bad antenna on one of them. This was
done without running WEP encryption or IPSec tunnels or anything weird that
could slow things down. I’ve checked this thing inside out, and can’t figure
out why it’s so slow.

Virtual Servers And Port Mapping

The NetPassage 16 supports the use of virtual servers and port mapping for
both HTTP and FTP servers. The unit allows the outside world to access HTTP
or FTP servers that exist behind the firewall in two different ways. First,
you can have the unit redirect all traffic that’s intended for a specific IP
address to a private IP address by making an entry into the unit’s NAT table.
Your other option is to map a specific port type to an IP address through the
unit’s NAT table. For example, you could tell the unit that a specific IP address
belongs to a FTP server. This feature worked exactly the way that it was supposed
to.

Access Control

The NetPassage 16 allows access control based on time, IP address, and port.
The unit contains an internal time clock and a setting for time zone information.
Once the time and time zone has been established, you can control what days
and times that Internet access should be made available to clients.

You can also control access based on IP address or port number filtering. Doing
so involves telling the unit to either accept all outbound traffic or reject
all outbound traffic other than the IP addresses or port numbers that are listed
on an exception table. The unit automatically blocks requests from the Internet,
unless those requests are directed to a virtual server. The various access control
mechanisms worked flawlessly.

Summary

As a whole, I really liked the NetPassage 16. Although there are dozens of
Internet sharing solutions on the market, few have the versatility of the NetPassage
16. The biggest problem is, all of them have more speed.

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