Review: Cisco RV 120W Wireless-N VPN Firewall

Cisco RV120W  Wireless-N VPN Firewall, Image courtesy Cisco

Price: $140


  • IPv6
  • Remote VPN
  • Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) and QoS


  • 2.4 GhZ (not dual)
  • Only 100 Mbps on the LAN switch ports (not Gigabit)

Until recently, Cisco typically only marketed small business routers under its Linksys brand name. At the beginning of 2010, Cisco started to change its entry level focus with a new lineup of 100-series wired and wireless routers. The Cisco RV 120W is part of that new Cisco focus and isn’t simply a rebranded Linksys device. With the RV 120W, Cisco is bringing configuration control and some advanced features that aren’t usually seen in routers found at this price point.

The Device

The RV 120W is a mid-sized device measuring 5.91 in.(W) x 5.91 in. (D) x 1.34 in. (H), and weighing 1.10 lbs. The router includes one WAN
port and a built-in four-port 10/100 Mbps switch. That’s right, no Gigabit Ethernet on this switch, which is unfortunate as Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards are increasingly common (if not the default) on all new PCs and laptops. The 802.11n wireless radio has 2 omnidirectional 1.8 dBi gain external antennas, though the frequency is limited to just 2.4 GHz, so this isn’t dual-band.


As the RV 120W is intended as an entry-level small business router, Cisco has provided a startup CD to help users get up and running. No real magic, but the step-by-step instructions make it crystal clear to users how to get the RV 120W operational.

As a bonus that router vendors sometimes ignore, Cisco enforces strong password strength restrictions for the administrator password as part of the initial setup. The quick setup also enables users to get a WLAN operational as well, also providing simple to follow instructions for having a maximum strength security key. As a nice touch, the setup also gives users the option to download their configuration and password setup.

The only problem with the setup is how it ends. Instead of giving users the option to jump to the router’s browser based configuration screen, setup abruptly ends after the WAN and WLAN setup is complete. Given the target audience for this router, it likely would have made sense at the end of the setup to either login to the router and/or give users the option to read documentation.

Configuration features

Digging into the administrative interface of the RV 120W shows the depth and breadth of the expansive feature set of the device. The only small downside with the admin interface is how it provides access to firmware updates. Cisco provides a button to check for firmware upgrades, however that button simply redirects users to the product page for the RV 120W. Once on the product page, you still need to actually click through to the downloads section and then manually figure out if the listed version of the firmware is newer than the one you have on your own RV 120W. It would have made more sense for this device to have a more streamlined mechanism to check to see if the firmware is up to date.

The status tracking and logging capabilities for the RV 120W are robust with no shortage of logging options. Logs can be viewed through the browser interface, emailed or sent to a remote logging location.


The networking capabilities of the RV 120W provide for both IPv4 and IPv6 connectivity. As IPv4 address space is becoming a scarce commodity, having IPv6 capabilities is likely a route that will becoming increasingly common over the next several years. With the RV 120W, Cisco is providing a really nice entry point to IPv6 connectivity, while still providing mechanisms for IPv4 content access.

Since IPv6 users will also still need to connect to IPv4 sites, there is a ‘6 to 4’ tunneling option. The really helpful, embedded help menu in the RV 120W explains that automatic 6 to 4 tunneling will allow traffic from a LAN IPv6 network to be tunneled through to a WAN IPv4 network, and vice versa.

Firewall configuration on the RV 120W includes some basic attack checks to help prevent TCP and UDP packet floods as well as very limited content filtering capabilities. With the limited content filtering options, users can block Java, ActiveX or cookies all together, which likely isn’t granular enough to make sense in most cases.

The device also has settings for trusted domains as well as blocking keywords which could come in handy, though both features aren’t automatically configured or updated. So no, this device isn’t in the unified threat management (UTM
) category and it won’t serve as a substitute for a real intrusion prevention system (IPS
) or full fledged content filtering system.

On the other hand, the RV 120W does have very configurable Quality of Service (QoS
) options, including support for 802.1p, though the 802.1p support is not on by default. Not all traffic gets properly tagged for 802.1p, which is where the bandwidth shaping, or bandwidth profiles as Cisco call them, come into play. Bandwidth shaping is a common enough feature today, and the RV 120W has a setup that is relatively easy to enable.


Remote access with the Cisco QuickVPN client software is another key feature of the RV 120W, with support for up to 10 remote tunnels and 25 Mbps of VPN throughput.

Getting the QuickVPN actually set up and working isn’t however quite as ‘quick’ as it should be. There isn’t one central point for enabling and configuring VPN access. Instead, getting the QuickVPN operational is a multi-step process and not all the required steps are located in the VPN menu either. First, you’ve got to enable remote management which is found under the Firewall menu after which you go to the VPN menu to add users. But wait, where is the actual QuickVPN client software? It’s not linked from the router management interface at all. Instead, it can be found on the installation CD, which isn’t really as convenient a place to have it, when it really should be linked somewhere from the router itself.

That said, the documentation for the RV 120W indicates that open source IPsec VPN clients including OpenVPN and Openswan can be used to connect instead of Cisco’s QuickVPN client software. Even after doing all that, you’ll still need to get a server certificate from the router, downloaded and installed. None of these steps are particularly difficult, but for an entry level VPN device, there may be a few too many steps for some administrators.


Though the RV 120W is not a dual-band access point, that doesn’t mean you can only have one actual access point. The default configuration provides options for four virtual access points each with their own unique SSID and security settings.

Security settings include support for WEP
for organizations that still need to support that unsecure protocol. There is also support for WPA
Personal/Enterprise, WPA2
Personal/Enterprise and Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS

From a wireless quality of service perspective, there is support for Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM), though the configuration menu is difficult to understand. In terms of power saving, support for Unscheduled Automatic Power Save Delivery (U-APSD) — sometimes referred to as WMM Power Save — is included, though it’s unclear as to when that feature actually kicks in, or how much power it actually saves.

AP isolation is supported as is an option to configure the maximum associated number of clients. Both those features in tandem can be used to lock down a virtual access point really well from the rest of the network.

Wireless access scheduling is provided via the active time option, though it is fairly basic and only provides the option for one start and stop time for each specific access point. It likely would have been beneficial to have some kind of more robust daily schedule support, including options for specific days of the week. There is a scheduled days option for the Firewall rules, so this is a feature that RV 120W does have in some capacity, but just hasn’t extended to the wireless AP profiles.

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of configuration options on the RV 120W to keep network admins who love to tweak settings very happy.

Features like the dual-stack IPv6 and IPv4 connectivity and the 25 Mbps VPN firewall are reasonably attractive at this price point as well. This is not the type of router that is intended for the ‘plug and play’ audience, as the greatest benefits of the device can only be achieved by digging into the settings.

Not all of the settings are easy to understand and the volume of configuration options on this device is definitely a large step up for those used to the more basic functionality of Cisco’s consumer-grade Linksys devices. That said, the embedded help screens are helpful in understanding what all the different options are about at a basic level.

Overall the RV 120W is a capable, configuration-rich device that may well satisfy many VPN router and wireless needs.

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