ValuePoint Networks SuperAP 500

Price: $249

Pros: High transmitter power output, rugged and water-resistant chassis

Cons: Some features require optional firmware upgrade

It’s an accepted axiom that one should always use the right tool for the job and wireless networks are no exception. While all WLANs function according to the same basic principles, the specific requirements and priorities may change depending on the location and purpose of the network being deployed.

To that end, the ValuePoint Networks SuperAP 500 is geared for use in outdoor public venues like hotspots, and aims to bridge the gap between lower-end WLAN products designed for residences or small offices and enterprise-level devices intended for corporate environments.

For example, the SOHO class of products, while capable, may impose limitations in terms of power output or antenna choices. Conversely, an enterprise access point (AP) may be more flexible and capable, but often adds many unnecessary features which can add to the cost and administrative complexity of the product.

In contrast, the Intersil PRISM-based SuperAP does a good job of providing the features, power, and flexibility that’s well suited for public WLAN deployment scenarios without bogging down with superfluous items.

Physically, the $249 SuperAP 500 is simple and functional. Its chassis is a plain rectangular metal box, colored the beige of PCs of yore. It’s easily wall mountable with the included hardware, and its hardened chassis and moisture-resistant seals for all openings and connectors make it ideal for use outdoors or in otherwise harsh environments.

An antenna is not included with the model I looked at, but a standard N connector will accommodate a variety of high-gain omni directional or directional antennas. Valuepoint also offers a number of antennas with the SuperAP 500, as well as a $349 version with an integrated flat panel antenna. Another variant is available with dual radios– the second transmitter can either be used as a bridge or repeater or to boost the client capacity of the unit. All models provide Power over Ethernet capability.

The SuperAP’s browser-based configuration doesn’t offer a setup wizard or a slick interface with polished graphics — indeed, it’s crude by the standards of a D-Link, Netgear, or Proxim. Still, the interface is for the most part clear and easily navigable. It consists of a mere six main category headings and perhaps a dozen underlying configuration screens. (You can also configure the unit via command-line through Telnet or direct serial connection.)

Despite the spartan configuration interface, the SuperAP offers a compliment of wireless features that will satisfy the requirements of most public access scenarios. Wireless configuration settings include data rate, transmit power, and regulatory domain selection.

The SuperAP is currently an 802.11b product only. The single radio version operates as an access point or can perform point-to-point or point-to-multipoint bridging via WDS.
Power output of the unit is very high at 200 mW, and there are five configurable transmit power levels offered.

In the area of security, two-level WEP support is of course provided, as is access control via MAC address filtering. To minimize data entry, a pre-defined list of addresses can be downloaded to the unit via TFTP, and the specified addresses can be either included or excluded from the network.

The Super AP supports only Static WEP keys as a standard feature. 802.1x and RADIUS support are available as part of an optional $80 firmware upgrade, which also provides wireless station separation and a load balancing feature, though ValuePoint says most of its customers tend to rely on external gateways for these features.

This won’t be an issue for everyone, but even with the firmware upgrade, the SuperAP doesn’t offer local RADIUS, so you can’t define user accounts on the device and thereby have a self-contained authentication system — you’ll still have to use an external authentication server.

Since the antenna used with the unit will vary, I didn’t do extensive throughput performance testing with the SuperAP. However, when used with a 12dBi gain panel antenna, the unit’s high power output allowed for rock-solid signal strength at the 125-foot limit of my indoor test environment, and would likely do so for several thousand feet in an outdoor environment with fewer obstacles. The SuperAP also deftly handled dozens of simultaneous wireless clients I generated using the CMC Emulation Engine.

Under the status category, I was able to view separate lists of associated wireless clients and addresses assigned by the built-in DHCP server. (Gladly the DHCP server supports reserved addresses for static hosts.) There’s also a system log that can be viewed locally or remoted to a console via SNMP traps.

The unit offers full network traffic filtering capabilities. You can do so traffic by Ethernet frame type and IP Protocol number as well as TCP and UDP port numbers. There are only five fields provided for each, but they should prove sufficient in a low-restriction environment typical of a public venue.

The Valuepoint Networks SuperAP 500 distinguishes itself as a rugged, capable, and relatively inexpensive access point. Its extremely high power output and flexible antenna choices make it well-suited for anyone who wants to set up a powerful outdoor WLAN with minimal effort or expense.

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