All wireless routers and access points (APs) are not created equal. The main objective is to provide Wi-Fi (802.11) wireless access to computers and mobile devices, but there are many extra features manufacturers integrate within their Wi-Fi products. These vary greatly between manufacturers and particular models. In this article, we'll discuss some of these varying features and characteristics, and then look at a couple specific models you might consider using.
Some additive features useful for small businesses include:
- Wireless guest access (or multiple SSID and VLAN support) so visitors can connect but not access your private PCs and data.
- USB ports so you can easily share printers and USB drives among your users.
- VPN server and client functionality so employees can securely access your network when out of the office (and secure their traffic on public networks like Wi-Fi hotspots) and to link multiple offices together via the Internet.
- Embedded RADIUS server so you can easily offer enterprise-class WPA or WPA2 Wi-Fi security using 802.1X authentication without a separate RADIUS server.
Along with additive features, there are also varying characteristics in regards to the basic wireless and wired components you should also consider when choosing a router or APs:
- Supported wireless standards, such as 802.11n, for greater speeds and further signals than 802.11b/g.
- Dual-band and/or dual-radio AP to use 802.11n in the less congested 5GHz band rather than the usual 2.4GHz band.
- Gigabit Ethernet to support quick file transfers between wired PCs.
Keep in mind, to fully utilize these newer technologies the clients must also support them. For example, end-users connecting from devices supporting only 802.11b/g won't get the greater speeds and range offered by 802.11n at the AP. And if the AP is dual-band, end-users won't be using the less congested 5GHz band unless the wireless adapter is also dual-band. Additionally, if your router supports gigabit Ethernet connections, the end-user's device must also support gigabit Ethernet to get the 1,000 Mbps of throughput.
D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit Router (DIR-655)
One of D-Link's wireless routers, the Xtreme N Gigabit Router (DIR-655), can be great for smaller organizations. You can get it online for $70 to $80. It's a consumer-level router, but with some additive features, great for those without IT experience.
It offers a very simple wireless guest feature, which they call Guest Zone, which lets you quickly create a second SSID (network name) that can be segregated from your private network. It also sports a USB port for sharing a printer or USB drives to the private and/or guest network. In addition to traditional quality of service (QoS) settings, the router also includes wireless intelligent stream handling (WISH) functionality. Both of these can help prioritize network traffic, especially useful if you often stream video or voice.
Cisco Wireless-N VPN Firewall Router (RV110W)
Cisco's Wireless-N VPN Firewall Router (RV110W) runs $80 to $90 online. Though it lacks gigabit Ethernet and a USB port, it features VPN functionality and more customizable VLAN and multiple SSID support. It supports up to five total concurrent VPN tunnels: five IP security (IPsec) VPN tunnels using Cisco Small Business QuickVPN software or five PPTP tunnels for remote client access. Then it supports up to four VLANs and four SSIDs.
Cisco Wireless Network Security Firewall Router (RV220W)
Another Cisco option is the Wireless Network Security Firewall Router (RV220W), a few steps up from the previous Cisco router. It offers gigabit Ethernet and dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) wireless supporting all the standards: 802.11a/b/g/n. Additionally, it supports up to 16 VLANs and four SSIDs.
It also supports up to 25 total concurrent VPN tunnels: 25 IP Security (IPsec) VPN tunnels, 25 QuickVPN tunnels for remote client access using Cisco Small Business QuickVPN software, 10 PPTP VPN tunnels for remote access, or five secure sockets layer (SSL) VPN tunnels.
Though it doesn't include a USB port, you could use a separate file/print server or NAS device.
ZyXEL 802.11a/b/g/n Business Access Point (NWA3160-N)
If you need to cover more space than what a single wireless router offers you might consider this ZyXEL AP. Their 802.11a/b/g/n Business Access Point (NWA3160-N) runs for about $260 online. It only operates in the 2.4 GHz band, but offers one 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet port for network connectivity. You could possibly use multiple APs of this same model with a wireless or wired router from another manufacturer or consider a ZyXEL product, such as the VFG6005 Series Gigabit VPN Firewall Gateway.
This ZyXEL device is a 3-in-1 hybrid AP that can serve as a traditional AP, managed AP, and an AP controller to manage up to 24 APs. This built-in controller functionality is great for locations where you need several or more APs to cover the area. Instead of configuring each AP individually, you can put one as the AP controller to configure all the others.
It offers up to eight SSIDs and supports VLAN tagging. It includes an embedded RADIUS server and user database, enabling you to easily offer enterprise-class WPA or WPA2 Wi-Fi security using 802.1X authentication. Additionally, it features rogue AP detection and containment functionality for even more security.
Though this AP doesn't offer USB ports or VPN server/client functionality, you can use third-party solutions like we already mentioned with the previous routers.
For more details, refer to this AP's data sheet.
Eric Geier is the founder of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi networks with the Enterprise mode of WPA/WPA2 security by offering a hosted RADIUS/802.1X service. He is also a freelance tech writer. Become a Twitter follower or use the RSS Feed to keep up with his writings.