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Monday, October 21, 2013

What Is The Best Wireless Solution For My Business?

Determining which wireless router for your SME or large enterprise can prove to be a confusing and time consuming task.  The numerous reviews coupled with the latest introduction of 802.11ac routers make the purchase of a wireless access point a complex experience.

Wireless Router
Wireless Router (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Choosing the best router for your business can be simplified if you understand exactly what you are buying.  The vendors which manufacture routers will make huge promises in terms of router performance, connectivity, coverage, and the capability to handle data intensive tasks.  Then you read the conflicting consumer reviews which may or may not offer reliable information which results in a confusing and frustrating effort.

There is a high probability you are likely more confused after doping research than when you started.  Additionally, many businesses are questioning whether or not they should consider an 802.11ac router which is the newest connectivity standard in an effort to prepare for the next generation of wireless devices.

Router Basics Defined.

At the very minimum, a router delivers Internet connectivity to one or more devices which are connected to a network.  The basic routers offer USB connectivity for attaching an external device such as a printer to enable the device to be shared over a network.  The additional features typically include a firewall which is designed to control traffic and threats to a network in addition to application such as Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) which facilitates video streaming over the network.
Depending upon the model, wireless routers also typically offer the opportunity to allow other users to access the Internet with restrictions that can be set to limit access.  Most of the recent routers also offer a feature known as Quality of Service which allows you to prioritize the type of traffic you use the most such as multimedia streaming and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Overall, wireless routers can be designed for the home or novice user and range to devices which are complex to setup but are full-featured to meet specific business needs. However, the primary aspects to look for in a solid wireless router are connectivity speed, the strength of the connection when you are accessing it from a distance, how complex the router is to configure, the set of features being offered, management, and of course, price.

To help you tune out all the noise on the Internet which encompasses buying a router, we have narrowed it down to the 6 best wireless networking devices businesses are using to enhance connectivity and productivity.

1. Asus RT-AC66U

The RT-AC66U 802.11ac Dual-Band Wireless-AC1750 Gigabit Router supports the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard which is backwards compatible with older devices while offering next generation device capability. The 5GHz frequency band provides a speedy connection and is equipped to handle both Wireless-N and AC clients.

In terms of location, the Asus RT-AC66U is versatile and can be mounted on the wall, placed on a table or other flat surface, or stored in a vertical position using the detachable base. The Asus RT-AC66U is fairly easy to setup and comes with a CD which steps you through the configuration.  If you choose to configure the router using your web browser and default IP address, the Web-based wizard will step you through the same process which is included on the CD.

Unique Features
  • 802.11ac Support which is delivered over the 5GHz band.
  • Dual-Band N900 Wireless-N which delivers up to 450Mbps on both frequency bands of 2.4GHz and 5GHz to support a large variety of wireless clients.
  • AiCloud cloud-based storage which provides convenient access to remote storage.
  • 3-Part Interface which allows you to easily view the Setup Wizard, General Settings, and Advanced Settings.
  • Versatile USB Ports provide connection to external devices and printers in addition to converting the router to a storage or print server.
  • Excellent Connectivity up to 300 feet away.
  • Advanced Features and Business Class Capability

Conclusion:  The Asus RT-AC66U is suitable for small to medium-sized businesses which are seeking robust connectivity in IPv6, wireless signal control, and access to an authentic Virtual Private Network (VPN).  Price for the RTAC66U is in the area of $190.

2. Cisco Linksys EA6500

The Cisco Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750HD Video Pro EA6500 is the most recent addition to the Linksys Smart WiFi line of routers.  The EA6500 is an upgrade from the previous EA4500 and represents Cisco’s venture into the 802.11ac connectivity standard which is delivered over a 5GHz frequency band.

Although the EA6500 has basically the same features as the EA4500 with the exception of the 802.11ac connection, there are two primary features which raise the bar for the EA6500 which include the much improved Cisco Connect Cloud and the color bars on the Cloud Management interface.

The previous version of Connect Cloud required users to upgrade to the Smart WiFi firmware which caused other issues with router usage.  The upgraded Connect Cloud feature provides the capability to manage the router using the Connect Cloud interface or you can opt for local management by using your browser and the IP address for the router. The new color bar feature allows you to distinguish the difference between managing the router locally or remotely when you access the cloud management interface.

Unique Features
  • Smart WiFi Apps which help to extend the capabilities for the EA6500 router.  A few of the apps include an IP camera which allow remote viewing and monitoring of IP cameras and a device monitor which allows you to view other devices which are connected to the network.
  • Smart WiFi Cloud Platform provides a way to manage multiple routers from a single interface which is ideal for troubleshooting and performing updates.
  • Two USB Ports extend the capabilities for printers and storage.
  • Smart Tap feature allows you to tap the card on your mobile device to establish a router connection.  Cisco Connect Cloud must be installed on your mobile device to make this feature work.

Conclusion:  The cloud management feature in the Cisco EZ6500 sets this router apart from others on the market in addition to fast connectivity speeds which can be achieved from as far as 100 feet away.  Price for the EA6500 comes in around $150.

3. Ruckus ZoneFlex 7982

If it is high performance you seek for your enterprise, the Ruckus ZoneFlex 7982 802.11n router for carriers and enterprises may suit your specific business connectivity requirements.  The ZoneFlex 7982 provides enhanced wireless performance and is consistent in high-capacity environments, especially when it comes to mobile device use.

What sets the ZoneFlex 7982 part from other enterprise routers is the capability to quickly adapt to device orientation changes using a 3-stream 802.11n which combines dynamic polarization with adaptive antennas that provide a wireless signal up to four times the strength of conventional wireless routers. 

Unique Features
  • High Capacity which is capable of supporting more than 500 clients.
  • 3-Stream MIMO (Multiple Input/Multiple Output) 3x3:3 results in ultra-high performance and connectivity.
  • Transmit Beamforming seamlessly processes signals from multiple receivers to improve transmission speed.
  • Automatic Mitigation of Signal Interference for high-density environments.
  • Support for HD IPTV and VoIP with four queues per client station.

Conclusion: The Ruckus 7982 provides ultra-high speed connectivity with a total throughput of 900Mbps over a 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency band simultaneously with minimal interference.  It also offers architectural flexibility for improved management and support for mobile device usage. Prices for the Ruckus 7982 start around $1099. Be advised – Ruckus hardware can be difficult to configure. If you are a novice then I would suggest speaking with a specialist Ruckus Wireless supplier before tackling the configuration.

4. Buffalo Air-station WZR-D1800H

The AirStation AC1300/N900 Gigabit Dual Band WZR-D1800H router is the first 802.11ac device to hit the router market.  The WZR-D1800H has been upgraded in appearance from previous AirStation devices and has produced astounding results in speed tests when applying an 802.11n client.

The Airstation WZR-D1800H uses the Broadcom 802.11ac chipset and sports a 3x3 MIMO (Multiple Input/Multiple Output) antenna.  The front of the device is equipped with an AOSS (AirStation One-Touch Secure System) button which is a proprietary Buffalo application that allows you to configure wireless protection features.

Setup and configuration of the AirStation WZR-D1800H is relatively simple with the option to follow the instruction in the setup guide or the wizard included in the AirStation CD.  If you opt to use the CD, Buffalo will step you through the configuration process where the setup guide requires an experienced technician.

Unique Features
  • VPN Capability allows you to configure a Virtual Private Network.
  • High Speed Performance which is the best throughput test to date.
  • Superior 802.11n connectivity without having to apply 802.11ac client adapters.
  • Wireless Signal Control for adjusting the multicast rate.
  • NAS Capability provides an interface for managing USB drives including formatting, user permissions, BitTorrenting, and Web access.
  • 187Mbps (Megabits per Second) Throughput at 15 feet in distance.

Conclusion:  The AirStation WZR-D1800H has advanced business capabilities and offers the high speed performance required for data-intensive tasks.  When you add the 802.11ac adapter, the AirStation WZR-D1800H makes for an impressive piece of hardware. The only drawbacks are the poorly designed interface and the lack of IPv6 support.  Prices for the AirStation WZR-D1800H are in the range of $180.

5. Ruckus ZoneDirector 1100

If you are seeking advanced wireless networking capabilities, it may be worth taking a look at the Ruckus ZoneDirector 1100. This device offers next generation wireless capabilities including smart wireless meshing which uses antenna ranking techniques to determine the best upstream path while offering reliability and redundancy.  This helps to control the load balancer across multiple applications and wireless clients.

The ZoneDirector 1100 is ideal for companies that want to offer business class hot spot points which can handle VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), video streaming over the Internet, secure enterprise access, and multi-tiered wireless services.  The device is easily deployed and has a central management interface which is ideal for small to medium-sized businesses.

Unique Features
  • Comprehensive Management interface provides capability for security configuration, WLAN network management, radio frequency, and location management.
  • SmartMesh which is a wireless meshing application that is automated in terms of organizing, optimizing, and healing.
  • Automatic Traffic Re-routing for large scale deployments.
  • Intuitive Dashboard allows you to easily view a snapshot of the network at a glance and troubleshoot wireless problems.
  • Enhanced Memory to support additional Smart WLAN features.

Conclusion:  The ZoneDirector 1100 is perfect for organizations that require advanced networking capabilities and provides a level of manageability when the deployment of multiple access points is required.  It also integrates well with an external AAA (Authentication, Accounting, Auditing) server or it is capable of integration with user accounts stored in an internal database.  Prices for the ZoneDirector 1100 are in the $1200 price range.

6. Cisco EA3500

For businesses that are looking for a user-friendly router which is easy to manage without sacrificing hardware quality, the Cisco Linksys EA3500 N750 App Enabled Dual-Band Wireless Router with Gigabit and USB is worth looking into.  The EA3500 router is designed to accommodate cloud management applications and software which assist with enhancing the capabilities of the EA3500 router.

The Cisco EZ3500 tested well with an excellent throughput on a 5GHz frequency band and a pretty good throughput on the 2.4GHz band which is equipped with a 2x3 antenna configuration capable of delivering a speed of up to 300Mbps in optimal radio frequency environments.  There are a total of 6 internal antennas with a USB port for storage and a virtual USB. The Cisco EA3500 also offers Wireless Protected Setup (WPS) with four Gigabit Ethernet ports located on the back panel.

The EZ3500 is extremely easy to setup and configure and does not require a wired connection to your PC.  You simply click on a series of features in the setup interface and then the router performs the remainder of the configuration using an automated process.  You can also opt to use the setup CD which accompanies the router in shipment.

Unique Features
  • NAS (Network Attached Storage) Capability allows for light file sharing over the network.  If you require sharing capability for large files you are better off implementing a dedicated NAS.
  • Exceptional Throughput at up to 100 feet in distance.
  • Cloud Management Ready for future apps and software.

Conclusion:  If you are looking for a router which offers superior hardware and connection performance with easy configuration and setup, then the Cisco Linksys EA3500 router may be just what you need.  Prices for the Cisco Linksys EA3500 are in the $120 price range.

If you are overwhelmed with the amount of router information which is available, hopefully this article will provide you with a base starting point to help you find the right router which meets your specific business connectivity requirements.
Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: www.bigstockphoto.com
Derek is a professional network engineer with over 15 years’ experience working in the IT services sector. In his spare time, Derek likes to write articles and product reviews relating to his experiences in the field. 

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