An interesting trend visible in some of these products involves integrating the antenna and modem into a single weatherproof enclosure. This makes installation easier and increases effective system range compared with older designs by eliminating RF cabling, which is a source of significant signal loss. An alternative yielding similar benefits is to collocate the modem and antenna on a single antenna mast; this strategy allows flexibility of antenna selection--and even more range--but is more complex.
So just how much geography can you cover with these systems? The vendors whose products we tested claim ranges from 1 to 15 miles, and while more expensive offerings are available from some vendors that will extend range even farther, the products we tested hit the sweet spot for most organizations. For more information on range, see "How Far Can You Go?".
What about speed? The short answer is you're likely covered for most mainstream business applications. The products we tested had throughputs ranging from 7 Mbps to 78 Mbps. Even the slowest was faster than most inexpensive 2.4-GHz bridges. And if this isn't fast enough, Proxim offers a rather pricey unlicensed bridge that has a data rate of 480 Mbps.
Overall, we were disappointed in the devices' management and monitoring capabilities, which we consider important for mission-critical deployments. Some products include remote-status monitoring tools, system logs and firmware upgrade utilities. Others include none of the above. Again, you can enhance monitoring if you tie these systems directly to a backbone router, but we'd like more management intelligence at the units.
Security is always a top concern for wireless implementations, but we don't consider it nearly as big an issue with fixed wireless as with wireless LANs. First, most of these products use proprietary radio-signaling schemes, and in this case, proprietary is good. Second, because these are point-to-point systems employing highly directional antennas, the most viable attack is literally a man-in-the-middle attack, though the man would need to be suspended in mid-air to intercept the signals. And if that's not enough, most vendors support some kind of encryption system.
With these caveats in mind, Proxim's QuickBridge 60 narrowly edged out Wi-LAN's AWE 120-58 as our Editor's Choice. Proxim's solution has just the right mix of performance, range, ease of installation and management functionality. We like the overall functionality of Wi-LAN's product, and if you can live with sub-10 Mbps performance, it's an excellent choice. RadioLAN offers nice features and the lowest price of any product tested. We were also intrigued by Airaya's innovative AI108, the first point-to-point bridge to be built around a low-cost commodity 5-GHz WLAN chipset.
Proxim Corp. Tsunami QuickBridge 60 | Wi-LAN AWE 120-58 Ultima3 RD | RadioLAN Campus BridgeLink-II-P25 | BitRage CR45-A-53 DS3 Radio and IU45-E AC with Ethernet Bridge | Airaya corp. AI108-1-050 | Young Design EX-1 Wireless Bridge
Proxim Corp. Tsunami QuickBridge 60
Proxim's integrated design is both functional and stylish. The included mounting brackets and hardware make the installation easy enough for the most inexperienced network engineers to handle. The bridges are installed in a master-slave configuration. Both offer the same configuration control via the product's nicely designed Java-based management utility. We used the Java application to configure the bridges' communication channels, data rate, IP address and security key. The utility also includes an antenna-alignment tool, which offers audible signals that beep faster as the signal level increases. That's a nice touch that only Proxim and RadioLAN offer.