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Review: Perfect Harmony: Page 3 of 17

The future for 5-GHz WLANs is indeed bright. Unless we can find some way to suspend the laws of physics, you'll need to contend with slightly higher power consumption and decreased range in comparison with 2.4-GHz systems, but that's likely to be a trade-off many organizations are willing to make.

Testing 1, 2, 3

We stayed in the lab to test features, functionality and performance, and we did range and roaming testing in a classroom and office building. Most of the walls in our test site are Sheetrock over metal studs, and most doors are metal. Performance testing measured throughput on an isolated network, with and without WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), while range testing looked at not only distance but the ability to stay connected during transit within one access point cell. To gauge roaming capabilities, we placed two access points on different channels but with the same SSID (service set ID), so there was an area of overlap. We then moved from one access point to the other while monitoring the association status. For a baseline we ran tests on an 802.11b Cisco Aironet 350 setup running at 50 milliwatts (half the maximum power), providing a comparison between 802.11a and 802.11b.

Our Editor's Choice award goes to Proxim's Harmony 802.11a Access Point, a system that reflects the company's many years of experience in the WLAN industry (Proxim entered two products, the Harmony and the Skyline; each focuses on different market segments). While far from perfect, Proxim did a much better job than any other vendor in addressing the single greatest concern about 802.11a: transmission range. We went only 140 feet in our test environment before connections dropped--more than 100 feet less than in our Cisco Aironet 802.11b reference test--but the Harmony's range far exceeded that of its closest competitor. In addition, the Harmony's unique two-tier architecture provides significant functional and management advantages over traditional access point architectures.

We also liked the Intermec MobileLAN Access 2106, which is loaded with features tailored toward enterprise environments, but performance and range limitations made it second-best. The only other product we tested that we would consider for large-scale enterprise deployment is the Intel Pro/Wireless 5000, which has a unique software-configurable antenna design and a strong feature set.