When it comes to the latest crop of wireless routers, the adage, "you get what you pay for," applies. This product category has gotten wider and deeper over the past year--not only have products become more feature-rich, but you can now find routers that cost as little as $100 alongside others that are more than $1,000. Moreover, this year's vintage includes products that can handle more than one radio frequency.
As a reminder for those VARs who haven't been keeping up, the 802.11 wireless space has three different radio bands. The most popular is the 802.11b spectrum, which is supported on Centrino laptops and across the widest array of devices. But there are also 11a and 11g radios that can handle higher throughputs and greater data loads. So how do you differentiate? Let's take a look at what is available.
I tested five wireless routers and access points: IOGear's Wireless-G Broadband Gateway, Linksys' Wireless-G Broadband Router with SpeedBooster, Gateway's 7001 802.11G Access Point, Proxim's Orinoco AP-4000 Tri-Mode Access Point, and the Fortinet FortiWiFi 60 Gateway. Commonalities include built-in Web servers that make configuration easier, although both the Fortinet and Proxim products have their own command-line interfaces that can be reached by telneting into the router directly. This is some indication of both sophistication and flexibility, but VARs will need to learn the command syntax to make the best use of this feature.
In addition, all of the products can be used in a wide variety of environments as firewalls/routers for small and large networks. They can connect upstream to an ISP as a DHCP client, PPPoE or PPTP, or be set up to use a fixed IP address. All products also offer basic firewall and Network Address Translation protection for their wireless users. And all but the Proxim unit can be used as small network, four-port wired Ethernet switches as well. (The Proxim unit is strictly a wireless access point and does not have any additional wired Ethernet ports.)
All five products also operate on both the 11b and 11g radio bands; the Proxim product includes an 11a radio as well. This makes it useful for VARs that want to tailor the individual wireless access point to a particular environmental condition, mainly because there might be other devices that interfere with the wireless operations that are operating unbeknownst to the VAR doing the installation.