Two-and-a-half years ago, I upgraded my wireless network in order to move to 802.11g and to implement some half-decent Wi-Fi security but, last Friday, just as I was packing up the car for a weekend away, I noticed that my PC had lost contact with the mail server. Then I saw there were no lights on my wireless access point. This was not good news.
I couldn’t fix it quickly and running a cable was not an option either as it would have meant leaving the house unsecured all weekend. So, I just had to accept that I had no DNS, no DHCP, and that the mail server would be offline for the weekend.
When I got home last night, I set up a temporary (wired) connection and thought about how to fix the Wi-Fi – it seemed I had a few options:
- Buy a new DC power adapter for my D-Link DWL-2000AP+ – inexpensive but the D-Link was a cheap access point – a new DC adapter could cost almost as much as the unit is worth and if the power adapter has blown up, the main unit could be next.
- Buy a new access point (and optionally move up to 802.11pre-n) – a new access point could be good, but pre-n equipment is still quite expensive – and I’ve never been that happy with pre-anything standards, even back in the days of 56Kbps modems. Add to that the fact that I have a mixture of 802.11g and 802.11n equipment (mostly built in to computers) – and the “g” kit would slow an “n” network down to 54Mbps.
- Replace my individual router and access point with a combined wireless-modem-router (like the Netgear DG834G that one of my friends lent me – a left-over from his disastrous encounter with Virgin Media’s ADSL “service” – or one of the Draytek devices that I’ve heard so many good things about) – but my Solwise ADSL router is still going strong (aside from the occasional reboot) and I’d have to reconfigure all my firewall rules.
- Dump Wi-Fi in favour of HomePlug AV technologies – potentially faster (at least faster than 802.11g) but also quite expensive, still a relatively immature technology and, based on most of the reviews I’ve seen, highly dependant upon the quality of the wiring in the house.
In the end, I decided to splash out on a new access point – and this time I got the one that I thought about in 2005 but didn’t want to spend the money on – a Netgear ProSafe WG102. I got mine from BroadbandBuyer for a touch over Â£80 (the added bonus was that they are only 7 miles away from my house, had them in stock, and I could collect) so by late morning my Wi-Fi was back online and the temporary cables down the stairs were gone and the garage door was closed again.
After having set this up, I realised that this is what I should have done first time around – Netgear’s ProSafe range is aimed at small businesses but is still reasonably inexpensive – and so much better than the white plastic consumer rubbish that they churn out (or the D-Link access point that I’ve been using). The WG102 is well built, has a really straightforward web interface for management (as well as SNMP support) and supports all the wireless options that I would expect in a modern access point, including various security options and IntelliRF for automatic adjustment of power transmission and channel selection. I’m using WPA2 (PSK) but the WG102 does include RADIUS support. It’s also got a nice big antenna and I’ve switched off 802.11b to prevent the whole network from being slowed down by one old “b” device. I also use MAC address filtering (easy enough to get around but nevertheless another obstacle in the way of a would-be attacker) but the best features are the ones I haven’t implemented yet – like multiple SSIDs and VLANs for granular user access. If I put a VLAN-capable switch between the access point and my router, I could provide a hotspot for my street but still run my own traffic over it’s own VLAN. I guess VLAN-hopping would be a potential attack vector but my Wi-Fi traffic would be encrypted anyway and there’s another firewall between the wireless network and my data. If that switch supported Power over Ethernet (PoE) then I could even manage if the WG102 lost it’s power supply (it has PoE support too).
The WG102 is certainly not the least expensive access point I could have bought but it seems to be money well spent. It includes a bunch of features that are generally only found devices intended for the enterprise market but comes at a small business price. I should have bought this years ago.