BTopenworld / Linksys Instant Wireless Network Access Point

  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good

Pros

  • Respectable performance
  • configuration via USB and Ethernet connections.

Cons

  • No setup wizard.

Given BTopenworld's involvement in DSL broadband, you might be forgiven for assuming that its first branded product would be a home gateway. Not so: this is straightforward 802.11b wireless networking kit. You might also think, bearing in mind the number of home users who will be interested in this product, that it would be easy to install and use. If so, you'll be disappointed.

In reality, BTopenworld's involvement in this range of products extends to putting its name on the box and a few bits of literature inside it -- this is Linksys equipment, sold by Linksys. Not that any of this affects the quality of the products. Along with this 11Mbps access point, which costs £107.66 (ex. VAT), there are USB and PC Card wireless network adapters in the range. The PC Card adapter is a pretty standard piece of kit, while the USB adapter is a little larger than most units we've seen, but not excessively so. Both adapters cost £60.85 (ex. VAT).

The Instant Wireless Network Access Point is used to connect a wireless network to a wired network, assuming you have one. BTopenworld's own documents suggest that if you have a USB ADSL modem, you don't bother with an access point and simply use ad-hoc wireless networking. In an ad-hoc wireless LAN there is no access point and each node communicates directly with each other node. This limits the number of machines you can have in an ad-hoc network (in the case of the Linksys kit the limit is four), but does mean that you just buy a wireless network adapter for each system, saving yourself some money.

You configure the access point using either of two utilities. One connects to the unit via a USB port, while the other uses the Ethernet connection. The former of these is more useful when you're first installing the access point, since it allows you to configure the wired network interface to suit the setup of your existing network. The latter is more use once you've installed the access point in an optimal position, which is likely to be further than a USB cable's distance from a PC.

The USB and SNMP configuration utilities have essentially the same interface. This is a set of tabbed pages covering the wired and wireless interfaces, security and operational mode settings. Although fairly straightforward, the interface design assumes you're familiar with the various aspects of 802.11b networking, such as what an ESSID (extended service set ID) is. Hence, non-technical users who aren't familiar with networking may well have problems setting up their system. Usability would be greatly improved by a wizard-based system that walked you through configuring the access point and any adapters, including at least some security settings. Use the default configuration and your wireless network may work, but it will be accessible to anyone within range with an 802.11b adapter.

Our performance tests show that the access point provides respectable throughput. The figure of 4.7Mbps using the PC Card adapter is typical for 802.11b equipment. The USB adapter only achieved 4.2Mbps in its default configuration, but this can be improved to 5Mbps by using the short preamble option in the client and access point configuration. We'd recommend using the short preamble -- which can also be used with the PC card adapter -- when you only have one or two clients associated with the access point and when they're not physically far apart. With larger numbers of clients and large spacing, a short preamble can actually produce lower throughput as more retries become necessary.

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This is perfectly good wireless networking equipment, and would work well in a wide range of environments. However, don't think that the addition of a consumer-oriented brand makes it any easier to set up than any other 802.11b access point or adapters.

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