Wireless on a shoestring budget

If your department is in the market for a low-cost yet fairly functional wireless LAN solution, then D-Link Systems Inc. may have just what you're looking for.

Although it normally targets its wireless products to the home and small-office marketplaces, the company's DWL family of products offers many of the features found only in higher-priced solutions, making it a great choice for those just beginning to explore the wireless world or those on a tight budget.

The family consists of an access point and three types of adapters — PCI, PC Card and USB. Built on the 802.11b standard, the devices are fully capable of transmitting and receiving at 1, 2, 5.5 and 11 megabits/sec on a frequency range of 2.4 GHz to 2.4835 GHz.

Installation of the solution was fairly straightforward, with little more required than finding a suitable location for the access point, attaching it to a hub and connecting the USB adapter to one of our test machines.

I was pleased to find that a generic configuration could be used, eliminating any further setup. Preferring a bit more control, however, I opted instead to use the included D-Link AP Manager utility for device setup. I should note that although the utility was easy to use, I would have preferred a Web-based interface, such as the one provided with the Cisco Systems Inc.'s Aironet 350 family, which enables administrators to configure the product anywhere on the network.

Although the D-Link solution is supposed to work with a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server, the AP Manager was unable to find the device's IP address and I had to set it manually. Once that was done, however, I simply defined my unique radio service set identifier and selected the channel the device would be operating on before moving on to the actual configuration.

The management console makes the solution extremely easy to navigate. By selecting the tab labeled WLAN Security, I found choices for enabling encryption and using access control lists of MAC addresses for granting or denying access to the device.

On the client side, I had to do nothing more than install the software and plug in the adapter, thanks to the handy USB connection. Using the Configuration Utility, I was able not only to verify the strength of the signal between the access point and the adapter, but also to specify the type of security to be used.

I was a bit surprised to find that although the adapter supported 128-bit encryption, the access point did not, which proved to be almost as disappointing as the solution's lack of server-based authentication support.

The devices passed our tests with fairly normal degradation of signal and throughput throughout the coverage area. But although D-Link claims ranges of up to 100 meters inside, I found that the signal dropped from excellent when the devices were within the line of sight to only fair when separated across floors.

D-Link's DWL family lacks many features of its higher-priced competition, most notably 128-bit encryption, Web-based management and support for server-based authentication. Still, its low cost and ease of setup and configuration definitely make it worth a look.


D-Link DWL Family

Score: C

D-Link Systems Inc.
(800) 326-1688

The DWL-1000AP access point costs $219, the DWL-120 USB adapter costs $129, the DWL-500 PCI adapter costs $139 and the DWL-650 PC Card adapter costs $109.

D-Link offers numerous choices for low-cost wireless capabilities. Although not as full-featured as more expensive solutions, the DWL family does offer excellent performance for the price.


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