Wireless well done

Users looking for a reliable and easily managed wireless LAN solution would do well to consider the Aironet 350 products from Cisco Systems Inc. Not only do they offer outstanding performance, range and mobility, they also provide the flexibility and security capabilities network administrators require today.

Built upon the 802.11b standard, the Aironet family can transmit and receive at speeds of up to 11 megabits/sec under optimal conditions. The product consists of an access point and a choice of two adapters — PC Card or PCI — so integration into just about any environment is assured.

The access point comes with a template for attaching it to the wall, making permanent installation easy. The process of setting up the system is also simple, with nothing more required than finding a suitable location for the access point, connecting it to a hub and inserting the corresponding PC Card into a laptop computer.

Getting power to a device mounted high for optimal reception is often difficult, so I was pleased to find that the access point can receive all its necessary power through the attached Ethernet cable by using the supplied Power Injector.

By powering up the access point, an IP address could be automatically assigned to the device from a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server on our network. Because the address would be required from here on, we simply needed to use the supplied IP Setup Utility to find it. With address in hand, I fired up a browser and moved into the actual configuration.

Those who like simplicity will love Aironet. Before you start using the device, you only need to choose a unique radio service set identifier, indicate the role the device will play in the network (access point, repeater or stand-alone for diagnostic measures) and decide whether to optimize the device for throughput or range.

Should you require a bit more control, selecting the custom option for radio optimization from the setup menu brings up additional features, such as the ability to configure the radio transmit power between 1, 5, 20, 30, 50 and 100 mW to meet specific coverage requirements and minimize interference. Because security is always an issue, the product's ability to use either 40-bit or 128-bit encryption is a major plus, as is its ability to work with a Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service server.

My testing of the family of products showed no flaw, and I found the ranges touted by the vendor fairly accurate as we moved between rooms, across floors and even outside. By using the included Link Status Monitor, I could monitor the signal quality and strength between the device and the access point, making it easy to determine whether it was necessary to move the access point or add another one.

For those with high-availability requirements, the devices can also be configured to offer services such as load balancing and hot-standby redundancy, thus ensuring dependable performance.

Although not part of my test, a rugged version of the device will appeal to users requiring installation in harsh conditions, such as those found outdoors. The rugged device can operate in extended temperature ranges, supports external auxiliary antennas and has a metal case for maximum durability. All in all, I found the Aironet 350 family a truly stellar suite of products, worthy of any agency or department. The only downside is that it offers no USB adapters.

REPORT CARD

Cisco Aironet 350 Family

Score: B+

Cisco Systems Inc.
(800) 553-6387
www.cisco.com

The access point costs $1,499, the PC Card adapter costs $229 and the PCI adapter costs $339.

The Cisco Aironet 350 family of products offers administrators ease of use in building and deploying wireless networks. Combine that with outstanding security, total control of transmissions and the ability to grow as your needs do, and the Aironet family is a must-have for those whose budgets can accommodate it.

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