Wireless networks are now de rigueur within the corporate landscape. However, the shared 11-Mbps theoretical bandwidth of 802.11b has become rather cramped among all the PDAs, notebooks, and wireless PCs. So, the next logical step is the upgrade path: Send in the inexpensive 54-Mbps 802.11g gateways. IOGEAR's entry into this prime market is the aptly named Wireless-G Broadband Gateway. No confusing model numbers here. This is your general purpose, four-port switch, USB print server, and wireless gateway/firewall. It lists at a competitive $130, but it can be found online for about $100.
You should be aware that the 54-Mbps rating is the total speed, which includes all overhead. So, for the same reason that 100-Mbps Ethernet cabling does not produce 100 Mbps of data transfer, you will see less than 54 Mbps with 802.11g. The wireless systems use a preemptive collision avoidance system, rather than the collision detection of a wired network. Because a wireless network can have dozens of clients, there is a significant amount of overhead reserved for management. In most cases, you won't see more than half the total theoretical bandwidth. So any 54-Mbps network will have a peak bandwidth of less than 27 Mbps under optimal conditions. That bandwidth will be shared between the clients as they need it. Before you complain, realize that until recently many networks used hubs sharing 10 Mbps of bandwidth, so a shared 27 Mbps of bandwidth is not that limiting. Most broadband connections top out at 1.5 to 3.0 Mbps, so the majority of this bandwidth will be used internally. If your network clients spend most of their time accessing the Internet, your external connection will be the limit long before your wireless bandwidth is considered the culprit.
802.11g is backwards compatible with 802.11b, meaning you can use both at the same time. Unfortunately, doing so will sacrifice speed and almost drop you back to 802.11b rates. You should either plan on migrating clients to G adapters or learn to live with reduced performance.
Backwards compatibility was tested with Belkin and Compaq 802.11b adapters, and 802.11g performance was checked with D-Link adapters.
You should also be aware IOGEAR's system requirements are Windows-centric. Other than a passing reference to Safari in the Web configuration section, there is no support for Macs. Although it was not tested, Apple users should have no problems getting connectivity over Ethernet or wirelessly with TCP/IP since the Apple Airport was one of the first mass-marketed wireless gateways. Nonetheless, it may require some finagling to get the print services working.
Inside the box you have the adapter, a Cat 5 cable, the power adapter, a quick start guide, and an installation CD. Most IT support pros will be fine with the quick start guide, which includes how to perform a firmware update. The CD includes the full manual and the quick start guide on PDF files. However, the guide is depressingly sparse where firewall configurations are concerned.
The appearance of the IOGEAR Wireless-G Broadband Gateway is similar to other non- rack-mounted networking hubs. It's roughly half the size of a ream of paper at 7.5 inches wide, 5.25 inches deep, and 1.38 inches tall. The status LEDs are top mounted, rather than front mounted, which may make it hard to monitor. It does have mounting holes on the base so that it can be mounted vertically to a wall for easier reading.
The Wireless-G uses a typical "wall wart" power adapter with a six-foot cord. I generally prefer an AC/DC converter brick with a standard power cable to avoid blocking other outlets, but this makes it more functional for wall mounting. See Table A for the complete specs.
Basic configuration is simple. The quick start guide covers it in 10 basic steps, which actually include taking the device out of the box and plugging in the cables, so it is really only eight steps. Those steps are:
- Logging in
- Setting a time zone
- Choosing the connection type
- Setting the wireless configuration
- Selecting the level of firewall protection
- Reviewing the settings
- Testing the connection
You will need to read the manual on the CD to configure a printer, which was disappointing since the quick start guide actually included instructions on something as trivial as upgrading the firmware. Nonetheless, the process is relatively painless and the only complications are due to the requirements of the client. The idiosyncrasies of the Windows printer configuration require you to configure the printer as a local printer and then create a TCP/IP port. They did leave out the fact that if the printer to be installed on the gateway is already configured on a client, you can simply add the TCP/IP port in the existing configuration.
The Wireless-G is suitable for all SOHO broadband connections. It supports connecting via DHCP, fixed IP addresses, PPPoE, and PPPTP. It can capture a MAC address or one can be entered manually, making it easy to replace an older gateway. It also contains a number of advanced features, but most are sparsely documented. Access control lists for wireless and Ethernet clients, support for Dynamic DNS, virtual server support, and special configurations for popular applications like IM are all present but unexplained.
For example, the firewall has three modes: High, Low, and Off. In reality the modes are no external access, outbound access with stateful packet inspection, and unrestricted access. I thought I was having problems with the MAC cloning until I noticed the High firewall setting denies all outbound traffic. I would think this would be a common situation, but the extent of the documentations on this option is "Configure the basic settings to enable the firewall to protect your network from hacker attacks. Please be aware that a higher level of firewall protection increases network security but might affect your Wireless-G Broadband Gateway performance."
A knowledgeable user will find a number of useful features—like the ability to open ports to the outside world to either the whole network or selected IP addresses on a schedule—but there will be no documentation help available. I am uncertain as to the full potential of the Wireless-G because so much of it is undocumented.
During testing I witnessed peak transfer rates of approximately 19.4 Mbps and 8.1 Mbps with 802.11g and 802.11b clients, respectively. This was in a typical SOHO environment without any electromagnetic clutter, i.e. no microwave ovens, cordless phones, or other 2.4 GHz devices operating near the gateway. These results are typical for this class of device and well within the expected norm.
The Wireless-G can be set up in just a few minutes to be a basic gateway/print server. It has a plethora of advanced features, but a significant dearth of documentation. For basic needs, the Wireless-G will serve effortlessly. Someone who needs more, like scheduled access to specific services or selective port redirection, will find it a capable device as long as they don't mind tracking down the documentation.