Move over T-Mobile, local businesses are doing it for themselves. The D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway, in conjunction with a separate access point, makes it easy for a small business to provide customers with wireless Internet access while securely separating their private business network from their public hot spot. Customers can access the Internet via this gateway, but the firewall in the DSA-3100 prevents them from accessing your data. When customers open their browsers, the DSA-3100 serves them your customized login page and asks them to enter their password, which you provide them. Businesses can choose to charge for this service, or they can offer it to customers for free as a great value add; either way, the D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway makes establishing customer access easy. Unfortunately, at around $500, the DSA-3100 is a little pricey, and because the device lacks an integrated access point, you'll need to add that equipment to the total cost of your hot spot. Still, we think the DSA-3100 is a hot idea that will appeal to small businesses looking for a way to reach out to customers. It wasn't long ago that you needed a degree in information science to set up a network. Today, the D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway lets you set up not one, but two discrete networks that share a single broadband connection--all within a matter of minutes. The DSA-3100's printed eight-page quick-installation guide introduces you to the gateway's networking interfaces on the rear panel, describes the function of the LEDs on the front, and walks you through setup. Three Ethernet ports on the rear panel correspond to your discrete private and public networks as well as your connection to the Internet. The LEDs on the DSA-3100's front panel indicate traffic across the networks and can help you see whether the device is functioning properly.
Basic setup for the D-Link DSA-3100 is easy. The hot-spot gateway's browser-based configuration tool includes a setup wizard that guides you through the process in no time, connecting the gateway to the Internet and creating your public and private networks. After you complete the wizard, you can use the browser-based tool to tailor the device to your specific needs, such as uploading a personalized login page to the device (more on this later) and configuring the DSA-3100 to set bandwidth parameters for those connecting to the public network. For example, you can shape the traffic of public hot-spot connections so that the connections can't exceed 190Kbps, which prevents guests from hogging your Internet connection.
In order to have a wireless hot spot, you'll also need to connect an access point. Since the access point is optional and external to the DSA-3100, its setup isn't covered in the manual, which is a little confusing for beginners; we wish D-Link offered a version of this product with an integrated access point. Another Ethernet port or two for the private LAN would also come in handy for businesses planning so that you could have both wired and wireless connections. With only a single Ethernet port for the private LAN, you may need to add at least one access point and one Ethernet switch to fully integrate the DSA-3100 into your networks. The D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway functions as a captive portal for your public network, which means that it captures initial browser requests to open Web pages and serves up its own login page. The login page requires users to enter a username and a password before connecting to the Internet. You can use the DSA-3100's default login page or upload your own customized page, which can include promotional information about your business and guidelines for using the service. For example, you can inform clients that they can use the service if they make a purchase and request a password. D-Link even sells a ticket printer for the DSA-3100, which conveniently relays login information to customers at the touch of a button. This is a compelling product combination for small businesses such as restaurants or hotels interested in extending a value-added service to their customers, but at around $700, the combined cost of the gateway, the ticket printer, and the access point will put some off. There are cheaper competing solutions available. In fact, if you're comfortable with Linux, you can build your own hot-spot gateway out of an old PC and free captive portal software. Still, the DSA-3100's easy-to-use browser-based configuration interface will make it worth the expense for anyone without a ton of technical know-how.
The D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway offers a nice array of security and authentication options. In addition to the unit's integrated firewall, the DSA-3100 lets you set up specific filter rules for each of its interfaces. You can block or allow all or partial access from your public network to your private LAN. This helps you lock down your network against specific types of attacks, but it also gives you the ability to tailor your shared resources and extend them to customers. For example, you could use the DSA-3100 to offer your customers a specific file server containing music or information about your business but deny access to resources on your network that you want to remain private, such as your accounting data. You can also control access based on MAC and IP address. A network is only as fast as its slowest connecting device, often referred to as the network bottleneck. Fortunately, adding a D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway to your network won't result in reduced network performance. The DSA-3100 channels Internet traffic through three 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet interfaces on its rear panel. In a typical scenario, a business would connect the DSA-3100 to a standard broadband modem on the DSA-3100's WAN interface. Because cable and DSL broadband are both much slower than 100Mbps, the DSA-3100 won't slow you down in the least. Many businesses will connect a wireless access point to the 100Mbps Authentication port on the rear panel of the D-Link DSA-3100 to create a wireless hot spot. Even the fastest 802.11a and 802.11g access points run at a fraction of the speed of Ethernet, so the DSA-3100 won't act as the performance bottleneck of your public network, either. The D-Link DSA-3100 hot-spot gateway comes with a meager one-year warranty. We think that's too short for a device that a business may quickly grow to need. It's unlikely that the DSA-3100 would break after a year, but if it does and you're enticing customers with free Internet service, you'll need to replace the unit pronto.
D-Link also provides toll-free, 24/7 phone support for the lifetime of the product, as well as a well-designed support Web site that contains everything you need to diagnose and fix most technical problems, including free firmware upgrades, installation guides, a product manual, and FAQs.