Theoretically, all you need to do to install the Actiontec 54Mbps 802.11g access point is connect it to a PC, a router, or a broadband modem and plug its AC adapter into a convenient outlet. Once the three green indicator lights stop blinking, any 802.11b- or 802.11g-enabled device should be able to detect a wireless network with an SSID of Actiontec, the WAP's default setting.
For security reasons, you may want to change this SSID and configure WEP or WPA for your wireless network, and here's where our troubles began. Configuration of the access point requires a program called the Access Point Locator, which is compatible with Windows 98 SE and up, for identifying the access point's IP address. You then need to access the browser-based configuration tool by typing this IP address into any Web browser's address bar. Unfortunately, this process isn't well documented in Actiontec's start-up sheet or other documentation. Worse, some of the documented steps contained errors or omissions--we couldn't find the default log-in name and password, for example.
The Actiontec access point's physical package is complete, including an Ethernet cable and a software CD, as well as a trial version of Actiontec's Kid Defender parental monitoring software. If you plan to connect the access point to a router or a hub, you'll need to provide your own crossover Ethernet cable; you'll find only a straight-through cable in the box, and the access point does not support MDI/MDIX switching.
The Actiontec 54Mbps wireless access point has a simple, sleek exterior. Three LEDs on top show the Ethernet and wireless activity, as well as the power status. Two antennae that swivel 180 degrees extend from its rear panel. The access point is designed to sit flat, in part because its antenna design does not lend itself to vertical positioning, as do the more flexible antennae of the Netgear WG602.Screw heads built into its base allow for wall or ceiling mounting.
The access point's browser-based configuration tool offers solid security features for a home or a small office. The tool lets you turn off the access point's beacon, concealing it from those who don't know its SSID. It comes with MAC address filtering, which lets you restrict access to the network to specific adapters. It also supports WEP and the newer, stronger WPA encryption. Using WEP is a more labor-intensive process on the Actiontec than it is on many other access points, however, because you have to use a cryptic hexadecimal encryption key (a.k.a. a hex key). Products from Microsoft and Linksys let you use ASCII characters or a passphrase instead.
Speed is the strongest point of Actiontec's 54Mbps wireless access point. In CNET Labs tests, it trounced the other 802.11g access points we've tested. Throughput hit 23Mbps at close range in a g-only environment and reached 11Mbps with mixed b and g PC Cards. Like all wireless devices, the transmission speed drops over distance, but the Actiontec still fared well at 75 feet, slightly ahead of the Netgear WG602.
|CNET Labs throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
|Note: Throughput in Mbps.|
In informal side-by-side tests, the Actiontec access point was faster and had better range than the Linksys WAP54G and the Netgear WG602 access points. We had no trouble connecting it to a variety of 802.11b- and 802.11g-equipped notebooks. With Wi-Fi cards from Microsoft, IBM, Netgear, and Actiontec, the product simultaneously had computers running full-screen video and Internet radio, while others downloaded large files. The streaming audio suffered nary a hiccup, and only minimal frame dropping occurred in the video.
Actiontec's service and support has so many problems that we can't recommend the product because of it. The one-year warranty is weak compared to that of other networking vendors. The online support offers downloadable drivers, documentation, and help documents; however, as with the printed documentation, there are some errors and omissions in the online documentation, such as the lack of a password needed to configure the base station.
Worst of all, the quality of Actiontec's phone support (available toll-free, 24/7) was, in our experience, bad. The support staff we reached all spoke with thick accents that were difficult to understand, and in one of our test calls, the techie caused more damage than he resolved: he had us delete the Windows support for the firewall router that sat between our computer and the access point, which disconnected us from our network, creating a problem that nobody at Actiontec could fix.