The NB5580W is a relatively pedestrian looking silver box with a protruding antenna that sticks out from the back which can be angled to suit your usage and placement of the box. One of the nice things about having a combined router, modem and access point that's wireless is that you can theoretically stick it anywhere, although as we discovered in our testing, you'll probably want it in a relatively easy to get to position in case you need physical contact, especially with the reboot switch. You may also find other physical factors mean you'll want to play around with where it lives, as certain building materials and other environmental factors can have a strong impact on wireless network performance. For what it's worth, we tested it in an average-sized four bedroom Sydney home.
Netcomm's crammed just about every function into the NB5580W that any home networker is likely to want -- and plenty of functions that will be well beyond most home networking enthusiasts. For a start, it'll act as a replacement ADSL modem, as well as a wired and wireless router, with four networking ports for cabled access and up to 249 additional wireless connections, although few home ADSL connections are likely to stand up to quite that much traffic. It'll also act as a wireless access point and a limited hardware firewall, although at that level many users would probably be better off using a software-based firewall (such as ZoneAlarm), if only for the ease of use and configuration that such software provides.
From a wireless perspective, the NB5580W supports the very common 802.11b standard and the much quicker 802.11g standard. Unlike many other units, no proprietary 'turbo' 802.11g mode is available, although in terms of overall compatibility, that may not be a bad thing. Users have the configurable choice to opt for greater compatibility by allowing the slower 802.11b devices to connect to the router, or for greater speed, by limiting it only to 802.11g certified devices.
The real test for any home networking product (aside from on the spot performance) is in the ease of installation. If you need three tertiary degrees to install it, it's probably beyond most users, but to its credit, the NB5580W is pretty simple to set up. Networking experts will zoom through its interface and tweak every setting to suit their specific needs, but for the novice, the NB5580W's one-page setup will prompt you for the most commonly needed functions and settings. At a very basic level you could just enter your broadband ISP's settings and switch the wireless functionality on, although that'd give you a quite insecure network -- we'd suggest at least switching off SSID, using MAC addressing and utilising the NB5580W's inbuilt 64/128bit WEP encryption. If all that sounds like double Dutch to you, check out our guide: Setting up a Wi-Fi home network.
Our experience with the NB5580W was somewhat tainted by the fact that the first unit Netcomm sent us went certifiably insane after only a few day's testing -- but to their credit, a replacement unit was sent out speedily and without complaint. The secondary unit performed well servicing multiple PCs, as well as a wireless bridge in a suburban home, although we did find every couple of days we'd have to reboot the NB5580W to reconnect to our ISP -- although whether that's a fault of the NB5580W or the ISP is hard to say.