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NetGear WAB102 802.11a+b Dual Band Wireless Access Point review: NetGear WAB102 802.11a+b Dual Band Wireless Access Point

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The Good Dual-band operation; high throughput; excellent 802.11a range; easy setup; three-year warranty.

The Bad Short 802.11b range; expensive; lacks Wi-Fi certification.

The Bottom Line The multilingual WAB102 is a good fit for small businesses looking to go wireless.

7.1 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Support 8

Editors' note:
CNET Labs tested the WAB102 dual-band wireless access point with the device's original firmware (version 1.1). However, Netgear is currently working on a firmware upgrade (version 1.2), which promises to greatly improve the device's wireless range. We tested a beta version of the new firmware, and early results appear to confirm the company's claims. Netgear will make the firmware publicly available on December 25 via its Web site.

Do you see wireless networking in your company's future? Don't fret over choosing between the popular 802.11b products and higher-bandwidth, more expensive 802.11a equipment. Instead, get a wireless access point that can handle both. Like a few other devices on the market, the ambidextrous Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point supports both wireless protocols simultaneously and delivers high throughput with few hassles. It also helps justify its limited and disappointing 802.11b range with class-leading performance in 802.11a range tests. And while the WAB102 lacks some high-end features that network administrators demand, it will satisfy most small businesses with limited network experience. The WAB102 comes with everything you need to get started, including a 25-foot, Cat-5 Ethernet cable, an AC power adapter, a 50-page user guide, and a couple of screws to mount the device on a wall or shelf. It took us all of five minutes to get the access point up and running, and you'll probably find the process just as easy: simply plug one end of the included cable into the Ethernet port on the back of the unit and the other end into an existing network or a broadband connection. Next, open your Web browser from any networked computer to launch the access point's Web-based configuration tool.

Like other Netgear products, the access point's URL for the configuration tool is netgear followed by the last six characters of its MAC address, which is conveniently printed on the bottom of the unit. The configuration tool lets you make changes to your TCP/IP and security settings, as well as more-advanced parameters. To ease the setup process, the access point comes wide open with WEP turned off and the SSID for both networks set to Wireless. Because these settings leave your network susceptible to a hacker or a passing bandwidth thief, we suggest you change these settings immediately and often.

The Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point has a pair of wide, black, plastic antennas in the back, but they can rotate only 180 degrees and do not swivel in all directions. With just four LEDs, the WAB102 has the simplest interface of all access points we've seen; the indicator lights can tell you the device's power status, as well as the level of activity on the Ethernet, 802.11b, and 802.11a networks. Lastly, the access point features a recessed reset switch in the back for returning the unit to its factory settings.

Once you connect the Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point, you can make changes to its settings via its well-designed and functional Web-based configuration tool--that is, if the tool's bright blue-and-yellow color scheme doesn't give you vertigo. Entry to the configuration tool is password protected, and you can change the name of the access point to something more memorable than the last six digits of the unit's MAC address.



Setup screen.


For most users, the first stop will be the Setup screen, which puts lots of useful information in one convenient place. It includes spaces for your IP address, subnet mask, and default gateway, or you can just set the access point to get these settings automatically. This page also lets you set the SSID, the channel, and the data rate for both networks, as well as enable Turbo mode to boost throughput for the 802.11a network. The only shortcoming is that you need to go to a separate security page to set up WEP; a direct link from the Setup page would have been helpful. Basic security settings include 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption for 802.11b connections, standard for the industry. The 802.11a interface lets you choose up to 152-bit encryption, short of the 256-bit version available on the D-Link AirPro DI-764 multimode wireless router. In addition, the WAB102 lets you restrict network access using MAC-address filtering.



Advanced Setup screen.


If you need to configure settings in more detail, turn to the configuration tool's Advanced Setup screen. For an 802.11a network, you can adjust the transmission power, the beacon interval, the RTS threshold, the fragmentation length, and the DTIM interval. The 802.11b interface offers slightly fewer choices but includes RTS threshold, fragmentation length, and preamble type. Unfortunately, the WAB102 lacks a statistics section that serves up connection metrics, and it can't act as a wireless bridge that forwards the signals of other access points. CNET Labs put the Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point through a tough series of tests to evaluate its bandwidth in both standard and turbo modes. This split-personality access point did better in 802.11a mode than in 802.11b mode, racking up throughput ratings of 21.5Mbps and 4.7Mbps, respectively. Overall, it was slightly faster than the Linksys WAP51AB wireless dual-band access point but slower than the Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN dual access point. Turning on the 802.11a Turbo mode boosted output to 34.2Mbps, 20 percent faster than the Linksys.

The WAB102 fell well short of the mark in 802.11b range tests, however. We stayed connected as far as 71 feet away--30 percent less than comparable access points. Its range in 802.11a tests, on the other hand, was nothing short of miraculous, with a range of 76 feet. Capable of servicing dozens of clients at once, the access point streamed audio to an 802.11b client while sending full-screen video to an 802.11a computer. And even though it has yet to receive its Wi-Fi compatibility certification from the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, we got the access point to work with products from seven different manufacturers. (The company expects to receive its Wi-Fi certification by early next year.)

Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
802.11a Turbo mode   
802.11a   
802.11b   
Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point
34.2 
21.5 
4.7 
Linksys WAP51AB dual-band wireless access point
28.3 
20.1 
4.7 
Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN dual access point
22.1 
4.9 

Response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
802.11a   
802.11b   
Linksys WAP51AB dual-band wireless access point
1.0 
2.0 
Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point
1.0 
3.0 
Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN dual-access point
2.5 
3.0 

Range test
Relative performance in typical office setting (longer bars indicate better performance)
802.11a   
802.11b   
0.0 to 1.0 = Poor   1.1 to 2.0 = Fair   2.1 to 3.0 = Good   3.1 and higher = Excellent
Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point
2.1 
1.0 
Linksys WAP51AB dual-band wireless access point
1.3 
2.0 

For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
The Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point comes with a three-year warranty, slightly better than average these days. And Netgear goes above and beyond to help out networking newcomers, as well. The company's Web site offers an interactive configuration section, how-to guides, and an excellent set of tutorial videos called "Mentor for Networking." While a little too general for our tastes, they can help reduce anxiety and prevent some basic mistakes for networking novices. The Web site also has a variety of information and support services to get you out of a jam, but some pages take forever to load. It's worth the wait, however, because they contain useful downloads, FAQs, and answers to specific user questions. Should something serious go wrong, you can use the interactive e-mail section or call the company's toll-free, 24/7 support line.



Sample Mentor tutorial.


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