Siemens SpeedStream Powerline 802.11b Wireless Access Point review: Siemens SpeedStream Powerline 802.11b Wireless Access Point

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MSRP: $89.99

The Good Easy to install; compact design; solid performance; portable.

The Bad Skimpy user documentation.

The Bottom Line The SpeedStream is an excellent device for anyone who wants to wirelessly access the Net from the deepest reaches of the home.

8.1 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Support 6

A power-line network is a simple, inexpensive way to share a broadband Internet connection in all corners of the home, but it doesn't offer the freedom of wireless networking. The Siemens SpeedStream 2521 offers the best of both worlds, however. Just plug it in to your existing power-line network (in other words, any wall outlet), and you have an instant 802.11b wireless network in any room. The compact unit resembles a child's nightlight, plugs directly into any power outlet, and can communicate with other HomePlug 1.0 devices such as the SpeedStream 2524 power-line wireless DSL/cable router and the SpeedStream 2502 power-line Ethernet adapter. An 802.11b CompactFlash card sticks out the top of the device, so you can connect an 802.11b-equipped computer to the power-line network at speeds up to 11Mbps. And in CNET Labs' tests, the combination of power-line and 802.11b connectivity proved plenty fast enough for sharing an at-home broadband connection. If you need to deliver wireless coverage throughout a large home and already have or want to invest in a power-line network, the affordable and portable SpeedStream 2521 provides an excellent solution.

Unit plugged into wall socket.
The Siemens SpeedStream 2521 power-line 802.11b wireless access point is extremely compact and easy to use. It measures 2.5 inches wide by 2 inches deep by 3.75 inches high--about the size of a child's nightlight or a plug-in air freshener. The LEDs on the front panel let you monitor traffic flow, wireless transmissions, and active connections. A removable 802.11b CompactFlash card sticks out the top of the unit and adds about an inch and a half to the overall height. The SpeedStream 2521 plugs directly into a wall outlet, and it's big enough to partly obstruct other outlets, depending on your setup. In addition to the access point, the box includes a quick-start guide, a warranty and safety card, and a documentation and configuration utility CD.

Wireless tab.

To install the access point, simply plug it into a wall socket, then wait a minute for it to boot up. Next, insert the accompanying CD into any networked machine running Windows 98 or later and install the SpeedStream power-line AP configuration utility. If you're comfortable with home networking, the tabbed and well-designed utility makes it easy to change the access point's wireless and power-line settings. For example, the Wireless tab lets you enter the name, the SSID, and the channel, while the Security tab lets you enter a password for your power-line network. However, beginners may stumble over terms such as encryption key, SSID, and MAC address, and Siemens doesn't aid you with a user manual or a help menu. The quick-start guide provides some assistance with hardware installation but offers only sparing information on how to use the utility.

Security tab.

Advanced tab.

The SpeedStream power-line AP configuration utility offers the usual security features. The WEP tab lets you choose 64- or 128-bit encryption for the wireless network, while the Security tab lets you change the access point's 56-bit DES network password on the power-line side. Finally, the Advanced tab lets you manage the network passwords of all your power-line devices with the click of a button--which beats the "standard" HomePlug method of running a program on each computer attached to each adapter and entering a password. Simply type in the individual password for each power-line device you want to add, then press the Set All button to apply the master password to every device on the list.

In CNET Labs' tests, the Siemens SpeedStream 2521 power-line AP configuration utility moved data packets just as fast as Ethernet-based access points and, in many cases, even faster. One caveat: Because devices on a power-line network share bandwidth, your throughput will slow as you add access points. The SpeedStream 2521's range also pleasantly surprised us. Although the access point uses an 802.11b CompactFlash card with a small built-in, omnidirectional antenna, it performed almost as well as other access points with much larger antennae. We managed to maintain a connection at distances of 85 feet in our indoor testing environment. But if the range proves inadequate, just grab the access point and plug it into an outlet closer to your wireless-enabled computer.

Chariot 802.11b throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
Agere Systems Orinoco AP-200
Siemens SpeedStream 2521 power-line 802.11b wireless access point
Belkin wireless network access point
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ (11Mbps mode)
Chariot 802.11b response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Belkin wireless network access point
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ (11Mbps mode)
Agere Systems Orinoco AP-200
Siemens SpeedStream 2521 power-line 802.11b wireless access point
Range test
Relative performance in typical office setting (measured in feet; longer bars indicate better performance)
SmartBridges AirPointPro
Netgear MR814 802.11b cable/DSL wireless router
3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway
Siemens SpeedStream 2521 power-line 802.11b wireless access point
Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point
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.

Siemens support page.

The SpeedStream 2521 power-line 802.11b wireless access point comes with a disappointing one-year warranty. Other manufacturers such as D-Link offer a three-year plan, while 3Com and Belkin come through with lifetime coverage. You can double the standard warranty, but you must register your product online. (The registration form asks for your name and address--nothing too threatening.) On the plus side, Siemens offers toll-free, 24/7 phone support for the lifetime of the product. You can also find firmware upgrades, up-to-date troubleshooting tips, and FAQs on the well-organized Siemens Web site. In addition, the Web site contains a networking knowledge section with brief overviews on wireless, power-line, and Ethernet technology, along with links to SpeedStream products.

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