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SmartBridges AirPointPro review: SmartBridges AirPointPro

SmartBridges AirPointPro

Allen Fear
5 min read
The flood of affordable, low-end, home-networking products makes it relatively easy for most people to set up a wireless network among a few PCs. But if you want to wirelessly connect multiple PCs within a small or midsized office, you need a device such as the SmartBridges AirPointPro that has either enhanced range or the ability to link two or more locations wirelessly. In fact, the AirPointPro does both. This long-distance performer delivers up to 100milliwatts of output yet manages to keep the air clean with a high signal-to-noise ratio and receiver sensitivity, making it well suited for potentially dense coverage areas such as office cubicles or neighborhood hotspots. The AirPointPro also comes with a power injector module, which lets you power the device through your Ethernet cable at distances up to 20 meters. And if that weren't enough, you can also use the device as a wireless bridge. Of course, the AirPointPro costs more than many off-the-shelf consumer access points, but we think the extra features and excellent range justify the price. The AirPointPro is fairly compact, measuring a little larger than a DVD case but smaller than a videotape (you remember VHS, right?). Its small size makes the AirPointPro unobtrusive and easy to mount. Plus, to install the device far away from an electrical outlet, you can power the AirPointPro through an Ethernet cable using the included power injector module.
Once you decide on a location, the AirPointPro takes about 10 minutes to set up. The included six-page Quick Install Guide does an adequate job directing you through the installation process, including how to configure the AirPointPro to act as a wireless bridge. Still, some may find the printed documentation a bit light on explanation and full of network jargon. If you need help, you can find a more comprehensive user guide on the accompanying CD.
However, we had an even bigger gripe. In order to configure the access point, you must install the included SimpleMonitor software on a PC running Windows 98 or later. We think the Web-based configuration tool used by the 3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway provides a more elegant solution because it works with a wider array of OSs and doesn't require you to install software on your computer.

External antenna connector.
The AirPointPro includes powerful features not found on most low-end, consumer-level access points. For example, standard access points require an Ethernet network to direct network traffic between each other. The AirPointPro, however, can link directly to another AirPointPro device when configured as a wireless bridge via the included SimpleMonitor software. You can set up the unit either as a point-to-point bridge, which links only two devices, or as a point-to-multipoint bridge, which allows multiple bridge connections--handy if you want to hook up your network to a neighbor's down the street or even a few miles away.

The Advanced tab lets you configure the access point as a wireless bridge.
Unfortunately, security is the AirPointPro's weak spot. Although it supports both 64- and 128-bit WEP, it fails to support 802.1x, which lets you manage network access between a client and an access point using an authentication server. It does, however, offer MAC address filtering, which lets you restrict access to a list of specified clients. But if security is a real concern, consider using a VPN in conjunction with the AirPointPro.

Use the Dial A Power tab to change the output power of the access point.
In CNET Labs' range tests, the AirPointPro outshone the competition, earning the top spot on our chart. Its high scores don't necessarily mean it can penetrate jumbo refrigerators, metal shelving, or plaster walls laden with chicken wire, but in the right indoor environment, you can expect excellent results. The AirPointPro also did very well in CNET Labs' throughput tests, delivering a blazing 4.9Mbps, comparable with the Orinoco AP-200 access point. All in all, the AirPointPro gives you higher throughput at greater distances than virtually any other access point with full 802.11b interoperability.
Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ (22Mbps mode)
Agere Systems Orinoco AP-200
SmartBridges AirPointPro
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+ (11Mbps mode)
Belkin wireless network access point

Response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Agere Systems Orinoco AP-200
Belkin wireless network access point
D-Link AirPlus DWL-900AP+
SmartBridges AirPointPro

802.11b range test
Relative performance in typical office setting (longer bars indicate better performance)
0.0 to 1.0 = Poor   1.1 to 2.0 = Fair   2.1 to 3.0 = Good   3.1 and higher = Excellent
SmartBridges AirPointPro
Netgear MR814 802.11b cable/DSL wireless router
3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway
Linksys WAP51AB dual-band wireless access point
Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless 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.

SmartBridges' support Web site.
The AirPointPro comes with a one-year warranty, a little skimpier than those offered by bigger vendors such as D-Link and Linksys. For technical support via phone, SmartBridges tells you to contact the local seller or distributor where you originally purchased the product. The company claims its partners meet rigorous requirements to become authorized service and support representatives; however, the quality of service will most likely vary from reseller to reseller.
Thankfully, the SmartBridges Web site offers user guides, firmware updates, software downloads, and FAQs--all conveniently located on one easy-to-navigate product page. You can also fill out a technical support request form via the Web site, and a support staff member will e-mail you a response within a few hours.

SmartBridges AirPointPro

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 7Performance 8Support 6