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I need to review our office's wireless network. Most of our users now have laptops that support wireless-N. We never have more than 3 or 4 people connect simultaneously. I need to keep this low cost.

To be quite honest, although the extra bandwidth of N will be appreciated, my main problem with the current network is reliability. I'm tired of these cheap little routers whose performance seems to degrade as the months go by. I've been through quite a variety of them (linksys, dlink, netgear) and they all required monthly resets until at some point they just die. I guess you could say that I get way I pay for.

I'm looking for a better alternative. Based on this response, my current thoughts are towards a PC based router with a simple "wireless-N access point" attached. I figure that the lack of any routing software on the access point must remove some of the weaknesses of the hardware.

What do you suggest? I'm not looking for outstanding performance or even easy configuration. Just low cost and reliability.

Thank you

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4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Keep your wireless network and your routing separate. You'll get a lot more flexibility that way.

If you really want to segregate your wireless users, connect the wireless APs to a DMZ subnet / VLAN of their own.

For my own personal use I use Apple's Airport Express units (CA$109) - the little ones with iTunes streaming capability built in and 802.11n.

They'll operate in bridge mode very happily, and also support handover / wireless extension pretty well, so if you need to cover a larger area, just plug more into the LAN.

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I think this makes sense. Whatever I decide to do routing wise (PC, cheap linksys or maybe upgrading to a decent Cisco), having the wireless separate will help me focus my solutions to the real problems. –  Mr Grieves May 6 '09 at 16:03

My experience with Linksys routers in networks of exactly that size has been stellar. Two WRT54Gs each running at hundreds of days of uptime. A WRT160N that would stay up all the time if the modem didn't keep dying (and the end users try to reset the router to solve the problem.

For my own home LAN I run a WRT54GS with Tomato firmware. It's been running for over a year without an issue.

pfSense certainly looks desirable but I'd be concerned about the ease of setup. More importantly, WAPs (unless you spend a decent amount of money) are generally junk. If you're going to spend enough to get a good WAP, you might as well invest the cash in a higher-end consumer router and save yourself the setup.

Consider if it's worth your time to go through the trouble of configuring pfSense for your situation or if a mid-high end consumer router will do the job.

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1  
I can't say enough good things about the Tomato firmware. Makes me feel like I paid $500 for my router. –  Matt Hanson May 6 '09 at 6:17
    
I use a WRT54GL running DD-WRT that has worked flawlessly. The WRT series is excellent for running custom firmware and, whether you choose Tomato or DD-WRT, this is the route to go. Cheap, solid, and fully customizable. –  bjtitus May 6 '09 at 6:47
    
In the comsumer space, WAPs have generally dried up - the development goes into wireless routers. Of course, when you only use the WAN port, a wireless router is a WAP. –  aharden May 6 '09 at 12:09
    
I disagree. A WAP doesn't get an IP address. It's basically a slightly configurable wire. I figure whatever R&D goes into routers can be used for WAPs. That would explain why they're about the same price. –  Mr Grieves May 6 '09 at 12:52
    
I agree that a WAP is simpler but again my experience has been that simplicity is a detriment. Again, enterprise level WAPs are likely superior in quality to what I've used in the past. In spite of this, my experience still thinks a wireless router is the way to go. It's cheap, it's easy, and with a quick firmware patch (even without) it has a track record of reliability. –  ParoX May 6 '09 at 16:02

For my home network, I have had good luck with the Apple AirPort Extreme 802.11n access points (both single and dual band models). It does a great job with 10 devices connected (ranging from 802.11b to 802.11n at 5GHz).

Things to consider:

  • 802.11n isn't just about higher speeds. You get better coverage indoors even for non-802.11n clients thanks to the voodoo magic of MIMO.
  • Get an AP with two radios (2.4GHz and 5GHz). The 5GHz band is less crowded, so client devices that are capable of doing 5GHz will have a better experience. You'll always need 2.4GHz support on your network unless you control all of the devices that are going to connect.
  • There are different settings you can adjust on the AP that may improve performance (like turning off legacy data rates). You might also try a different channel on the AP you do have in case you have interference from neighbors.
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I second ParoX on Linksys. It's the low-cost brand of CISCO.

As for the idea with PC — take in account, that hardware router, takes only few seconds to fully reboot, while even trimmed down Linux/*BSD router distribution would take a minute or so. Unless you need sophisticated firewall, transparent proxy etc., there is no point.

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