Cisco – Aironet 350 Series WLAN review

wireless networking for business
Photo of Cisco – Aironet 350 Series WLAN
£870 + VAT for Aironet 350 access point, £130 + VAT per PC Card

Whether or not you subscribe to the view that 802.11 and its successors have ridden the coat-tails of Bluetooth hype, it’s certainly true that the IEEE’s wireless networking protocols have seen much more of the limelight since late 1999. Here’s one powerful but expensive WLAN (wireless local area network) solution using 802.11b.

The Aironet 350 doesn’t replace the earlier, popular Aironet 340 model, but rather it adds features aimed at medium-sized businesses and enterprises needing more scalability and stronger security than the 340 can offer. As with the Aironet 340, it out-performs most of its competitors, but as it costs nearly twice as much as some, so it should.

The Cisco Aironet 350 Series access point supports data rates up to 11Mbps, is IEEE 802.11b compliant and has an important advantage over other WLANs in the way that it is powered. Cisco provides a Power Injector module that attaches to the LAN cable and powers the access point through a single connection, so negating the need for the Aironet 350 to be placed near an AC outlet – a bonus for remote installations. It also has a hot standby mode that offers redundancy protection for failed access points.

Installation of both the Aironet 350 AP and the necessary PC Cards, which provide wireless networking access to notebook PCs, is easy and straightforward. If the AP is not connected to a LAN with a DHCP server, users have two ways to assign it an IP address. The first involves running a program called IPSU, which identifies all Cisco APs as a local subnet. Alternatively, the AP can be accessed directly using a null modem cable via a serial connector.

Once the IP address is known, the user can control the AP through its onboard Web site. This can also be used to limit the size of a given access point’s coverage area, known as a cell. The software provided with the Aironet 350 Series Wireless PC Cards, meanwhile, includes a Link Status meter showing signal strength and quality.

There’s a number of ways to configure the software for the Aironet system; an administrator may use Telnet, SNMP, FTP, TFTP, HTTP or a direct serial connection to link with the access point. In addition, it is possible to configure the Aironet automatically through receipt of either BOOTP or DHCP commands. Also provided is the Aironet Client Utility (ACU), which although limited does offer real-time statistics, system status monitors and a diagnostic link test, and can help administrators perform a basic site survey.

Security is one of the Aironet 350′s strong points. If Cisco’s Access Control Server 2000 is installed on the user’s LAN, the Cisco PC Card clients can authenticate themselves over an encrypted wireless link. Once authenticated, the client derives a one-time-use WEP encryption key and all the encryption options on the client side are managed by a password-protected utility.

Company: Cisco

Contact: 0800 328 7719


Verdict
The Cisco Aironet 350 may be one of the most expensive WLAN's around but it does offer unrivalled performance matched with ease of installation and has the most impressive management utilities of any WLAN that we've seen.