Cisco RV215W Wireless-N VPN Router review

The Cisco RV215W Wireless-N VPN Router offers security-conscious small businesses a VPN server, wired and wireless networking, and firewall in one compact router. It falls short of being a great business-class router because of limited features and incremental improvements.
Photo of Cisco RV215W Wireless-N VPN Router

The Cisco RV215W Wireless-N VPN Router is an easy-to-set-up router with built-in firewall, a VPN server, and wireless networking. Performance is decent for its class but nothing spectacular. However, small businesses will like the snappy interface and ease of management.

Cisco has packed in security, networking, and business-class features in the RV215W, and it shows. Therefore, it is a little surprising that some of the features we take for granted in consumer and gaming routers, such as Gigabit Ethernet and dual-band speeds, are missing from the RV215W. We’ve looked at a number of business-class routers recently, and the RV215W doesn’t quite stack up as well against the Draytek Vigor 2920n  or even the consumer-focused Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti High Power Giga Wireless-N Router and Access Point. That’s not to say the RV215W doesn’t shine in certain situations, and, at $143, is well within SMB budgets. 

The RV215W feels like an upgrade of RV110W and RV180W in some areas, but a step back in others. If you are happy with your current business-class router, stick with it and don’t bother switching. If you need a new business-class router, the RV215W may be a fit, provided you don’t mind the missing features.

Hardware Specifications
The Cisco RV215W has one 10/100 Mbps Fast Ethernet WAN port for Internet connectivity and four 10/100 Mbps Fast Ethernet LAN ports in the back. There are two omni-directional 1.8 dBi gain fixed external antennas on the back for wireless networking. Square and compact, it measures 1.18″ x 5.91″ x 5.91″ (HWD) and weighs a mere 0.61 lbs. The back panel has a reset button to reboot the router or to restore factory settings, and a port to plug in the AC power cable.

The glossy front panel has an on/off switch and indicator lights for power, USB, wireless activity, Internet connectivity, and for each of the four LAN ports. The router supports only single-band, at 2.4 GHz.

The fact that the RV215W offers only 10/100 Fast Ethernet is a big disappointment, especially since the RV180W supported Gigabit. While adding Gigabit can slightly increase the cost of the router, it is an increasingly more important feature for businesses that rely on file-sharing and remote applications. The RV215W supports VLANs, but, with no Gigabit, inter-VLAN routing will be slow. Businesses looking at VoIP applications or video streaming would benefit from having dual-band.

Features
Like the earlier RV110W and the R180W, the RV215W’s built-in VPN server would appeal to many businesses. Considering how expensive and time-consuming it can be to deploy a VPN server for remote workers to connect and access office printers, databases, and applications, a router with built-in VPN is a bargain. The RV215W supports VPN passthrough for PPTP, L2TP, and IPSec. Up to 5 IPsec client sessions using the Cisco QuickVPN client and 5 PPTP client sessions for remote access are supported. The VPN server also supports the triple data encryption standard (3DES) and one IPsec site-tosite tunnel to support branch offices.

The number of supported client sessions struck me as another step back, since the RV180W supported 10 gateway-to-gateway IPSec tunnels, 10 Quick VPN tunnels using the Cisco QuickVPN client, and 10 PPTP tunnels for remote client access at a time.

Administrators can set up up to four wireless networks (SSIDs) and four virtual LANs (VLAN) to limit access to sensitive information and offer guests secure network connectivity. While the router supports DNS proxy, it doesn’t have actual DNS server capabilities built-in. With the RV215W, administrators will be able to handle basic network functions as well as monitor password complexity to ensure administrators are protecting the network.

Administrators have a choice between WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) personal and enterprise, WPA2 personal and enterprise for encrypting the wireless network. As always, we recommend WPA and WPA2 whenever possible—Next: Setup and Performance
Cisco has future-proofed business routers with IPv6 in the past, and it’s good to see dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 support present in the RV215W. The router supports Quality of Service to allow administrators to prioritize voice, video and data traffic on the network.

Setting up the Router
Cisco consistently does a good job of making installation easy and without any surprises, and the RV215W was no exception. I followed the printed Quick Start Guide to connect the router to the computer and to the network, and then opened up the Web interface with the default IP address and login credentials. Once I was in, Setup Wizard launched automatically. The entire process took less than 10 minutes, and included setting up security on the wireless network, changing the password for the default account, configuring the router’s WAN gateway settings, and testing to make sure I had Internet connectivity. Plenty of on-screen tips and explanations were available at every step. Unlike the RV180W, which was sluggish in certain parts of the interface, the RV215W was blisteringly fast and responsive.

I did run into one issue while setting up IPv4/IPv6 on the network. I downloaded the latest firmware on to the router and installed it. I then plugged it into my DSL modem and tried to configure the IPv6 part of the network. While I was able to set up IPv6 without any issues, I was unable to get IPv4 routing working. I performed a factory reset and tried again, at which point I was able to get both IPv4 and IPv6 routing setup. I upgraded the firmware again after everything was set up. I am not sure exactly what happened, but it may be worth completing the setup before performing any firmware updates.

Firewall Configuration
The router comes with a stateful packet inspection (SPI) firewall where I could create firewall access control lists and content filtering rules. The unit is jam-packed with security features, such as basic denial of service prevention, MAC-based wireless access control, static URL blocking or keyword blocking,  schedule-based Internet access policy, self-signed SSL certificates, and the ability to import and export certificate using Privacy-Enhanced Mail (PEM) format. While I wouldn’t rely on a router for DDoS prevention, it is nice to see the capability beng offered.

Cisco also improved how firewall rules can be created in the RV215W over the RV180W. It was much easier to define what to block and what to allow in the RV215W. In fact, the entire interface was better laid out and easier to work with.

Failover
Cisco added a USB port to the RV line to allow 3G and 4G wireless Internet connectivity. The idea is that the router can broadcast the 3G or 4G signal in the absence of a regular network. Businesses can use this as a failover mechanism, by leaving a broadband card plugged into the router at all times. When the network dropped (because I unplugged the WAN port), the router immediately switched to using the 3G USB dongle I’d plugged into the port. I can also see this being useful at conferences or other events where a team is on the go. Plug in a broadband access card, and the entire team can work off the router. Obviously, we won’t be looking at supporting 10 or 15 users, but for a handful of connections, this is a great feature to have.

Performance
I measured the throughput speed for a default setup of RV215W with no additional firewall or access rules using Ixia’s IxChariot. Performance was mid- to below- average compared to other single-band routers we’ve tested recently. Even the Draytek Vigor, a business-class router with nice selection of security features and a built-in VPN server outperformed the RV215W. However, the Ixia tests and PCMag Labs environment can really stress bandwidth, so I consider the numbers for RV215W perfectly respectable.

Average throughput dropped dramatically when measuring VPN traffic. Over a PPTP connection the average throughput was a mere 11 Mbps at 5 feet, 10 feet, 15 feet, and 30 feet.

Gain Some, Lose Some
I am a little perplexed as to why Cisco removed some of the things we liked so much in the RV180W, such as Gigabit and the number of concurrent VPN users, from the RV215W. However, they sped up the interface and made the entire interface easier to use, such as simplifying VPN setup and making it easier to create firewall rules. If you already own the RV180W and don’t really mind about the steps back, it’s worth upgrading to the RV215W just for the improvements in the interface.

If the VPN server and the security features aren’t major requirements, I would recommend one of the other business-class servers on the market, such as the Draytek Vigor 2920n, or even one of the higher-end consumer routers such as the Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti High Power Giga router.

Having so many features in an affordable box makes the RV215W Wireless-N VPN an attractive option for businesses looking for more than just a router, so if you are looking for a solid unit with advanced security capabilities with decent performance, the RV215W is definitely a bargain. While the consumer-oriented Cisco Linksys Smart Wi-Fi AC 1750HD Video Pro EA6500 is our latest Editors’ Choice router, it isn’t meant for businesses at all. Even though the Cisco RV215 falls short of an Editors’ Choice, it’s a solid performer with 3.5 stars.

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Specifications
Quality of Service Yes
Networking Options 802.11b, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11g, 802.11n (2.4 GHz only), 802.11n (2.4 GHz only)
NAT Yes
IPv6 compatible Yes
Parental Controls No
Stateful Packet Inspection Yes
Security WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), WPA2-Enterprise

Verdict
The Cisco RV215W Wireless-N VPN Router offers security-conscious small businesses a VPN server, wired and wireless networking, and firewall in one compact router. It falls short of being a great business-class router because of limited features and incremental improvements.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc