With the rise of low-cost, multifunction Wi-fi router/switches, the humble wireless access point (AP) is easily overlooked. Admittedly, most Wi-Fi routers can easily be configured to run in AP mode, which is fine for, say, extending wireless coverage in a home, but for offices, schools, restaurants and other public places a dedicated AP is still by far the best solution for getting wireless devices onto a LAN.
Lancom (part of German graphics card company Elsa until it was hived off in 2002) specialises in business network products, and its new L-320agn AP is specifically designed for use in public places or anywhere a low-visibility, discreet solution is needed.
With its lightweight pale grey and black all-plastic chassis, it certainly doesn’t shout its presence. To keep it even more low-profile, the dual MIMO antennas for the 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi radio are mounted internally, one at the front and one at the side. It uses a dual-stream radio, allowing the full 300Mbps 802.11n link speed (the appearance of single-stream 150Mbps 11n products makes this is worth noting), and dual-band support means it can operate on either 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequencies.
It can be desk- or wall-mounted (an anti-theft wall mount is available for €39.50 + VAT) and two of the four front status lights are repeated on the top for visibility in wall-mounted deployments. 802.3af Power-over-Ethernet is also supported, so if you have suitable equipment it doesn’t even have to be near a wall socket.
There are just three ports at the rear: power, a 5-pin DIN serial configuration port plus a Gigabit Ethernet port. This latter is unusual as it can also connect to a DSL modem – something Lancom calls DSL-over-LAN (DSLoL) – which allows it to carry WAN and LAN traffic in parallel. The L-320agn also has a full routing capabilities and an integrated SPI firewall, meaning it can be used as an internet gateway for wired and/or wireless clients. This is very unusual for an AP, but does give it a lot of flexibility. You can either connect it directly to the DSL modem or via a hub/switch. An adapter is also available that allows an analogue modem to be connected to the serial port for use as WAN backup.
Configuration options for the LCOS operating system are extremely comprehensive, covering pretty much anything a business might need. However, the web-based configurator is only for the brave: it’s easy to get lost, although there is a selection of wizards for basic settings.
Much better is the bundled LANTools software, which makes setup and configuration much simpler, especially for multiple devices. The L-320agn can be used in standalone mode or managed by one of Lancom’s wireless LAN controllers. When configured as an AP it can simultaneously connect to other APs in point-to-point mode, to extend wireless coverage.
The wireless LAN can be partitioned into eight separate SSIDs, each with independent security settings, and VLANs are also supported. We found wireless performance to be excellent, maintaining an average real throughput of over 15Mbps at 25m (using a single 11n client) in a noisy mixed 11g/n domestic environment. A mid-range consumer 802.11n router (FritzBox Fon WLAN 7270) only sustained around 2Mbps throughput in the same location.
As well as the LANConfig management application, LANTools includes a WLAN Monitor tool that shows other APs in range of the L-320agn, making for easy detection of rogue or interfering APs.
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