Meraki MR16 Cloud Managed Wireless Access Point review

Small businesses looking for a robust access point with a full range of features and decent throughput would do well to consider Meraki's MR16.
Photo of Meraki MR16 Cloud Managed Wireless Access Point

Small to medium businesses trying to extend their wireless network over a relatively large area without losing signal strength have to consider budgets when evaluating networking gear. Thankfully, it is easy to set up and configure a mesh network with Meraki’s access points. Packed with of enterprise-rich features, the Meraki MR16 Cloud Managed Wireless Access Point  also offers good throughput, all at an attractive price.

The MR16 gives IT professionals an easy way to deploy a secured, granularly managed AP for wireless clients to access a business network. The $649 price tag may seem high end for smaller businesses, but is well within the reach of mid-sized businesses and is comparable with similar business access points.

Meraki’s online administration differentiates the product from competitor models and is worth every penny spent, especially if the network requires multiple access points. Meraki has done a far better job than the competition in integrating cloud capability in its products. Its Cloud Controller software allows administrators to manage multiple APs in a mesh network via a single interface. Considering that Cisco is trying to integrate cloud-based administration and management with its own networking gear, buying Meraki for $1.2 billion  in November was a smart move for the networking giant.

Hardware Specifications and Appearance
Intended to be inconspicuous, the MR16 is a simple white box with a glossy-finish that can be mounted on the wall or placed on a flat surface. Measuring 7.3″ x 5.8″ x 1″ (HWD) and weighing a mere 17 ounces, the MR16 has one RJ-45 Ethernet port to connect to the network. The top of the access point has four LED indicators to show signal strength, Ethernet connectivity, power, and bootup status. When the box is downloading a firmware upgrade, the power indicator blinks orange. The power adapter is at the bottom of the box. The box has integrated omni-directional antennas.

The MR16 has one 802.11 b/g/n and one 802.11 a/n radio and operates concurrently in 2.4 and 5GHz bands. The SMB-focused access point has two spatial stream MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology that can support a theoretical 600 Mbps throughput. The AP has a 3 dBi antenna for the 2.4 GHz radio and a 5 dBi antenna for the 5GHz radio.

Like the previously reviewed HP E-MSM460, the MR16 utilizes beamforming to improve coverage over a wide area. The technology directs clients towards the 5-GHz band to improve performance and coverage. This is important because businesses may need to have the access points at great distances from each other.

Setup
As promised, setup was a breeze. After unpacking the access point, I plugged it into a power outlet and plugged in an Ethernet cable to the RJ-45 port and to an available port on the network switch. When powered on, the AP automatically contacted Meraki’s cloud servers to download and install the latest firmware. The switch’s power LED flashed orange for the entire update process. According to the documentation accompanying the unit, the upgrade process can take up to an hour, but it took me less than 20 minutes. Once the upgrade was complete, the power light switched to green and I was ready to check out the AP’s management dashboard.

Meraki sent only one MR16 802.11n access point for this review. Meraki’s access points use the Meraki Cloud Controller, which means that same model APs detect each other automatically to create the mesh network. If I’d had more than one MR16, all I would have had to do was plug in the access points within range of each other to automatically have a mesh network. The other APs don’t need to be connected to the network switch; they connect with each other wirelessly.

To configure the network properly, I also needed a Cloud license key (at $150 per year per access point) for each access point.

Once the firmware upgrade was complete, I logged into Meraki’s Web dashboard, (http://dashboard.meraki.com) to administer my access point. I created a network name on the dashboard and added the MR16 to the network by entering the AP’s order number (from the invoice) or the serial number (a label on the underside of the unit). Separate networks must be created for different Meraki device types (MR, MX, MS, etc) even if they are all deployed in the same network, but if I’d had multiple MR16s, they would have been added to the same network.

It took a while—about 11 minutes— for Meraki’s servers to detect the AP and associate it with my network, but once that was done, I could see on the dashboard what IP Address and configuration settings it had received from the network, as well as the device’s MAC address, wireless radio status, and uptime.

For most cases, there’s no need to change the assigned IP address or enter any other networking information. It truly is drop-and-go. (If you really need to add static IP addresses, each access point has its own built-in Web server for configuration)

In fact, all you need is someone to plug in the MR16 at a remote location and its self-configuring capabilities will take care of deployment. There is no need for on-site IT staff.

Management
Meraki makes it possible for small businesses to deploy a mesh sufficient to cover a geographic area and support a large number of users without a wireless networking guru. Management is just as easy— Next: Management

The dashboard is neatly organized, but it looks very different from competitor interfaces, so if you are used to using Netgear, Linksys, or D-Link, the Meraki interface will seem overwhelming at first. There are a ton of configuration options and information at your fingertips and this review touches only on a handful of options, so it is worth taking the time to get used to the interface.

Many of the advanced configuration options have a “What is this?” link with a helpful description of what the setting does.

I was able to set bandwidth limits, block clients from connecting onto the network, and define a splash screen that users saw when connecting to my test network. I could set Quality-of-Service (QoS) policies based on traffic type, and could prioritize mission critical applications over less important traffic.

The “Monitor” section of the dashboard interfaced with Google Maps to show me the street and building my test network was located in. I also had the option to upload a map or floor plan so that I could identify where my APs were physically located.

I could view usage statistics to see  what kind of sites and servers the clients were accessing. I could tell what kind of devices (whether it was a laptop or an iPhone 4, for example) were connected to my test network, and what sites each device was visiting. This information was also automatically emailed to me as a report at the end of the month.

If you are planning to share internal resources such as printers or file servers on the network, you should use Bridge mode instead of Network Address Translation (NAT) mode, which assigns each client a brand new IP address from Meraki’s own pool of addresses. It is a simple task to switch modes under Access Point on the dashboard. I switched my network to Bridge mode (NAT was default) and was able to access internal resources without any other issues.

Despite being an SMB product, the MR16 is packed full of enterprise-class security features. It supports WEP, WPA, WPA2-PSK, WPA2-Enterprise with 802.1X, TKIP and AES encryption. The 1-click guest isolation allows businesses to provide secure Internet-only access for visitors to the network, keeping the internal network resources out of reach. MR16′s Identity Policy Manager is an integrated policy firewall which supports group- or device-based granular access policy controls. And finally, Air Marshal, Meraki’s real-time wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS) technology, is integrated in the access point.

Air Marshal detects and neutralizes wireless threats by scanning the environment in real-time and taking action based on previously defined parameters. Centrally managed from the cloud, the heuristic threat classification engine is designed to monitor and inspect wireless traffic to identify abnormal behavior and detecting suspicious incidents such as AP spoofs and packet floods.  It can isolate rogue access points and trigger alarms as needed.

Performance
Here at PCMag, we generally have not seen the same throughput rates with business-class APs as with consumer-focused units. Considering that business users generally have different needs and require a number of other features, we tend to not compare performance across business-oriented networking gear with consumer ones, especially those that may be targeted for heavy multimedia-streaming and online gamers.

For performance, I used Ixia’s IxChariot network performance software for throughput testing between two laptops connected to the Meraki-based WLAN. I ran a simple test between two laptops on the 5 Ghz band. The Meraki MR16 wasn’t exceptionally fast, but it performed satisfactorily, and more importantly, was pretty consistent as I got further and further away from the access point. Even at 30 feet, in a test lab with tons of signal interference, throughput speeds remained decent.

Even though there is more to a good access point than blazing download/upload speeds, it’s natural to want a good performer. It’s clear from the chart that the Meraki MR16 is not the fastest access point, as some of our previously tested SMB-focused access points (Netgear ProSafe WNDAP350  and HP’s E-MSM460) outscore the MR16. The MR16 does perform slightly better than the last Meraki access point we tested, the MR14.

Despite not having the highest performance numbers, Meraki performed well in our tests and the dashboard interface makes it easier to administer the network more than any other product we’ve seen.

Advanced Network, No Headache
The Meraki MR16 Cloud Managed Wireless Access Point, provides access to the wireless clients to a wired network in a simple way. Administrators interested in more advanced features can easily enable those settings using the dashboard. Sure, the MR16 isn’t the highest performing 802.11n access point we’ve reviewed, but it is good enough for most businesses. The MR16 is strictly a SMB-centric access point with enterprise-class features that is easy to set up and administer—a big plus for businesses with limited networking expertise. We previously rated the Meraki MR14 Enterprise Wireless LAN as an Editors’ Choice, and the Meraki MR16 Cloud Managed Wireless Access Point, which delivered slightly better performance is also deserving of the award.

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Specifications
Device Type Access Point
Networking Options 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11a/b, 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband)
Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses Yes
NAT Yes
Quality of Service Yes
Security WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPA2-Enterprise, 802.1x Authentification

Verdict
Small businesses looking for a robust access point with a full range of features and decent throughput would do well to consider Meraki's MR16.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc