The Netgear ProSafe wireless LAN system is a great fit for a small business, providing reliable performance at a low cost. A small IT team with average skills could easily install and maintain this device, though initial setup may present a significant hurdle.
Netgear provided us with two ProSafe WNDAP350 wireless access points (WAPs) and the ProSafe WMS5316 wireless management device for testing. The WAPs support simultaneous 802.11a and 80211b/g/n networking, and the management system can handle a maximum of 16 WAPs. The deployment was challenging, but performance was superior and maintenance was simple. At $300 for each WNDAP350 access point and $600 for the WMS5316 controller, the cost is also attractive. We were less impressed with Netgear's customer support.
Netgear ProSafe deployment woes
Deploying the ProSafe system was not a trivial task. Although the two WNDAP350 WAPs arrived in the same box, they contained different versions of firmware. This seemed to be an issue when the Netgear controller could not detect the WAPs on our network. One of the general first steps involved with troubleshooting a network problem is to upgrade and standardize the firmware across devices. We tried this, but it did not solve the problem.
The obligatory phone call to customer support revealed where Netgear stands in its effort to provide business network solutions. Business customers demand a level of support that is far beyond that typically provided for the low-budget consumer devices Netgear has had success with in the past. The support experience would have been positive if I had been able to speak with a technician in less than 5 minutes rather than the 90 minutes it took being transferred from one support representative to another who could do no more than read from a scripted book.
When we finally reached a competent technician who could provide the necessary customer support, the issue turned out to be nonregistered Organizational Unit Identifier (OUI), the first three bytes of the six-byte MAC address used to identify the organization issuing the address. Especially perplexing is the fact that Netgear did not have the forethought to register its own MAC OUI into the management console. This step was not in the installation manual.
Netgear ProSafe performance and security
The configuration GUI is simple and intuitive to use, if not as elegant as, say, the interface of the Meraki Cloud Controller. I was able to quickly configure an 802.11g network and log on with both a PC and a Mac. A performance test from speedtest.net showed download speeds of nearly 10Mbps, more than double the performance of our current office WAP.
One of the best features of the WNDAP350 is the ability to operate in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, allowing you to run a 802.11a network alongside a 802.11b/g/n network with no fear of interference. The WNDAP350 comes standard with built-in antennas. However, if you desire enhanced performance in the 2.4GHz band, the WNDAP350 has takeoffs to attach an optional accessory antenna. Coverage was outstanding, with no noticeable dead spots in the office building using a single WAP. I was able to connect from about 200 feet away, though I did not test for maximum range.
The WNDAP350 comes with a variety of security features, including WPA/WPA2, WEP, MAC address filtering, and SSID broadcast blocking. The VPN pass-through functioned perfectly when using an Aruba mobility controller for VPN access to enterprise resources. Each WAP comes with a lifetime hardware warranty. However, given our experience with Netgear customer support, you should not hold your breath for expeditious service.
For growing companies or businesses that have several remote offices, the WMS5316 wireless management system simplifies and streamlines the setup and configuration process. With a single entry, a technician can input wireless parameters and push them out to all access points. The look and feel of the GUI is similar to that of the WNDAP350, which reduced the learning curve for device management. Using the WMS5316, we were able to configure security settings for two WAPs and deploy them in less than a minute.
The Netgear ProSafe WNDAP350 access point and ProSafe WMS5316 controller are a great combination for the small-business customer who is searching for a wireless access solution at a low entry price. Attractive features include dual-band operation, strong security measures, and a quick and intuitive GUI. With the wireless network controller, you can quickly configure and deploy configurations for up to 16 WAPs in a matter of minutes.