We all know about wireless; we have all seen wireless access points and routers. They all look about the same with a few minor aesthetic differences. However, they do not have to look the same as we found out a few weeks ago. On that day we received a very interesting package in the post. It was from TRENDnet and contained one of the more interesting networking products I have played around with.
The device in question, called the TEW-653AP, looks more like a smoke detector than what it really is. In reality it is a very functional wireless access point that can be run on Power over Ethernet and supports the Wireless Distribution System. You have heard us talk about both of these before, so you know that these are becoming more prevalent in the consumer market. But the TEW-653AP has more inside its little round body than just PoE and WDS; it is a full 802.11n spec router with SNMP, a DHCP server, a scheduler for power saving, usage monitoring, multiple SSID support (using VLANs), and the list goes on.
At $108.19 (after instant savings) from NewEgg.com it is a little more expensive than your average AP; but then again, it does so much more.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
I think that TRENDnet does a great job on the packaging for their products. You are not getting the heavy amounts of hard sell like you do on a typical graphics card or motherboard. Instead, you get a fairly clean box with a few graphs and claims, a good image of the product and a clear indication of what you are buying.
The back of the box is also well laid out with a good diagram depicting where the TEW-653AP fits into your home network. I do have to say that I find the "related products" listing a little funny, but I suppose it does serve a purpose.
Inside the box you will find almost everything you need to get the TEW-653AP installed and working. The reason I say "almost" is that if you are going for a real PoE installation then the likely hood is that you are going to run some CAT5 (or CAT6) cable quite a way through the attic. In the box you only get a single 3-foot cable. That length is not going to get you very far at all. Fortunately I have a nice 1000-foot spool of CAT 5e cable in the lab, so I was good to go on getting this setup properly.
One more thing to note; the provided power block and cord is rather short. We found that you could not wall or ceiling-mount this if you chose to use this power block (and you have the standard wall outlets). This might not be the case in all homes or offices (I have two ceiling mounted outlets in the garage), but it is something to be aware of.
The CD-ROM included contains a full user's manual and product registration information, but not much else of interest.
When I first looked at the picture on the front of the box for the TEW-653AP I kind of laughed. I mean, the thing looks like a smoke or carbon monoxide detector. Even other people I showed it to thought it was one of those, although one person did say it reminded them of the cameras used in the movie "Enemy of The State". Of course, the little labelled lights are a giveaway and let you know this is more than a simple detection product.
Flipping the TEW-653AP over, you see that it is meant to be flush mounted to a wall or ceiling. This is an excellent method for getting the AP out of view. With traditional ones they are almost always sitting on a table, maybe hidden behind something, but still where they can be viewed.
The TEW-653AP has a nice mounting bracket that helps in getting things in place. We found this to be very easy to use and did not get in the way of the CAT5e cable we used for PoE.
Once you remove the mounting ring you get a glimpse at the two sources of power for the TEW-653AP; the traditional wall power and the PoE enabled R-45 jack. You may also have noticed that this product is very well ventilated. It actually has better ventilation than many full routers I have seen.
The little button on the top of the TEW-653AP with the wrench icon next to it is the reset button. Pressing and holding this for 10 seconds will restore the 653AP to its factory defaults.
Now that we have covered the physical side of the TEW-653AP, let's take a look at its inner beauty. We briefly covered some of the features in the introduction, but as we said there, "the list goes on". The TEW-653AP is so much more than a standard access point. It has functions to let it operate as a repeater and a WDS Bridge. The support for up to four separate SSIDs using VLAN tags (802.1q) makes it extremely flexible. While support for SNMP, remote management, 802.1x authentication, spanning tree protocol (802.1d) support and QoS (WMMs) will make it attractive to enterprise users.
The TEW-653AP operates in the 2.4GHz range (2.412~2.472) with a nominal power output of 18dBm when in 802.11n mode. It draws a maximum of 6 watts of power either from the wall or PoE switch. The TEW-653AP also uses an internal antenna (as opposed to multiple external ones. This is a 4dBi Smart Antenna that has a sensitivity range of - 61dBm to - 93dBm depending on the 802.11 type (n to b) and MCS (modulation and coding scheme).
So, you see there are some pretty impressive things going on under the plain outer shell.
The setup of the TEW-653AP could have been better than it was. Out of the box it has a hard set IP Address of 192.168.10.100 and no detection utility like TRENDnet includes with some of their other products (like their Web Smart switches and IP cameras). This means that unless your LAN already uses 192.168.10.x (with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0) you are not going to be able to view the new device. You will need to setup a system using that IP range and directly connect to the TEW-653AP to begin the setup.
I wish that TRENDnet had of included a product detection software in with the TEW-653AP, but I imagine that since this is marketed towards businesses (or prosumers) they did not feel the need for the more pedestrian tools to be included.
Once you do have your system setup to talk to the TEW-653AP you will simply open up your favourite web browser and enter the default IP address. This will open up the Web Management interface and let you configure your TEW-653AP to your tastes.
When you first get the web management page open you see the status page. This gives you configuration information for the TEW-653AP "at-a-glance". If this is your first time entering the web management then you want to click on the Wizard link to get everything operating properly.
The second page of the Wizard asks you how you want to operate your TEW-653AP. For our purposes we chose AP Mode.
The next page of the setup wizard had me VERY happy. One of my constant complaints is that companies that manufacture networking equipment (especially wireless gear) do not explain or emphasize security properly. To give you a very clear example, one day I drove around my neighbourhood and found over 50 completely open and exposed wireless routers. Most of these were Linksys, but there were D-Link and others present.
This means that either people are VERY lazy, or the setup of these products is not sufficient and leaves the consumer open to attack. Beyond the 50 open access points I found a rather large number still using WEP. This is almost as bad as being open. In fact, it provides a very false sense of security, making it worse. Any "hacker' worth his salt can break open WEP (using the proper tools) in about 10 minutes; even less if there is a large amount of traffic or they are using a GPU based cracking tool.
Thankfully the wizard on the TEW-653AP shows you the level of security visually and allows you to choose the security level using something similar to a slider. This makes for an excellent explanation and tool to get your wireless device secured properly.
After the wizard is complete you are asked to reboot, however you are not done yet. There are still a couple of items you have to do manually. I hope that TRENDnet can include these in future versions of their wizard as it would round out a great start to fixing what is broken with many wireless devices. Come to think on it, it would be nice if a complete wizard (including setting the IP address information and changing the admin password) is the first thing you see when you connect for the first time.
After the reboot you will want to head over to the LAN page. Here you will need to manually configure the IP address information for your TEW-653AP including the DNS servers in use. There is no option to get this from a DHCP server. For the ProSumer or the IT professional this information is probably burned inside their brain already. For the average user you will need to take a look at your existing router or a system already connected to it and find this out. On the LAN page there is also some basic options for setting up the built in DHCP server.
Another item to hit before you are done with the setup is in the tools area. You want to change the Admin Password. To do this you click on the "Admin" link; you will need to type in the default password and then pick a new one.
The last thing you want to do before calling it "done" is to make sure you are getting good time information. The TEW-653AP gets all of its time settings from the internet (although you can sync it with your PC's time). This means that you need to put in the address of an NTP server (Network Time Protocol). You can find a list of primary public time servers here: [http://psp2.ntp.org/bin/view/Servers/StratumOneTimeServers]
You have already had a nice glimpse into the Web User Interface with the setup we took you through before, but there are a few more areas to cover in the Web UI that are pretty important.
As the TEW-653AP is a wireless device you will want to head over to the Wireless section and take a look at things there. We setup our test TEW-653AP in AP mode. This gives us some interesting freedom with our configuration. We now have the ability to open up more than one SSID (Service Set Identifier). You do this from a drop-down box and simply click on the number of SSIDs you want. For our testing we chose 2.
Although the Advanced link is next in line, you should head over to the Security link immediately after you create any new SSIDs to make sure you are not leaving yourself open to intrusion. You can setup security for each SSID independently which is handy for clients that might not support (or need to use) more or less secure methods of connection.
The Advanced link gives us options to control the way that the TEW-653AP handles data and packets in route. The fragmentation threshold sets the size limit for packets. Anything above the specified size will be broken up into fragments to maintain performance. The number shown is in bytes; this setting can be important if there is a lot of background noise in your location. However, for most home networks this can be safely left at the default level.
The RTS (Request to Send) setting is another setting that will help you out in congested or noisy networks. If you are getting a lot of collisions then setting this to a lower level will help. However, adjusting this down will also increase overhead. Unless you are experiencing a lot of collisions or having connection issues this should be left at the default.
There are additional settings on the Advanced page as well, but as with all of the others they should not be altered unless you are having connectivity issues.
The TEW-653AP also supports Wireless Protected Setup. This is an often unused feature that can allow for easy and secure setup of wireless connections.
Another interesting feature of the TEW-653AP is the ability to setup VLANs for the multiple SSIDs. With this you can segment your wireless traffic and allow for multiple networks like you would with many layer 2 switches. This segmenting does require the use of a switch that supports VLAN tags as well, though. Otherwise, even though you separate the connections at the AP, they are still able to access all the same traffic once they hit the switch the TEW-653AP is connected to.
The next area is another one that is included for flexibility and to resolve any issues you might have. This is the Wireless Multi-Media link. Here you can adjust the priority tags to the different types of media steams. There are tags for Video, Audio and VoIP traffic.
There are two sections we did not directly cover in the wireless area; these are the filter and the client list. The filter is pretty easy and allows you to filter out unauthorized systems by MAC Address, whilst the client list is just what it says, it is a list of wireless clients that are actively connected to the AP.
Heading back up into the System area, we are going to take a quick look at a few of the pages to round out the TEW-653AP.
The Operation Mode link is where you can change the way the TEW-653AP works. Your choices are Access Point, Repeater and Wireless Distribution System.
The DHCP page is where you would setup and configure the internal DHCP server.
SNMP stands for Simple Network Management Protocol and allows you to capture information about your networks status including up and down ports, collisions and other status data.
The TEW-653AP has a scheduler that can allow you to put the AP into a power saving mode. This is great for offices that would not want or need the device to run after business hours. You can enter up to 8 schedule profiles for a great deal of flexibility.
The Monitor link is a pretty impressive page. It provides you with a visual representation of the traffic statistics for both the Ethernet port and the Wireless LAN. If you need more detailed statistics you can click on the graph if you want to see a higher level view of traffic patterns.
Under the Tools section there are a number of items that are concerned with the direct administration of the TEW-653AP. One of my favorites is the ability to turn off the LEDs. To me this is just plain cool; I like to have the ability to control the number of blinking blue, green and red LEDs in my work area, so this is an excellent feature for me as well as for many potential business users.
We used PerformanceTest 6.1 by PassMark which you can find out more information about here. It has a handy Advanced Networking section which is perfect for our testing.
Doing our best to emulate a real-world performance scenario, I setup a server running Windows 2008 R2 (x64) Server, (2x Xeon Quad Core 3.0 GHz 1333MHz FSB, 4GB DDR2 FB-DIMMS, 2x 146GB SAS drives in RAID 1) and the client PC was an MSI Wind 200 With built-in Intel 802.11n (Intel WiFi Link 5100 AGN) adapter. The results were gathered by sending data from the MSI netbook to the server at different distances with the built in adapter and a TPLink TL-WN821N. Average transmission speeds were recorded for each.
As we have noted in reviews of other wireless products, unless you can set your wireless device to "n" only, you are going to have some speed concerns. The same was true with the TEW-653AP. When we set the band to 2.4GHz (802.11b/g/n) we could not connect at more than 64Mb/s. However, once we set it to 2.4GHz (802.11n) we were able to connect at about 130Mb/s. That is quite a difference, and centers on the type of modulation used by the different standards.
The worst type is the old "b" standard; here we have the CCK (complementary code keying) for modulation, while 802.11g goes back to OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing). It is not until 802.11n that you enter a completely new standard of MCS; these range from MCS 0 to MCS 15 with 23 and 31 sitting on their own. This new scheme actually makes it theoretically possible to transfer 600Mb/s (using MCS 31 over 40Hz and with four spatial streams). The most commonly used spec is MCS 15 with two spatial streams, over 20/40Hz. This gives you a connection range of 144MB/s to 270MB/s.
Now, I am sure you are wondering what I am talking about with "spatial streams". One of the things that was brought to the game with 802.11n was MIMO (multiple-in multiple-out). With MIMO you had multiple antennas that were able to receive multiple data streams. This was combined with SDM (Spatial Division Multiplexing) to increase the data throughput by multiplexing the independent streams inside the same frequency range.
Think about it like this; imagine needing to give someone all the pages of an unbound book. If you pass them one page at a time it will take a very long time, but if you can pass them one page in each hand you can speed up the time it takes to get it to them. That is MIMO; the ability to rapidly pass the pages in order and have them reassembled correctly is what SDM takes care of.
Testing the TEW-653AP was pretty straight forward. We had it setup in AP mode and connected to our TRENDnet TPE-80WS Gigabit PoE switch. From there we connected to the TEW-653AP with our MSI Wind 200 and moved to our three pre-set locations. The first was within 10 feet and the TEW-653AP was visible, while the other two had at least one wall between the AP and the MSI Wind.
*signal travelling through wet wall and main house electrical panel
It would seem that the TEW-653AP has some issues penetrating walls. As soon as we were out of direct sight of the AP we lost signal and bandwidth. To see if it was the walls or the distance, we setup the AP out in the open and walked 50 feet in a direct line away from the TEW-653AP. Even at that range we had an average bandwidth of 45MB/s, but even with the TEW-653AP right on the opposite side of a wall from where the MSI Wind 200 was (less than three feet) we saw a dramatic drop in signal strength and bandwidth; in most cases around 50% of what we should have had.
The TRENDnet TEW-653AP is a pretty neat product. It is a small easily concealable access point that can be pushed out to an area that has no power outlets using PoE. It has some excellent features and allows for great flexibility.
Unfortunately its signal penetration is very poor and makes it suitable for only single room usage. Our testing showed that once the signal passes through any type of wall, you lose a good deal of performance. However, the TEW-653AP has good "unobstructed" range. Even out to 50-feet we were getting 40MB/s over wireless N with WPA-2 AES. This made me think about where the TEW-653AP would really fit into a wireless network.
In the end I feel that the TEW-653AP is best suited to single point applications. This would be extending a wireless network out to a single room, or providing coverage in a large conference room. It is not intended for use to cover an entire home or office, but to extend the coverage of an existing network using WDS.
It is an excellent choice to provide "guest" style wireless coverage in a conference room or waiting area using the VLAN tags available in the WebUI. In this capacity it provides amazing speed and stability. At $108.19 from NewEgg.com this is a great product at a very good price. For me the TEW-653AP will go into the ceiling of the new testing lab to provide it with a good solid wireless connection point with a single cable instead of cluttering up any more desktop area.
For many the TEW-653AP will not be very exciting or interesting. However, if you are looking to extend your wireless, or provide wireless access to a single point without needing to worry about "how to get power out there", then the TRENDnet TEW-653AP could be an excellent choice for you.