Strengths: Extremely easy to deploy and manage, doesn't need APs to be converted, simple AP configuration process, good value
Weaknesses: Only supports Netgear APs, minimal reporting features
Verdict: Netgear delivers an affordable wireless management solution that is easy to use and doesn't require APs to be converted for use
Netgear's ProSafe WMS5316 wireless controller aims to provide a low-cost solution for managing wireless networks and has a focus on cash-strapped SMBs and schools. With a price of under £400, it achieves this admirably.
The WMS5316 can handle up to 16 APs - which have to be Netgear's own. It supports a wide range, including the latest Wireless-N products, and allows different models to be mixed and matched to suit your needs.
The appliance also offers a feature few competing solutions can match. The majority of wireless management products can only manage APs that have been turned into 'light' versions. This effectively lobotomises them, so they can no longer function as standalone units.
Netgear can deploy wireless configurations to managed APs, but doesn't need them to be converted first. At any time they can be released, where they revert to standalone mode intact.
Installation is swift as the simple web interface opens with a wizard. It supports multiple VLANs and can also present different DCHP servers on each one.
To discover APs, we used Netgear's WNDAP350 dual-band Wireless-N access point. If your APs are all on the same subnet, the automatic search will spot them straightaway - but if not, you can use IP address range search.
Next you need to add them to the appliance so they can be managed and you simply supply each AP's administrative password. For our test AP, this took a matter of seconds.
Basic profiles are provided for 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands; for hotspot or public access services, you can stop wireless clients on the same SSID from seeing each other. If supported by the AP, QoS using WiFi Multimedia can be applied, while load-balancing limits the number of clients associated with an AP/SSID.
The appliance carries out RF management, where it picks the best channels based on wireless performance. If clients are already associated, you can block changes being made and also stop this if bandwidth usage is above a set threshold. A scheduler is provided.
Groups are used when all managed APs are not required to have the same settings or do not belong to the same network.
If you want manual access to channel settings, you just switch off centralised RF management.
The appliance also spots rogues and drops them into a list of unknown APs, but no rogue-containment facilities are provided. The appliance found 15 APs in our office; success rate will be determined by the APs you use. Monitoring tools are simplistic, with the appliance offering graphs showing network/wireless usage.
To help identify the location of managed devices, you can import a graphic of your office and drag and drop icons of your APs onto it. At this price, you won't get any heat signature-style wireless range indicators or triangulation features.
The WMS5316 worked very well and we could see our test AP receiving all configuration changes as soon as they had been applied. We could still log in to the AP's own web interface and see what settings it had received and whenever the appliance wanted access we were automatically logged out. The final test was to remove the test AP from its management group; once freed, it reverted to standalone mode.
Netgear's WMS5316 offers low-cost wireless network management that doesn't need AP conversion. It is simple to deploy and provides plenty of wireless security measures.