ZyAIR B-2000 WLAN Gateway Review

Wednesday Jul 23rd 2003 by Joseph Moran

The ZyAIR B-2000 is a networking solution for home and small businesses, providing wireless access to computer networks with high-speed broadband Internet connections. What the B-2000 brings to the table, aside from 4-port built-in switch, is more sophisticated router capabilities.

Physically, the ZyAIR B-2000 is a slightly larger version of its sibling, the B-1000 access point. Because of the real estate needed to accommodate the unit's four 10/100 local area network (LAN) ports, all of the interfaces are on the side, rather than the top of the unit, making it not quite as easy to neatly route cables out of the unit. A hardware mounting bracket is included.

Aside from the aforementioned LAN ports, the white chassis of the B-2000 also provides a console port for direct connection to the unit through a means other than via Internet protocol (IP) address.

Like its router-less sibling, the front of the B-2000 sports a variety of indicator lights, and it also prominently features a large round ZyAIR logo that glows an eerie blue when the unit is powered up. In fact, the light oscillates and varies in intensity whenever data is being transferred across the wireless network.ZyXEL calls this "breathing" in its documentation. While it certainly has no functional benefit, it certainly does look impressive.

In the wireless local area network (WLAN) area, the 802.11b-based B-2000 uses the Intersil Prism 3 chipset. The router has the same wireless features and capabilities as its B-1000 sibling, including media access control (MAC) filtering, WLAN roaming, and most importantly, support for 802.1x and remote authentication dial-in user service (RADIUS) authentication. Like the B-1000, the B-2000 has two removable and adjustable antennae, one on either side of the unit.

What the B-2000 brings to the table, aside from built-in switch, is more sophisticated router capabilities, which are slightly more complicated than most other products in this market segment.

What differentiates it from most broadband routers in how it deals with Network Address Translation (NAT). For starters, unlike many similar products, using NAT is not a requirement, so if you want or need to use exclusively global addresses on your network, the ZyAIR B-2000 is one of the few products outside the enterprise space that will let you do so.

The B-2000 also supports several varieties or flavors of NAT. For example, what most vendors refer to as NAT is called SUA (Single User Account) in ZyXEL parlance. (There are some other examples of differently-named features as well. For example, the B-2000 doesn't use a DMZ, but rather a "default server."

SUA happens to be the most common type of NAT used in a small-office, homeoiffuce environment, where a private subnet stands behind one global IP address (either static or dynamically assigned). This method of address translation is also often referred to as port address translation (PAT).

However, ZyXEL also provides what they term "full feature" NAT, whichsupports many-to-many or many one-to-one translation modes. These latter modescan be used in situations where you might be given a range of global IP addressesby an Internet service provider, and they often come in handy in an office environment, offeringtwo main benefits. First, they allow you to host multiple servers with outside access on the LAN--say, running two separate Web or file transfer protocol (FTP) servers each with itsown IP. Second, using multiple global IP addresses make it possible to do detailed auditing of specific users' network activity, something that can be difficult if not impossible when all your users are accessing the Net through the same address.

The B-2000's browser-based interface is clean and functional, but certain non-essential though still important features of the B-2000 can't be accessed this way. (some examples are turning on logging support and remote administration). As a result, administrators will need to feel comfortable configuring the B-2000 via Telnet or the console port. Thankfully, maintenance features, like backing up and restoring the router configuration or upgrading the firmware are available from the browser interface.

Though it's certainly more difficult than the browser interface, the SMT's menu interface is not very difficult to master. If you're a real techie (or a glutton for punishment) you can also manipulate the ZyAIR via a command-line interface very similar to Cisco IOS.

One disappointment was to see that the B-2000 is bereft of any kind of e-mail alerting capability. Given how much flexibility and control the B-2000 otherwise affords the administrator, it was surprising to see this feature missing.

The B-2000's wireless performance was good--but as is often the case, it didn't do quite as well as the stand-alone B-1000 access point. When paired against the same B-100 PC Card adapter in the test platform. The B-2000 found a plateau at the 4.5 Mbps level throughout the distance range, whereas the B-1000 managed to do a bit better; from 4.67 to 5.01 Mbps.

ZyXEL says that street prices for the B-2000 are between $88 and $137. I saw several examples of prices falling into this range, which is anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent more expensive than the average 802.11b WLAN router. Clearly, the ZyAIR's features come at a price.

For the typical home or small office using a residential broadband connection, the routing and wireless authentication features of the ZyAIR B-2000 are arguably overkill. On the other hand, for small enterprises with more sophisticated requirements, the B-2000's advanced features set the unit apart. But then, so does the "breathing" blue light.

Adapted from 802.11-Planet.com.

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