A Tale Of Wonky Wifi Part 1: Netgear & Cisco

One of the things that Santa brought over the holidays was a new Wifi access point. Back in November our Netgear router/AP just up and died. In fact, that was the third time in 18 months that the Netgear device has failed. It was twice replaced under warranty. On the occasion of this third failure it, and others of its kind, were not welcome to return….at any price.

Thinking that I’d had enough of cheap consumer routers being repurposed as APs I picked out what looked like a good SMB offering from Cisco, the WAP4410N.

Like the Netgear AP I was replacing it was an N type, with a lot of nice features. It could be powered via P.O.E. so I could run it from my UPS even while locating it in a more idea spot for RF performance.  It supports four separate SSIDs allowing you to have secure and guest wifi with different levels of access, even different QoS settings per SSID. Since it was an N type AP it supports WMM, which is a must for streaming media like music or VoIP.

The WAP4410N was around $170, but since it was a business grade offering I thought it worth the investment to get a device that wasn’t going to die in 6 months. While the logic of that decision may have been sound, our experience with the WAP4410N over the past month was simply terrible.

The WAP4410N was simply unreliable. I’d reboot it and it would work adequately for a few hours, but later in the day it would essentially drop off the network. My laptop and netbook could get connection to the radio but internet access was so slow as to be unusable.

At one point I ran a test on my wife’s desktop (Hard LAN) and it measured 20 mbps x 2.5 mbps. I then ran the same test on my laptop connected to the wifi and it returned a paltry 180 kbps x 100 kbps!

I experimented with the AP for a couple of weeks trying to find a way to make it work reliably. I tried updating the firmware. I periodically power-cycled the AP. I tried various combinations of wired and wireless network settings. None of it got around the problems.

So Friday I called BUY.COM and arranged an RMA so that I could return the WAP4410N. They balked at first, citing their 30 day return policy and the fact that it was now seven weeks since I had purchased the device. I told them that I had all the original packaging, and further that IMHO the device was faulty…if they didn’t take it back I would turn the matter over to American Express. They were pretty quick to agree to issue an RMA.

Say what you will about American Express, they’ve stood by me on numerous occasions when I needed to return faulty merchandise to a reluctant merchant.

In part 2 of this little saga I’ll reveal what I learned when I polled friends and associates for recommendations of a better wifi solution.

  • David Cook

    Sorry to hear that you had problems with Netgear kit. Here in the UK I have a number of relatives using the consumer grade Netgear DG834G DSL router wirelessly with no issues in 18 months or more.

    I happily use Netgear wireless kit myself but have a POE powered commercial grade WG302 AP in the loft. The only time I’ve rendered it inaccesible was while ‘tinkering’ with the VLAN settings. The unit is plenum rated and built to last with a pressed steel case, the more recent models are equally well constructed.

    Best regards
    David

  • We were also looking for a new multi-SSID AP, and this very product was top on the list – until I had read through the user reviews on the net! The stability issue is very well known, and to date it appears that Cisco/Linksys has not been able to fix it.

    So instead we went for a bit more expensive ZyXEL NWA-3166. It is a nice device and has a lot of options, BUT in multi-SSID mode and with the current firmware it is flakey: users report the link going up and down quite often (but no reboots or any of that sort, the box as such is stable). Turn off multi-SSID and all is fine.

  • Kim Callis

    My AP of choice is the Engenius EOR 7750 which is a dual radio AP (a,b,g on RADIO1 and b,g,n for RADIO2). Multiple SSID with individual setting for each SSID (QoS, and other restrictions). Although I originally bought it for an outside AP, actually it was part of a 3 AP layout with the APs bridged together on the A band… It has served perfectly in the house for local access.

    Normally, I use pfsense for QoS, firewall, etc, but the QoS worked perfectly on the AP that I skipped the normal step of adding pfsense into the equation. Although that might change since i want to use pfsense along with freeswitch.

    http://www.engeniustech.com/datacom/products/details.aspx?id=264

  • Robin Davies

    Despite years of longstanding happiness with (hacked) Linksys WRT54G devices I wanted a Wireless-N router with guest network capabilities. I had already purchased a Vigor 2820Vn for my mum’s home, and went with the same option for my new home network. The wireless throughput seems great, and the ADSL modem section solid and stable; WAN failover to a secondary or tertiary 3G connection is a bonus (although not yet utilized in my location). They aren’t the cheapest device around, but for the money it has proven reliable and performant. I’d recommend the Vigor for a business class usage scenario.

  • Update on the ZyXEL NWA-3166: The multi-SSID problem is solved, so that device is working great now and I can recommend it – if you are willing to pay for it. The solution was somehwere in between 1. making sure that the different SSIDs have all different pre-shared keys, 2. switching off roaming support (there’s anyway only 1 AP), 3. switching off STP.

    • Adam

      I have had the exact same issues with the NWA-3166 access points. We were about ready to scrap them and replace them however after contacting Zyxel support they have supplied me with an updated firmware that they believe will fix the connection drop outs.

      We have only been using the firmware for a couple of days but the access points seem 100x more reliable.

      • Arthur

        @Adam & @Ottone – yes, there is a newer, not yet publicly released firmware – I have been having the same problems with my 3166’s, called support and they sent me a link to it.  Keeping my fingers crossed it fixes the issues.  If anyone else is having this problem I highly recommend calling support.  They gentleman I spoke with was extremely helpful.