With the 802.12 wireless networking standard finally approved, wireless LANs (WLANs) can offer network managers greater interoperability and, ultimately, lower prices. Bay Networks' BayStack 660 is at the front of the pack: Based on its speedy performance and fairly low price, as well as Bay's support, I recommend it for those seeking to deploy a corporate WLAN.
The concept of an on-site corporate WLAN is picking up steam. Even the best wiring jobs can't support mobile users or an unknown number of visitors requiring a quick network connection. The BayStack 660 Wireless LAN PC Card and Access Point are ideal for in-building WLAN access - as long as all of the connecting clients will be Windows-based notebooks, which is usually the case. The 660 solution is fairly easy to get up and running, and it operated flawlessly for me after initial configuration.
The only downside I experienced was a slow start using the Java-based first-time configuration console. When first turned on, the 660 Access Point sends out BootP requests, looking for its management console. Unfortunately, that console is a Java application that must be loaded on a management system.
Like those of many administrators, my management console isn't the most modern - a relatively wimpy 133MHz Pentium running Windows NT with 64MB of RAM. Thus the Java console took about 5 minutes to start, and when it did, it couldn't find the Access Point.
After some troubleshooting, I found that the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server on my management console was preventing the BootP requests from reaching the Java console. After I stopped the DHCP server and restarted the console (time for a little snack), things worked fine.
I configured the Access Point with an SSID (the name used to identify the WLAN for connecting clients), an IP address, a subnet mask, a default route, and SNMP community data. After initial configuration, I never had to work with that utility again - even after unplugging the Access Point for a few hours.
After those initial hurdles, working with the BayStack 660 was about as easy as it gets. I popped the 660's PC Card into a Panasonic Pentium-based notebook, and Windows 95 found the card right away, loading the driver from the Bay-supplied floppy disk.
I set a few parameters on the client side, including the SSID, and after I rebooted, the network came right up. The 660 client has a System Tray icon that shows the connection's status, so I didn't have to go digging to find out if I was connected.
One excellent tool included is the Site Survey Tool, which let me wander around while receiving instant readings of my signal strength. For sites planning to deploy multiple access points for roaming, this tool provides the perfect way to place them without relying on guesswork.
Multiple access points
The Site Survey Tool can display the signal strength from multiple access points and can even log the signal strength over time, so you can save it for future reference. All in all, the Site Survey Tool is an excellent diagnostic and planning tool for the solution.
Connections to the network via the BayStack 660 WLAN were very fast. In fact, I really didn't notice a difference compared to using an Ethernet PC Card to connect, except when transferring very large files. For day-to-day use, Web browsing, and printing, the connection difference using the BayStack was very unnoticeable - just the way networking equipment should be for end users.
The BayStack 660 system can support load balancing across as many as three access points, for auditoriums or other rooms that will see many simultaneous users. The access points themselves are fairly small and should be easy to mount.
One minor complaint I have is the way the BayStack's antenna sticks out of the PC Card slot about an inch. Although the antenna is fairly sturdy, it's begging to be stepped on or otherwise beat up. A flexible antenna, or one that could tilt up and lie flush with the notebook, would be nice.
If you're planning to deploy an in-building WLAN for quick and easy mobile connections throughout your company, the BayStack 660 is an ideal choice.
The Bottom Line
BayStack 660 Wireless LAN PC Card and Access PointAn excellent wireless solution for in-building LANs, the BayStack 660 supports roaming and load balancing - plus it offers excellent diagnostic tools.
Pros: Fast; good administration and diagnostic tools; SNMP manageable.
Cons: Slow initial configuration.
Platforms: Client: Windows 95/98, Windows NT notebooks.
Price: Pricing is yet to be announced.
Tel 1800 817 070