Belkin F5D7230-4 802.11g AP

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There is a pawn shop in Ukiah near my favorite cheap Sushi restaurant which often has interesting goodies; while most of their floor space is given over to antiques and collectibles they have a couple of racks of tools and usually a small selection of electronics as well. Last time I was in there, I picked up one of these access points new in the box for $30 - not an amazing price (right now you can get one NIB from amazon for $25 shipped) but it satisfied my need for instant gratification. I've been stumbling along with only 802.11b for years now (I got my Linksys WAP11 as part of a trade) and I was long past due for an upgrade.

The WAP11 has been an incredibly reliable little unit, and I've been very happy with it in general. However, it is only an 802.11b-spec unit, and it does not support any encryption more complex than WEP. Even WPA is considered to be compromised today, so in the past I've either just used it fully open, or firewalled all but ssh, web and proxy traffic from the "insecure" network, which is on its own interface. This part of my network has been left in the firewalled state, and I've installed PPTP, OpenVPN, and IPSEC daemons on the firewall and let those through as well. In the past I used MAC filtering for an added layer of annoyance to any potential attacker, but now I've got that turned off and am relying on the firewall for security since MAC filtering also provides me an added layer of annoyance.

Simple network diagram

Back to Belkin; while this unit is a router and firewall in its own right, a simple feature is provided to turn off all of that jazz and just use it as an access point. Given that I control the hardware up until the border with the internet (my ISP in this case) and that my connection is based on a modem, the router features of the unit would only get in my way. But you can still use encryption in this mode of course, so I was able to connect the unit directly to my switch via a short patch cable. The switch is an 8-port Airlink unit I got at Fry's for about $20. It not only autonegotiates 10/100 correctly, but it also properly detects crossover and will go ahead and flip itself, so I don't even need a crossover cable.

Both units have web administration, and this is definitely a potential weak point in my network. Since hosts on the wired network are (more or less) trusted, this is not a huge issue. Someone who sits down and physically plugs into my network can loot some of my files, but they can't delete them (I hope) so allowing someone access to my network is not automatically a seriously problem. The users on the 802.11b network are pretty well restricted unless they have a valid VPN login, so I'm not especially worried about that network; again, the Belkin unit supports WPA2 which is so far considered to be effective (unless they blew the implementation of course) so I consider that an acceptable risk for a home network.

Now that I've explained how I'm using it, I can discuss how it's working, which is to say in a mediocre fashion. Encryption was easy to set up and worked just great with Ubuntu Gutsy and Windows XP clients. For the moment that I used it in router mode, the DHCP and the DNS proxy were working just fine. Unfortunately, there is no way to bridge the WAN interface to the LAN (switch) side without installing Linux on the unit, which does not appear to be possible for my version. Apparently some versions will run Linux handily (a couple have 8MB flash) and if you have one of them, then you are in luck. Because I'm not using any advanced features of my router, this is the way I would like to go, but it doesn't look like I have the option.

Anyway, as the unit ships it has a mediocre web interface and a lot of features, pretty much all of which are standard these days. My understanding is that these have an internal patch antenna on the PC Board, and they have one small external antenna which I found to be capable of producing a good (80%+) signal through a wall or two. I have wall-mounted the unit, and the antenna hangs downwards at about chest height and seems to produce a decent signal.

Full Specifications1
LEDs Power, Wired, Wireless, Modem, Internet
Maximum Users 253 (LAN), 16 (WLAN)
Ports Ports 4-10/100Base-T auto-sensing and auto-uplink RJ45 ports, LAN 1-10/100Base-T RJ45 port, WAN
Protocols supported CSMA/CD, TCP, IP, UDP, PPPoE, UPnP, and DHCP (client and server)
Range Up to 400ft*
Security WPA, WPA2, 64-bit/128-bit encryption
Specifications Standards IEEE 802.11b , IEEE 802.11g , IEEE 802.3u 100Base-T Fast Ethernet , IEEE 802.3u 10Base-T Fast Ethernet

If I must find something to complain about (besides that this unit is not apparently based on Linux - the horror!) it is how Belkin is marketing these products. I guess it doesn't so much bother as amuse me, to be honest; Belkin is trying to make a buck like anyone else. 802.11g is sold as being marginally adequate for network audio and unacceptable for streaming video, which is hilarious given that it can provide 54Mbps (admittedly, this is a best-case scenario) while a DVD requires at most 1.2MB/sec, or about 9.6Mbps. Keep in mind that this is an absolute peak rate; a single-speed DVD-ROM peaks at this speed, so no video DVD will ever require that you accept the data faster than this. I wouldn't try to have more than about three users doing this at once, I guess. HD video is considerably more demanding, but to most people "streaming video" means Youtube.

Unfortunately, I have had some problems with the unit locking up. I think it's happened mostly on hot days, so perhaps it's related to overheating; however, it seems to me to be tied much more closely to uptime. Other than this, this unit has served me well, and I hold hopes that a future firmware update (I have already solved a problem with setting access point mode with an earlier one) will see me through this issue as well. (Update 20080721: So far no such update has come along. I'm about to replace this device with an SMC access point which runs linux and has two USB2 ports plus one internal laptop IDE connector. Stay tuned.)

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