Recently I worked with a magazine editor who was evaluating and writing about some of the new 802.11n WAPs out in the market. These particular WAPs were aimed at the small business and home office. The testing went well and I think it was a good contest and should make for a great article.
While this type of testing is helpful, as I was working from home this weekend over my 802.11 network I was thinking that what we really need is a test that is designed to catch the issues that typically tick off users like me. Lab tests typically involve testing for throughput, evaluating the installation/configuration experience, and evaluating against a list of desired features. But when asked "What Would the Geek Do" with regards to testing these devices, my preference would be to run each of them for a week or two in production and see how they hold up and compare them against the user experience when using the older WAPs to see if they offer a real, tangible improvement. The Top 5 Things that I look for in a WAP are:
1. Reliability - once I configure it and get it up and running, I don't want to have to screw around with it again. It should just work from that point on. It's freaking ridiculous for me to have to walk my wife (or any non-technical user) through resetting the WAP when it's decided to stop working and I'm on the road.
2. Performance (Throughput) - not only for wired to wireless speeds but also for wireless to wireless connections. Additionally, how is wired to wireless speed affected when you have 3 or more devices downloading simultaneously?
3. Performance (Scalability) - sure it works with 1-2 laptops connected but what happens when I add 5-6 additional laptops, a handful of iPhones, and a couple of AppleTVs? If I'm in the middle of a 4GB download and someone turns on a cordless phone, microwave, or etc am I going to have to start over?
4. Range - I don't have a huge house so I should be able to get good wireless signal anywhere in the house. Nothing hacks me off like not being able to surf from bed because of a lousy signal. Sure, there's a rack full of test gear sitting near the WAP but that's no excuse for poor performance.
5. Security and Manageablity - This is a no-brainer and it's non-negotiable. The teenagers in my neighborhood are relentless (my son is one of them and is almost as good at hacking into networks as I am). With regards to manageability, it needs to support basic SNMP monitoring so I can at least monitor throughput and device performance.
So, I'm going to do this. If you are a hardware vendor or reseller and want your devices included in this test then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you the shipping information. Otherwise, I'm going to go buy a handful of what I think are representative models and see if I can find a winner or two...