Netgear ProSafe WAC720 review

Good performance and flexible management make the WAC720 a supremely versatile dual-band AP

IT Pro Recommended
Price
£196
  • Heaps of configuration options; Strong performance; Great security features;
  • Expensive; No bundled power adapter;

If you're all about options, then you'll love Netgear's quad-mode ProSafe WAC720. It can be used as a regular standalone AP, grouped together with units via Netgear's "Ensemble" mode, controlled from a NetGear ProSafe WC7600 or WC9500 appliance, or managed via Netgear's Business Central cloud portal.

At 196, the WAC720 is pricey, but in return you get high-end features and build quality, which includes a finned metal base acting as a giant heatsink. Concurrent 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios are served by two dual-band internal aerials, and there's a pair of SMA connectors for external ones.

The box includes a metal wall bracket that can also clip onto drop-ceiling rails. There's no power adapter, though: you can buy one, or use PoE via the Gigabit Ethernet port.

It took us only two minutes to get the WAC720 running in standalone mode but watch out, as the two default SSIDs are enabled and open when you first power it on. These were easy to secure, and we used profiles to create up to eight SSIDs for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, each with their own encryption schemes.

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For greater security, the WAC720 also supports external authentication via a RADIUS server, blacklist and whitelist MAC addresses, plus rogue AP detection. Optionally, you can turn wireless services off at scheduled times such as evenings, weekends and holidays. Profiles can be created to enforce limits on upstream and downstream bandwidth. You can also apply quality of service (QoS) to selected policies for identifying and prioritising voice and video traffic.

Performance is a strong suit. Our Netgear AC1200-equipped Windows 10 desktop averaged a speedy 65MB/sec when copying a file to a server on the LAN. At 10m there was no appreciable drop in speed, and the AP's long reach allowed our iPad to be carried 45m down the main corridor before the SweetSpots app rated the signal as unusable.

Ensemble mode allows up to ten APs of the same model to be clustered. This is easy to set up: we assigned the first AP a unique ensemble name and set priorities so that the AP with the highest number would become the master AP. After adding a second AP, we could view its status and manage it from the master's native web interface. To extend coverage, just add another AP to the ensemble and all central settings will be pushed to it.

The ProSafe WC7600 and WC9500 controller appliances are powerful bits of kit, but smaller organisations with multiple locations will find it easier to work with Netgear's Business Central (BC) cloud portal (431 exc VAT per year for ten access points). Once we'd upgraded our APs to the latest cloud-ready firmware, we logged on to our account and added them by entering their serial numbers.

The BC console is an improvement over the previous version. It opens with a dashboard showing your sites and a rundown of AP status for all of them. Multiple wireless networks are assigned to each site, and when an AP is deployed to them, all these settings are pushed to it. You can choose which radios are active, add captive portals for guest networks and enable client isolation. Changes made to a site are automatically propagated across all member APs from the portal, making it easy to manage them.

The WAC720 stands out for its range of management modes. Wireless performance and coverage are great, and the Business Central cloud portal will keep your support staff off the road and in the office.

This review originally appeared in PC Pro issue 264

Verdict

The WAC720 stands out for its range of management modes. Wireless performance and coverage are great, and the Business Central cloud portal will keep your support staff off the road and in the office.

Ceiling/wall-mount AP 802.11ac l concurrent 2.4/5GHz radios Gigabit PoE port l RJ45 console port 2 x external SMA aerial sockets Kensington lock Backplate included 197 x 197 x 40mm (WDH) Limited lifetime warranty. Options: 12V power adapter, £12; Business Central 2, 10 APs per year, £431 (all exc VAT)

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