Netgear Insight Managed WAC540 review: Well-rounded Wi-Fi
A tri-band AC3000 wireless AP that delivers good performance and smart cloud management
Netgear's WAC540 access point (AP) is perfect for high-density 802.11ac wireless networks. It sports three radios and is designed to service up to 600 clients with full cloud management. Its AC3000 wireless rating breaks down as 400Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz radio, plus 867Mbits/sec on the first 5GHz radio - and a second 5GHz radio supporting speeds of up to 1,733Mbits/sec for 4x4 MU-MIMO client devices.
The unit connects to your network via either PoE+ or regular Gigabit Ethernet (although if you want to use the latter you'll need to source an external power supply, as one isn't included). If you're just starting to build your network infrastructure, it can be deployed in standalone mode and managed from its own web console.
Netgear's Insight cloud portal opens up new dimensions, however, allowing you to configure your wireless networks and manage all of Netgear's Insight-enabled NAS appliances, switches and routers from a central console. Just be aware that this comes at an extra cost: the basic service is only free for the first two devices and restricts you to using the mobile app rather than the web portal. An Insight Premium subscription costs 8.95 per device per year and gives you full web access, as well as enabling features such as Wi-Fi roaming.
Adding the WAC540 to our Insight account was simplicity itself. We used the Insight iOS app on our iPad to scan its QR code and it was immediately registered; you can also scan in the barcode from the box, run a network discovery scan or type in the device's serial number.
Still within the iOS app, we then assigned the AP to a site - and, as we'd already set up our SSIDs, it immediately started broadcasting them. Insight supports up to four SSIDs for the 2.4GHz band, plus four on the combined 5GHz bands. If you configure the same SSID on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio services, band steering can be used to make sure that clients connect to the best one - and if a 4x4 MU-MIMO wireless device connects, it'll automatically go onto the high-speed 5GHz radio.
You can also set guest networks, with captive portals displaying custom logos and policies. Businesses still using Facebook can choose to enable its Wi-Fi hotspot service and direct visitors to their business pages, to advertise services and improve their rankings.
The WAC540's security credentials are solid. Client isolation and MAC address-based access control lists are supported, along with the standard WPA2 options. You can set upload and download rate limits too, although the URL-filtering feature is basic, only allowing you to blacklist specific domain names.
For monitoring and managing your network, the Insight portal provides plenty of information about site traffic, APs, SSIDs and connected clients. We viewed data usage for each AP, checked on channel utilisation and could easily see what was connected to each radio.
And in our performance tests, the WAC540 fared very well indeed. We equipped our Windows 10 desktop with a Linksys WUSB6400 Wi-Fi adapter and tried copying files across the LAN: at close range, speeds averaged 30MB/sec on the 2.4GHz band, while moving to the low-bandwidth 5GHz radio upped speeds to 61MB/sec, dropping slightly to 56MB/sec at 10m. Range is good too, as the SweetSpots app on our iPad showed us as still connected when we moved up to the next floor and put three brick walls in the way (although speed fell to only 5MB/sec).
To avoid a LAN bottleneck, the AP's two Ethernet ports can be joined together in a static aggregation group. This is enabled by default on the WAC540, so we created a group on our TP-Link TL-SG3424P PoE+ switch for an instant 2Gbits/sec pipeline.
The WAC540 delivers great performance and features at a very pleasing price. The Insight Premium service does cost a little extra, but it's well worth the extra outlay as it provides centralised management and complete visibility of all your wireless networks.
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