With the next generation 802.11ac wireless standard about to be ratified, business as well as consumer products are at last starting to appear. Among them, the Wireless AC1750 Simultaneous Dual-Band PoE Access Point (DAP-2695) from D-Link, a dual-band access point aimed at small to medium-sized companies wanting to take advantage of the new Gigabit Wi-Fi technology without having to completely abandon their existing network setups.
Definitely One For Business
There’s no mistaking the business credentials of the DAP-2695. Selling for £190 (ex. VAT) it’s more expensive, larger and weightier than your average consumer Wi-Fi product. It’s also important to note that it’s a wireless access point rather than an Internet router like most Wi-Fi products bought for home use.
Build quality is another distinguishing feature with a robust plenum-rated metal casing. In other words it can be safely mounted in ceiling and wall voids using the bracket supplied, without interfering with airflows. That said, the six antennae (three for 2.4GHz transmissions and three for 5GHz) are quite long and externally attached which could be an issue in a confined space, especially when positioning for optimum coverage, about which, the supporting documentation has no real advice.
On the positive side, PoE Plus support (802.3at) means that the access point can be powered over the LAN rather than having to be plugged into the mains. Moreover, if you don’t have a suitable PoE switch to hand, there’s an adapter in the box to enable power to be delivered via the LAN from a remote AC adapter. Simply plug AC adapter and Ethernet feed in one side and run a combined data/power wire out the other to the access point.
Two Gigabit ports are provided for LAN attachment and as well as a simple access point the DAP-2695 also offers support for WDS (Wireless Distribution System). This enables multiple access points to be used to wirelessly join networks together, with the option on the DAP-2695 to configure it as either a dedicated wireless bridge or combined bridge/access point.
Moving On Up
Of course the big lure of a product like this is support for 802.11ac, designed to boost wireless bandwidth to Gigabit levels as well as improve coverage and allow access points to service the needs of growing numbers of wireless devices. Unfortunately this can’t be achieved in the over-crowded 2.4GHz spectrum, so the biggest change in 802.11ac is a move to much clearer airwaves at 5GHz.
Already an option in 802.11n, the new Wi-Fi is strictly limited to operation at 5GHz which, in turn means no support for many older implementations. Still that’s not a problem as the DAP-2695 is a dual-band access point, equipped with independent radios to simultaneously service older 2.4GHz (802.11b/g/n) connections alongside 5GHz (802.11a/n/ac) clients. We had no problems getting it to work with older devices on either spectrum.
In terms of performance both radios offer support for up to three MIMO data streams. That means throughput rates of up to 450Mbps on 2.4GHz connections and 1.3Gbps at 5GHz – hence the AC1750 in the name, reflecting a combined throughput ceiling of 1.75Gbps. Impressive as that figure is, however, it’s a theoretical signalling maximum and you shouldn’t expect to get anything like it in practice.
Using 802.11n and earlier devices we saw very little improvement. Plus when using 802.11ac, what you get will vary enormously depending on client hardware, distance and the number of concurrent connections being handled. Bear in mind too that very few devices have 802.11ac built-in as yet, although there are a number of USB adapters available to enable desktops and notebook computers to be upgraded.
In limited testing with a plug-in AC1200 USB 3.0 adapter we achieved transfer rates of around 190Mbps when using 802.11ac. Nowhere near the maximum figure claimed for a 2-stream 802.11ac client, but to be expected and a big step up compared to the 120Mbps we got using 802.11n.
Plus there’s another neat feature known as “band steering”, which made sure our dual-band adapter always connected using the 5GHz waveband, helping to maximise performance on networks like ours with a single SSID configured across both bands.
As well as support for 802.11ac, the new D-Link access point offers a range of other features worth mentioning. Features such as extensive security options including WPA/WPA2 Enterprise using either a built-in or external RADIUS server for user authentication. Rogue AP detection is another useful option along with support for up to eight VLANs per waveband band to, for example, create separate guest and regular wireless networks.
Quality of Service (QoS) tools to prioritise traffic are another bonus, as is wireless client isolation to block peer-to-peer communication. These options can be configured via the Web interface which, although crammed full of options, is very basic and old fashioned.
We were also concerned to find many of the options turned off by default, including wireless security which could lead to all sorts of issues. Added to which we were continually caught out by the need to confirm and apply any changes we made even though we had already saved them. A lot of our changes also required a re-boot to be effective.
As with other D-Link products documentation isn’t a strong point. That said, it didn’t take long to master the management interface or get the DAP-2695 working the way we wanted. Indeed it took no more than 30 minutes altogether, from un-boxing to servicing wireless clients on our test network. We were also interested to see an option to configure an AP array and manage multiple access points together although, with only one to test, we couldn’t check this out.
There are lots of consumer 802.11ac products to choose from plus a growing number of business implementations too. Standing out in this crowded market is hard and although the D-Link DAP-2695 lacks a little in terms of usability, it ticks most of the boxes required by small to medium business buyers to deliver the latest Wi-Fi technology in a robust, affordable and workmanlike format.