While Belkin International's new wireless 802.11n router may at first glance appear to be consumer-oriented -- and to some experienced IT administrators, not worthy of attention -- the device has the potential to greatly simplify wireless networking in small government offices or remote sites.
The high-speed Belkin Play Max wireless router offers a wealth of features, including two USB ports for a print server and backup server with a separate external hard drive, Quality of Service and VPN support. The device provides good coverage and range with dual-band 2.4 gigahertz and 5GHz technology.
Designed for users with limited technology skills, the Play Max is simple to install and operate, making it ideal for remote offices where onsite support is problematic. Along with its three-step installation process, the router offers applications that can solve a common problem for small offices -- file backup and print sharing. The backup software and print sharing setup are extremely simple, requiring little or no support for even the most novice of users.
In addition, the Self Healing application, unlike so many diagnostic features, actually provides useful functionality, finding and fixing problems with configuration, and routinely scanning the network to find the clearest channel for the router and wireless adapters.
Unlike many wireless systems, the Play Max router includes in-box support for Mac OS 10.5 and 10.6 as well as Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. The router also has excellent music functionality -- not a business-oriented feature, perhaps, but home office users will enjoy it.
These routers aren't appropriate for large organizations, but in small, branch or home offices, the ease of use, troubleshooting and one-button security setup translate into much lower support costs for initial installation and ongoing maintenance. With dual-band 802.11n coverage and more than 200 megabit-per-second actual throughput in my testing, the router has the range, coverage and speed to support any normal network application.
The router's preconfigured wireless security is also very well thought out. Each router is shipped with a unique password so there is no chance that a default password can be used by hackers to gain unauthorized access to the network. The default configuration uses 256-bit WPA/WPA2 and 64/128 WEP encryption, and with Belkin's wireless adapters, security is a one-click setup.
The only real drawback for the Play Max router is a lack of remote management capability. If the user does manage somehow to get into trouble, there's no way to remotely manage the router to solve any problem. Fortunately, the configuration and maintenance procedures are so simple that this is unlikely, and resetting the router to its original configuration will probably solve any issues.