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Wireless Reviews

Wireless Performance

The WAP121 is Wi-Fi Certified and defaults to the 2.4 GHz band in 20 MHz bandwidth mode on power-up. Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is enabled by default. But when I associated my test client to the AP, the client did not indicate that WPS was available by either prompting for a PIN code or informing me that I could push a button on the router.

So I had to manually configure the AP with WPA2/AES security before running tests using our standard wireless test process, using Channel 1 for the 2.4 GHz band. I used an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 in a Lenovo x220i notebook running Win 7 Home Premium as the test client. I left all other controls to their defaults, which included no QoS features enagaged.

Because the WAP121 is not a router, you'll find it in the Wireless Charts, not the Router Charts. I don't test that many non-routing wireless products, so I included both single and dual-band products in the comparison charts in Figures 6 and 7.

Figure 6 shows the WAP121 does slightly better than the single-band EnGenius EAP-300 with 35 Mbps 20 MHz mode downlink throughput, but not as well as its dual-band WAP321 sibling at 44 Mbps. Remember these numbers represent the average of measurements at all four test locations.

Wireless performance comparison - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink

Figure 6: Wireless performance comparison - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, downlink

Uplink in 20 MHz mode turns the tables with the WAP121 doing slightly better than the WAP321 with 32 Mbps vs. 30 Mbps. The EnGenius lags far behind with 21 Mbps.

Wireless performance comparison -  2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, uplink

Figure 7: Wireless performance comparison - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz mode, uplink

Running simultaneous up and downlink streams showed you'll get higher aggregate throughput with 73 Mbps measured in 20 MHz mode and 97 Mbps in 40 MHz mode.

Speaking of 40 MHz mode, I ran the Neighboring AP and Fat Channel intolerant tests described in Bye Bye 40 MHz Mode in 2.4 GHz - Part 2. The WAP121 had the same results as the WAP321, i.e. it failed the neighboring AP test and passed the Fat Channel intolerant test. So both the WAP121 and WAP321 will let you squash neighboring networks if you care to by setting Channel Bandwidth to 20/40 MHz. Don't count on this in the long term, however, since Cisco should fix it.

Figure 8 shows the individual test results for all three products in the Performance Table. Note that the EnGenius does better than the two Ciscos with a strong signal (Location A), but throughput fades quickly with signal level, especially running uplink. The EnGenius' 40 MHz throughputs are pretty good. But buying a wireless product based on 40 MHz performance isn't a smart move, unless you really have no other networks around (see Bye Bye 40 MHz Mode in 2.4 GHz).

Wireless Performance Table

Figure 8: Wireless Performance Table

For an even more direct comparison between the WAP121 and WAP321, check the composite Radar Plots in Figure 9. They visually show what we know already, the WAP321 is better on downlink, the WAP121 slightly better for uplink. You can play with the Radar plots more if you like here.

WAP121, WAP321 Radar Plot comparison

Figure 9: WAP121, WAP321 Radar Plot comparison

Throughput stability is so-so as shown in the IxChariot plot for 20 MHz mode downlink in Figure 10.

IxChariot plot - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz, downlink

Figure 9: IxChariot plot - 2.4 GHz, 20 MHz, downlink

These other plots show high variation in the weakest test location F.

Closing Thoughts

Bottom line is that the WAP121 should do you just fine if you are looking for a cheaper (~ $100) alternative to the WAP321 and can live with a single-band AP. It's not the highest-performing AP you can buy. But its small size, (relatively) low cost and PoE feature will let you easily put a bunch of 'em up to make up for that.

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