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Wireless Reviews

Wireless-N Dual Radio Selectable Band Access Point
At a glance
ProductCisco Wireless-N Dual Radio Selectable Band Access Point (WAP561)   [Website]
SummaryN900 class small-biz access point with PoE and ability to "cluster" with 15 other APs for control.
Pros• Can group up to 16 APs with centralized control and channel management without a controller
• PoE powered
• Many bandwidth shaping features
• 15 VLAN'd SSIDs per radio
Cons• Shoulda had AC radios
• Unimpressive range

Typical Price: $129  Buy From Amazon

Overview

Our last look at Cisco's small business access points were their N300 WAP121 single band and WAP321 selectable N300 dual-band almost two years ago! While time may fly, it appears that Cisco's small business AP design team moves much more slowly. Although they have added this new 500 series, one of which I'm looking at today, these are N450 / N900 class APs, not 802.11ac.

The WAP561 Wireless-N Dual Radio Selectable Band Access Point is an N900 class (simultaneous 3x3 dual-band 802.11abgn) AP. Its sibling WAP551 carries only a single radio making it selectable dual-band N450 class. Other than the single radio, the two APs have the same feature set.

Cisco Small Biz AP Family Features

Cisco Small Biz AP Family Features

The WAP561 is much larger than I expected with its 9" x 9" footprint—almost twice the size of the single-band WAP121 at 5" x 5"! The WAP321 is in the middle at about 6.5" x 6.5". The top and bottom are pretty simple, with power and wireless and Ethernet activitity lights on the top and a single 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet port on the bottom. There is no power switch like on the WAP121 and WAP321.

WAP561 front and back views

WAP561 front and back views

Power is expected to come via 802.3af PoE through the Ethernet port, but the AP doesn't come with an injector. Cisco sent an SG300-28P switch instead (Doug reviewed the SG500-28P awhile back) along with a second WAP561 so that I could check out the multi-AP "Single Point Setup" feature. But it was much more convenient to use the SB-PWR-INJ1 injector they previously sent for the WAP321 review.

The WAP561 comes with a mounting bracket, making removal for service easy. Here's a composite shot done for the WAP321 so that you can get the gist of how the bracket works.

WAP321 with mounting bracket

WAP321 with mounting bracket

Inside

The FCC photos inside shot shows a clean and tidy design. The CPU and memory is in its own RF "can" on the left. Two identical mini-PCIe modules on the right are the two radios.

WAP561 inside

Figure 3: WAP561 inside

Sharp-eyed readers may notice the, uh, unique antenna arrangement with five antennas per radio and two antenna types. Cisco said all the antennas are 5 dBi dual-band, so I'm guessing the difference is polarization. They also provided the following explanation:

...this is our SmartSignal antenna system, which is automatically optimized for different mounting orientations, either horizontal (ceiling or desktop) or vertical (wall mount). At the heart of the system is an orientation sensor that automatically detects the position of the AP then selects the optimum antenna set...

Table 1 summarizes the key components and includes the WAP321 for comparison. Cisco went with a beefier (and separate) CPU for the WAP561 vs. a single-chip design for the less-expensive WAP321.

  WAP561 WAP321
CPU Cavium CNS3420 @ 600MHz Broadcom BCM4748 Intensi-fi XLR
2 x 2 IEEE 802.11n 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz SoC
RAM 128 MB 64 MB
Flash 32 MB 16 MB
Ethernet ? Broadcom BCM54612E
Radio - Broadcom BCM43431
- SiGe SE2594L Dual Band 802.11a/b/g/n Wireless LAN Front End (x3)
- In BCM4748
- SiGe 2547A Dual Band 802.11a/b/g/n Wireless LAN Front End (x3)
Table 1: Component summary

I put other pictures of the 561's innards in the gallery that you'll find later on.

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