It was a one-horse race in Datamation‘s Product of the Year wireless category, with the Linksys WRT54G Router/Gateway grabbing 69 percent of the vote.
The remaining finalists almost evenly split the remainer of the votes. In second place was the EliteConnect 2.4GHz 802.11b High Power Wireless PC Card (SMC2532W-B) from SMC Networks with 12 percent, followed by the Backpack wireless workgroup server from Micro Solutions at 10 percent and the Max Wireless Conference Phone from ClearOne Communications with 9 percent.
Key to the Linksys router’s success has been competitive pricing, performance, and versatility. The WRT54G, for example, became the first high-speed wireless networking router to use the 802.11g standard. Ands it supports 802.11b and 802.11g, so you can keep your existing 802.11b gear and gradually migrate to wireless-G.
802.11g offers wireless transmission over relatively short distances at up to 54 megabits per second (Mbps) compared with the 11 megabits per second of the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard. Like 802.11b, 802.11g operates in the 2.4 GHz range so they are compatible.
To accommodate easy integration of 802.11g into home and small-business networks, the Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router is really three devices in one box. First, there’s the Wireless Access Point, which lets you connect Wireless-G or Wireless-B devices.
There’s a 4-port full-duplex 10/100 switch to connect your wired-Ethernet devices. Connect four PCs directly, or daisy-chain out to more hubs and switches to create as big a network as you need. Finally, the router function ties it all together and lets you share a high-speed cable or DSL Internet connection, files, and other resources such as printers and hard disk storage space.
In addition, the router can serve as a DHCP server, has built-in protection against Internet intruders, supports VPN pass-through, and can be configured to filter internal users’ access to the Internet.
Product of the Year Stories
User feedback to the Linksys WRT54G Router/Gateway is typically positive, with customers citing its ease of use and flexibility. There have been a few issues reported, however, and most of these seem to have been eliminated in the latest firmware update (currently version 2.02). This fixes several bugs, including a security vulnerability that caused the router’s Web server to crash.
Micro Solution’s Backpack is an all-in-one wireless workgroup server solution — firewall, router and network server with built-in IEEE 802.11b/11Mbps wireless access point, allowing up to 253 simultaneous users remote data access through Web browser or FTP client.
In another corner of the wireless sector is ClearOne’s wireless conference phone, the Max Wireless.
“ClearOne has earned a stellar reputation for innovation and expertise in conferencing audio over the years, and Max Wireless should further enhance that reputation,” says Brent Kelly of Wainhouse Research. “I think ClearOne has a winner in Max Wireless.”