ZoomAir IG-4165 Wireless Internet Gateway
March 01, 2002
The ZoomAir has issues, but it packs a lot -- Wi-Fi wireless for up to 253 users with Internet sharing and print serving -- into a small package at an affordable price.
IG-4165 -- $199 MSRP
802.11b Access points pretty much do one thing and do it well: they let wireless clients talk to a wired network for file and print sharing. Nice as that is, access points aren't routers that let you share an Internet connection with client machines. For that, manufacturers usually append the term "gateway" to a wireless product. One of the latest in this space is the ZoomAir Wireless Internet Gateway from Zoom Telephonics. It's more than just a wired access point/gateway - it's a 2-port switch and a print server. Sadly that's still not enough to make it a recommended product.
The Total Package
The ZoomAir Wireless Internet Gateway (IG-4165) manages up to 253 users and supports both wired and wireless LAN connections. Its Internet connection sharing capability works with Cable, DSL, ISDN or analog modems. Two 10/100BaseT switched ports allow wired network devices to connect directly to the IG-4165. An 8-port switch would have been much more appreciated and worth a few extra bucks. The IG also has an integrated print server for users who aren't connected to a shared network printer.
As the name implies, wireless connectivity is the real strength. For security, the IG-4165 has the usual: Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) technology to resist corruption, interference, jamming and unauthorized detection. A system ID is also used to identify all authorized workstations on the network. The last line of defense comes in the form of 64/128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) RC4 data encryption that verifies users by an electronic security key. Range of the system varies from about 90 meters in the office to about 300 meters in an open area.
The ZoomAir has dual antennas to help maximize reliability and conductivity can be maintained as distance increases thanks to automatic data reduction. This will scale back transmission rates from 11mbps all the way down to 1mbps.
The IG-4165 will not only get you onto the internet, but protect you from it as well. The integrated firewall includes such features as Network Address Translation (NAT), MAC address filtering and Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI). Other features include DHCP services and DMZ support for applications that don't function well behind a firewall. An access control list can be configured for either individual or groups of PCs for different types of access. So for example, Group1 users might be given the ability to send and receive e-mail and browse the web, while Group2 users might need more restrictive rights where they can send and receive e-mail, but not browse.
Installation and Configuration
Installing the IG-4165 was relatively painless and quick. I connected a DSL modem to the unit's WAN port, connected a desktop to one of the two LAN ports and booted up the workstation. From that point on I was surfing. The default configuration is enough to get you up and running and additional options can be configured through an easy to use web-based menu system. Internet access can be limited to individual workstations or groups of workstations.Wireless conductivity was tested using a vendor supplied ZoomAir PC Card and my own 3COM AirConnect PC Card. Both cards worked fine and were no more complicated to install then a standard NIC. Wireless performance felt just as good, if not better, then it did with my standard 3COM Access Point. Login was never a problem and connection speeds were pretty good, even while sitting on the patio.
From Prying Eyes
I tested the firewall features using tools from a number of different sites; including Hackyourself.com and GRC.com. I also tried doing a port scan with the utilities found at dslreports.com, the same site that my ISP uses for troubleshooting problems. All of the sites tested indicated that the IG-4165 was invisible to users outside my LAN.
Results from our standard Qcheck test were good, but we had problems generating test numbers for our WAN-LAN test. We'll post those as soon as they become available. LAN-WAN numbers were respectable, with a 6.568Mbps transfer rate.
Wireless tests from the ZoomAir 4165 to wireless clients hovered at 5Mbps transfer rate no matter from same room to two floors away. Activating 64-bit WEP however cut transfer speeds by over 50%, down to 2.5Mbps at best, slightly lower at different distances.
While the IG-4165 has some impressive features, it's not without its problems. For instance the menu interface, while easy to navigate, is confusing to configure. Many of the options aren't clearly explained and the terminology they use differs slightly from typical conventions. For example, to send Internet traffic to a Web server you would direct all traffic to port 80. The ZoomAir refers to this as 'configuring a Virtual server.'
While reviewing the configuration settings the ZoomAir would just stop responding and wouldn't load menu pages. This usually forced us to close the browser, re-launch it and login again. (The company reports newer firmware may fix this problem; we'll test it in future updates.)
The gateway uses a process known as triggering for opening ports. This might take a novice a lot of trial and error to get configured correctly. Triggering works by having the router watch the outgoing data for a specific port number and protocol. When the router sees a match, it remembers the IP address of the computer that sent the matching data. When the requested data wants to come back in through the firewall, the router uses the port mapping rules that are linked to the trigger, and the IP address of the computer that "pulled" the trigger, to get the data back to the proper computer. A trigger event can only come from a computer behind the firewall. So data coming from outside the network will be denied. It's extra secure, but maybe too much so.
Zoom products have always had a reputation for reliability and quality and the ZoomAir Wireless Gateway is no exception. Its wireless capabilities alone justify the price tag. Add to that its secure firewall features and integrated print server make it an attractive package, particularly for home office users. While it does have a few shortcomings (not enough LAN ports, confusing port mapping settings) the IG-4165 is an exceptional value. If you're looking to free yourself from the confines of your office walls and rid yourself of the spider web of network cables surrounding your PCs, give the ZoomAir Wireless Internet Gateway a try. After all, the sun is calling!