Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway

By Brien M. Posey

June 11, 2002

This low budget wireless gateway has some of the best wireless performance that we've seen.

Model Number: PN8584-1 ($279)

The Proxim Skyline is an Internet sharing device with a built in DHCP server, NAT Firewall, and wireless gateway. The unit is modestly priced, but lacks some of the features found in more expensive models. However, what the unit lacks in features, it makes up for in wireless performance.

Pros:

  • Supports both PC and Macintosh
  • Easy to install and configure
  • Good wireless throughput

Cons:

  • Should have dial-up connection backup
  • Physically hot to the touch
  • Lacks support for L2TP protocol and VPN server support

BASIC FEATURES

The Proxim Skyline 802.11b wireless broadband gateway includes four 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports and supports up to twenty 802.11b wireless clients. One of the wired ports can be used as an uplink port for attaching the unit to a larger hub. The unit includes an integrated DHCP server which can assign IP addresses to all wired and wireless clients. Wireless communications can be secured via 64- or 128-bit WEP encryption. For additional security, wireless clients can be granted or denied access based on MAC address.

The broadband connection is designed to support a PPPoE or a direct connection with either a static or a dynamic IP address. The unit also supports making changes to the host name and MAC address as is required by some ISPs.

The unit is configurable through a Web browser interface, and includes a built in NAT firewall. Additionally, port forwarding, DMZ servers, and VPN clients are supported.

SETUP/INSTALLATION

The setup and installation were very similar to that of competing products. The physical setup involved simply plugging the unit into an electrical outlet, and connecting the unit's uplink port to my hub.

The Proxim Skyline has a built in DHCP server which automatically began assigning IP addresses to the computers on my network with no effort on my part. It was also easy to attach the unit to the Internet. Configuration is done through a Web browser interface, and attaching to the Internet was simply a matter of enabling PPPoE and supplying the necessary logon credentials. The initial Internet connection process had a delay of about a minute. During this time, I assumed that the unit wasn't working or that I had set a parameter incorrectly, but then the connection initialized, just as it was supposed to.

As I was testing my Internet connection, I particularly liked the unit's Status button. The unit creates a comprehensive log of the connection process. The status screen tells whether or not you're connected to the Internet just by glancing at the screen. If the connection has failed for some reason, the log is very helpful in figuring out what's going on. When the broadband link becomes disconnected, the unit continuously attempts to automatically reconnect. However, I would have liked dial-up capabilities for establishing a temporary Internet connection if the broadband connection should become unavailable.

My only real concern from a setup and configuration standpoint was that after the unit had been running for about a week, the case was almost too hot to touch with your bare hands. Out of curiosity, I used a multimeter with a temperature probe to measure the temperature of the unit's case. The unit's case was 127 degrees Fahrenheit. Granted, my South Carolina summers are hot, but I took the measurement at 10:00 AM in an air conditioned room. With these scorching temperatures, a case fan should be integrated into future versions of the Proxim Skyline Gateway.

PERFORMANCE

I began by testing to see whether the unit could keep pace with my DSL connection's capabilities. Unfortunately, because of where I live, the only DSL service available to me runs at a mere 384 Kbps. According to DSLreports, the unit had no trouble matching my DSL connection's speed.

In the past, when I've reviewed various broadband gateways with integrated DHCP servers, just about every unit has boasted being able to support 200 plus clients. However, it's curious that although there are no IP address limitations that prevent the Proxim Skyline from supporting large numbers of clients, the documentation recommended limiting the unit to hosting 15 to 20 simultaneous sessions. Although I lack the hardware necessary for testing the unit with large numbers of connections, I was able to test the unit with 14 connections. Under this load, the unit performed flawlessly. I suspect that the unit would physically be able to support larger numbers of clients, but that performance would drop considerably as the number of clients went up because of limitations in the broadband connection. It was refreshing to see the documentation was honest about the unit's capabilities under a realistic workload.

I conducted wireless speed test tests by measuring the throughput between a wireless client and a client that was wired directly to the unit. Although any 802.11b wireless NIC would technically work, I used the Proxim NIC for the tests.

I began my testing by checking the connection speed with the laptop being placed in the same room as the Proxim Skyline. I tested the speed three times and received an average measurement of 5.0 Mbps. I then enabled 128 bit WEP and the throughput dropped only slightly to an average of 4.7Mbps.

Next, I took the laptop down the hall to the room on the same floor that was furthest from the unit. I ran several tests in this room and throughput ranged anywhere from 200 Kbps to 5.2Mbps. The average throughput was about 4.7Mbps. In a location directly below the wireless gateway, the average throughput was again 5Mbps. Next, I took the unit down another floor into a room with lots of metal duct work. This room has been notorious for signal degradation in past tests. Indeed, during testing, the signal once dropped to as low as 54 Kbps. However, it also spiked as high as 4.7Mbps. The average was about 3.9Mbps. Finally, outdoors and about 300 feet from the building (with lots of trees between the gateway and me) was 4.7Mbps, with the lowest drop in throughput reaching about 2.0 Mbps.

VIRTUAL SERVERS and PORT MAPPING

The unit also supported port mapping for multiple ports and a single DMZ connection. Both of these features worked properly.

The unit did support virtual servers, but only allowed a single server to be accessed through the firewall. While the virtual server support works, I would like to have seen it for multiple servers. Also the virtual server support was check box based. For example, you could select check boxes to determine whether functions such as HTTP, FTP, and E-mail should be allowed. I prefer more control over the process rather than being limited to simply enabling or disabling only the most common ports.

SECURITY

I tested the unit's firewall capabilities by using the Shields Up feature at http://grc.com. A port probe indicated that all tested ports were running in Stealth mode. The shield test revealed no vulnerabilities.

In addition to having a NAT firewall, the unit supported VPN clients (although the L2TP protocol is unsupported), and also includes the previously stated WEP encryption support. Proxim cover most of the basics with nothing fancy.

SUMMARY

Although the Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway tends to run a little hot and is lacking some of the features that are commonly found on products of its class, it is more than adequate for home and small offices that don't need extra features such as redundant connections and more advanced Web access control. The unit had no major problems, and is a good buy given its modest price.

Originally published on .

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