ZyXEL ZyAIR B-4000 Wireless Hotspot Gateway - Page 2

By Joseph Moran

February 19, 2004

When it comes to subscriber accounts, the B-4000 lets you provide customers with a fair amount of flexibility. Both pre-paid and post-paid accounts are supported, and you can give subscribers accumulation accounts, so three hours of time purchased need not be used all in one session. (After a user logs in, a small window monitors the amount of time purchased and remaining.)

If you're trying to make a profit (or even just break even) on hotspot access, then advertising is something that may be necessary. To that end, the B-4000 can be configured to display up to ten sponsored links either when the user first logs in or periodically while they're online. The former is probably the preferred approach, since the programmed links are somewhat obtrusively popped up in an active browser window.

As you might imagine, if you're operating a for-profit hotspot, then being able to keep tabs on it is fairly important. Fortunately, the B-4000 supports output to a syslog server--either within the LAN or beyond the reaches of the WAN (or both). About a dozen system events can be logged ranging from account creation and activation to when users or account managers and supervisors log in.

E-mail alerts (at customized intervals) are also available, but I found them somewhat less than useful mainly due to the crude comma-delimited formatting of the messages which made it tough to comprehend the data. Also, the B-4000 doesn't aggregate logs into a single e-mail but rather sends multiple e-mails for each monitored category, which adds to the confusion.

A single 802.11 AP doesn't offer too much in the way of wireless capacity, and a potentially useful feature that the B-4000 lacks is the ability to limit bandwidth on a per user basis. ZyXEL says this ability is planned for the future.

If you want to increase the capacity of the B-4000, you can add access points via the unit's LAN ports. ZyXEL says any AP will work with the system, but only ZyXEL models will support the Layer 2 isolation that prevents clients from accessing each other.

Just as I was completing the review, ZyXEL provided beta code of new firmware that will be available in February. In addition to a more aesthetically pleasing interface, it integrates support for credit card payments via a merchant account at authorize.net.

All things considered, the B-4000 does a good job at tying together all the facets of a functional WLAN hotspot and its soup-to-nuts approach removes a lot of the complexity of setting up and maintaining one. Better yet, the $649 price tag puts it within reach of all but the most budget conscious mom-and-pop shops.

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