By Joseph Moran
March 19, 2004
The smallest AP yet doubles as a client adapter and bridge. Too bad it’s complex enough that only the most experienced users will get the most out of it.
Pros: Very portable; can be AP, repeater, or client
Cons: Inconvenient initial configuration; lacks some basic features
Smaller, faster, cheaper is a never-ending trend in technology, so as I opened the box of the Asus Pocket Wireless Access Point WL-330, the question going through my mind was, “How small does an access point really need to be?”
I’m not sure of the answer, but there’s no question that the WL-330 is very small indeed. In fact, with the footprint of a credit card and the approximate thickness of a deck of playing cards, it consumes less real estate than even a PC Card. Asus bills the WL-330 as the world’s smallest AP, and I have no reason to doubt the claim.
The WL-330’s petite and non-descript plain plastic chassis offers an Ethernet LAN port, connector for the AC adapter, and the obligatory recessed reset button, along with a toggle switch to convert the unit’s operating mode from AP to client adapter. The WL-330 uses a highly integrated Marvell 88W8500-BAN WLAN chipset. Its antenna is internal to the unit, and there’s no facility to connect an external one. (There is a wall-mount point built into the case.)
Presumably, a big benefit of the reduced size of the unit is the convenience it affords. The unit is clearly meant to be portable, and even comes with a zippered carrying case. I found that the convenience of the unit’s small size doesn’t necessarily extend to the WL-330’s software, though.
The WL-330 includes two utilities: a device discovery program and a setup wizard, both of which were able to detect the device though it was configured for a different subnet than the network it was on. However, the latter only allows you to configure the basic wireless parameters of the device — SSID, channel, and WEP encryption — and neither utility will let you change the device’s IP address.
Therefore, if you have an existing network that’s using an address scheme other than the WL-330’s default of 192.168.1.x, you’ll have to temporarily reconfigure a client and then use the Web-based controls to modify the unit’s address.
It’s only an inconvenience, but given that this device is likely to travel from network to network, it’s hardly a minor one. The WL-330 can be set to get an IP address dynamically, but then you lose the ability to access it for administration until you consult the DHCP server to determine what address the unit got.
Once you get into the Web-based configuration screens, the interface is crude but functional. It’s also very Spartan in the breadth of capabilities provided. Compared to the feature set offered on a typical 802.11b access point, the WL-330 is not in the same league.
You won’t find very much to configure on the WL-330. In fact, about the only user-configurable settings offered are the aforementioned basic WLAN parameters; there is also WDS repeater capability. The unit does offer access control in the form of MAC filtering, but it’s limited to a mere dozen clients.
Astonishingly, even so basic a feature as password protection for the access point is omitted. When I accessed the unit via the browser I was not challenged for a username and password, and there was no way to specify one. Asus says that’s coming in the next firmware revision, but for the life of me, I can’t fathom why it wasn’t there in the first place (WPA is due to be added as well).
Along with functioning as an access point and WDS bridge device, a flip of the switch on the rear of the unit can convert the WL-330 from an access point to an Ethernet-to-wireless client adapter. I didn’t have any difficultly configuring the unit to operate in any of these modes.
Configured as an access point, the WL-330 exhibited acceptable throughput performance, though it ran out of gas quickly as distance increased. Throughput was 5.19 Mbps at 10 feet, remained at an even 5 Mbps through the 50-foot mark, and dropped slightly to 4.67 Mbps by 75 feet. By 100 feet throughput had degraded to only 2.88 Mbps and at 125 feet was a mere 1.77 Mbps. Larger and more powerful access points have certainly performed better at the farthest ranges of my environment.
The WL-330 is certainly convenient to carry around with you, and if you need an AP that’s compact to have for ad-hoc WLANs (not necessarily in the literal sense), it might do the job. But configuring the device can be something of a hassle, and the decidedly basic feature set of the unit adds to the inconvenience.
Of course, the tiny size of the WL-330 may be reason enough for a technophile to want one, and owning one will almost certainly give you bragging rights for the smallest AP among your peers.