SMC debuts 802.11g router with print server

SMC Networks Inc. Tuesday announced the Barricade g Wireless Broadband Router with USB Print Server. Available Oct. 15 for US$130, the device combines a 2.4-GHz IEEE 802.11g wireless access point, a four-port switch, stateful packet inspection firewall, network management and VPN pass-through. The device also allows small networks to attach and share a standalone printer - via Ethernet or wireless LAN - without keeping a PC running all the time.

Since the 802.11g standard was ratified in June, a steady stream of products have entered the market from SMC, Netgear Inc., Linksys Group Inc., D-Link Systems Inc., Buffalo Technology (USA) Inc., Belkin Corp. and US Robotics Inc. The 802.11g standard boosts data rates on 2.4-GHz LANs from 11M to 54M bit/sec, and is backwards compatible with 802.11b gear. While it's a given that 802.11g products will supplant 802.11b products over time, the challenge for vendors is to distinguish their offerings, and provide features that suit a melting pot of consumers, small businesses and corporate teleworkers.

Most offer a mix of consumer- and business-oriented features. The new SMC device supports Universal Plug and Play, meaning devices on the network recognize it automatically. Yet SMC says its SPI firewall gives technical users access to advanced settings to create multiple demilitarized zones and configure multiple WAN IP addresses.

SMC's wireless security includes check-off items such as support for 802.1x for authorization and authentication, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), disabling of SSID broadcast, MAC address filtering, and 64/128-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Network access can be further controlled with Web site blocking by URL or keyword.

The company says the inclusion of a print server will make its product stand out.

However, Netgear introduced a 802.11g router with USB print server in mid June, which is available now. The Netgear FWG114P, which costs about $200, includes an 802.11g access point with detachable antenna, four-port switch, USB print server, as well as a serial port connection for an analog or ISDN modem to support remote access. The device lacks VPN pass-through, a business feature that lets users connect to a corporate network via a VPN client - and one that SMC chose to include.

Linksys, however, questions the value of adding a print server. It had previously offered an 802.11b router with a print server but discontinued the device due to lack of demand.

"The Wireless-B Router was outselling the print server version like 100,000 to one, or something insane like that," a company spokesperson says.

Instead, Linksys points to service, ease of use and value as the biggest differentiators. Even so, last month the company shipped the Wireless-G VPN Router (US$229), which includes an SPI firewall and built-in VPN endpoint, allowing up to 50 remote or traveling users secure access to an office or home network.

Netgear, too, offers a similar business device, the FWAG114 (US$309), a dual-band 802.11a+g router that supports two VPN endpoints. And in August, the company introduced an 802.11g firewall router and PC Card combination that, when used together, achieve 108M bit/sec speeds, geared to home entertainment applications.

"If I were buying an 802.11g router today, I would be inclined to go with a vendor that's been offering 802.11g the longest, as it is a relatively new technology - maybe Linksys, or Apple," says In-Stat analyst Gemma Paolo.

So what's coming next? Paolo says the integration of a broadband modem into an 802.11g wireless router. "It's happening on the 802.11b side already, but it is slow, as the total price for the modem and wireless router separately is still less than the price for an 802.11b gateway product from Motorola, Toshiba or 2Wire."

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