IT Pro Verdict
Supremely easy to manage
Future-proof Wi-Fi 6 support
There’s no doubt that Wi-Fi 6 is the future, but so far we’ve seen only one really SMB-friendly Wi-Fi 6 access point, in the form of the EnGenius EWS357AP. Now, at last, Zyxel has joined the fray, with three new APs designed to give a boost to networks of all sizes.
On review is the flagship Unified Pro WAX650S, an AC3550 unit supporting speeds of 2,400Mbits/sec on its 5GHz radio and 1,150Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band. At £514, it’s more expensive than the Engenius EWS357AP, but it offers double the throughput and is still a lot cheaper than the blue-chip alternatives.
It also offers a veritable feast of management options. The WAX650S can be operated in standalone mode, teamed up with Zyxel’s on-premises NXC controllers or managed in the cloud using Zyxel’s Nebula Control Center (NCC) platform, for which the price includes a one-year Professional Pack licence.
The unit itself is quite weighty at 1.16kg, but its imposing chassis is packed with serious features. Along with power surge protection, internal smart aerials, integrated 4G/5G, interference filters and a third radio dedicated to network scanning and rogue AP detection, it also sports an NBase-T PoE++ LAN port, supporting connections at up to 5Gbits/sec.
Be warned, though: the WAX650S really does require an 802.3bt PoE++ source to operate at full speed, and will fall back to low-performance mode if connected to a PoE or PoE+ source. To make full use of its capabilities, therefore, you ideally want a multi-gigabit switch that also delivers PoE++, and those aren’t currently abundant or cheap. We fell back on using a separate power adapter and connecting the AP to a regular multi-gigabit switch (a Netgear MX510TX, to be precise).
In standalone mode, the AP’s tidy web console makes it easy to set up wireless networks. You can create eight SSIDs per site, each with its own authentication scheme (including WPA3), and enable custom captive portals, L2 isolation, walled gardens plus upload and download rate limits.
The NCC portal, meanwhile, adds an extra dimension of manageability, with features including customisable dashboards, automated firmware upgrades, live traffic monitoring and a new wireless health analytics service. If you’re already using Zyxel’s Nebula-enabled switches and security gateways, you can manage those in the same cloud portal too.
Adding the WAX650S to our existing NCC account was a cinch. We logged into the portal on an iPad, selected our predefined site and simply scanned in the QR code on the box. The app picked up the AP’s model and MAC address, and added it to the active site with a single tap.
With this done, we had the option of setting our new AP to broadcast all networks, or associating the unit with specific SSIDs. Aside from enabling 802.11ax services, there’s nothing else to see: the AP weaves all its Wi-Fi 6 magic behind the scenes.
Performance, as you would hope, is excellent. Close-range file copies from a Windows 10 desktop equipped with a Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 USB adapter averaged 101MB/sec at close range, dropping to 93MB/sec at 10m. Range is nothing to sniff at either, as the Wi-Fi SweetSpots app on our iPad showed us still connected when on the next floor up, with three brick walls in the way, and enjoying respectable connection speeds of around 20MB/sec. You can expect even higher speeds from 802.11ax clients, although note that the high-speed 160MHz channel isn’t yet enabled – support is promised in the forthcoming 6.10 firmware release.
SMBs seeking to upgrade their wireless services will find the Zyxel Unified Pro WAX650S very tempting. It’s not the cheapest Wi-Fi 6 AP on the market, but it offers impressive performance, plenty of features and a great choice of management options.
Zyxel Unified Pro WAX650S specifications
|Band support||Wave 2 dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ax wireless AP|
|Radios||4 x 4 MU-MIMO with internal smart aerials|
|Ports||1/2.5/5Gbits/sec LAN/802.3bt PoE++, gigabit LAN, 12V DC power input (adapter not included)|
|Additional features||Ceiling/wall mounting plate, 1yr NCC Professional Pack licence included|
|Dimensions (WDH)||230 x 235 x 54mm (WDH)|
Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.
Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.