Netgear ProSafe WC7600 review

Price when reviewed

A patchy, cobbled-together wireless network isn’t good for business. Netgear’s answer is the ProSafe WC7600, an affordable wireless controller that’s simple to deploy yet offers plenty of headroom. A single 1U appliance can manage up to 50 access points and 2,000 clients; stack on a second or third unit and a really sizeable network can be supported.

Along with automated load balancing for 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, the WC7600 is 802.11ac-ready and will support Netgear’s next generation of external access points (APs). Businesses with fewer clients and no need for 802.11ac should look to the cheaper ProSafe WC7520.

We specify Netgear APs because, naturally, the ProSafe WC7600 supports only Netgear hardware. But there are plenty to choose from, from the premium WNDAP660 (£311 exc VAT) to the new WN370 (£88), designed for dedicated “in-room” wireless access. You’ll also need a licence for each AP that you add to the network: the ProSafe comes with two licences, after which you’ll have to pay £412 per extra ten.

Netgear ProSafe WC7600

The WC7600 is easy to deploy. We started by setting up profiles from its tidy web interface: initially, all APs are placed in a group that supports up to eight profiles for single-band APs and 16 for dual-band models. Profiles include an SSID name, a broadcast option and an authentication scheme. You can apply load balancing across same-model APs by entering the maximum number of clients one AP will accept: once that number is hit, the WC7600 will quietly push connecting clients to another AP in the group. You can also direct clients to their nearest AP, as determined by signal strength, to ensure good performance.

Deploying APs is equally pain-free. We used WN370 models powered by an HP ProCurve 2626-PWR PoE switch. We recommend using the appliance’s internal DHCP server; an existing one will need option 43 set for wireless AP discovery.

The appliance’s auto-discovery tool found our WN370 APs instantly. Once they’d been added to the managed AP list, the WC7600 updated their firmware and dropped them into the basic group, where they presented the SSIDs we’d already specified.

Netgear ProSafe WC7600

Profile groups provide greater control over APs and clients. Using advanced profiles, you can create up to eight profile groups, each containing up to 16 wireless profiles for dual-band APs. To change group membership, simply view the managed APs list, select one and pick a new group from the dropdown list. As soon as the AP is moved, it immediately presents the new group SSID.

We also like the captive portal feature. This is enabled on a per-profile basis and redirects the user to a specified web page. Branding features are basic, but you can enable guest access on provision of an email address, or enforce local or external RADIUS authentication.

During testing, we logged on with a variety of wireless clients, none of which had any problems: as we wandered around the lab, our iPad swapped seamlessly across group APs.

Netgear ProSafe WC7600

If you’re concerned about deployment, cast aside your fears: import a map of your facility and you can use the appliance’s AP deployment-planning service. By dragging sliders around, you can set a required signal strength, number of clients per radio and total number of clients; then, pick an AP model and it will tell you how many you need in order to cover the area specified. Once APs are deployed, a heatmap view makes it easy to monitor signal strength and coverage overlap.

Netgear’s monitoring features are impressive, too. These include usage graphs of APs and SSIDs along with the total number of clients. For each AP, you can see its group membership status and clients with which it’s associated; clients are viewed in a separate page, along with their physical location on the map. Don’t expect powerful rogue AP management, however: unmanaged APs are simply classed as neighbours and, while you can export the list for further examination, there are no rogue-containment features.

The WC7600 offers high-quality wireless management at an affordable price. Its fans are noisy, but it’s simple to deploy and manage and it supports a good selection of APs. It offers room to grow, too, with a licensing model that can be easily expanded in affordable increments of ten APs.

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