ZyXEL ZyAIR G-4100 review

£441
Price when reviewed

Small businesses looking to provide billed hotspot wireless services are poorly served. Few manufacturers offer any simple, low-cost solutions. We were impressed with SMC’s Hotspot, but at the time there was nothing else available in this market. ZyXEL now joins this exclusive club, with the G-4100 providing a complete hotspot package in a single box.

The G-4100 access point (AP) delivers the standard Fast Ethernet mix of four switched LAN ports and a single WAN port. You need to consider installing this behind an existing firewall, as although it offers NAT it doesn’t have an SPI firewall – the SMC version does. Furthermore, SMC also allows up to four independent internet connections to be established, where it will perform failover and load balancing. The ZyXEL AP is a solid lump of plastic with a large blue backlit dome that pulses whenever wireless activity is detected. Make sure you upgrade to the latest firmware, as our AP had an older version and the unit kept rebooting whenever a LAN port was used until we updated it.

The printer provided in the kit uses standard thermal till rolls. Three buttons are provided on the front panel, which can be linked to different billing options, and the PS/2 port accepts an optional keypad if you want more choices. Installation is aided by a wizard that steps through setting up billing and authentication. For the latter, you can use the AP’s internal subscriber database, which has room for 512 entries, or employ primary and secondary external RADIUS servers. As with the SMC product, for billing you simply select a currency and assign time periods in hours and minutes to your airtime units. Different values can be assigned to each of the printer’s buttons, and the resultant ticket has a predefined username and password, the wireless SSID, the amount of time the customer has bought and the date by which the account must be used before being deactivated.

When users try to access the internet, they’ll be redirected to the AP’s standard login screen or to another URL of your choosing, and this process can use HTTPS if encryption is required. The standard login screen can incorporate a walled garden where up to 32 URLs can be visited without the user logging in. Authentication is applied equally to LAN and WAN users, and the former can be allowed unrestricted access by including their IP address in a pass-through table. All access between LAN and WLAN users is blocked, and we could see no way of changing this – again, SMC offers you the choice. Once logged on, users can have a small window displayed on their system with a countdown timer. Account controls are good, as you can list all those created and see whether they’re active, plus the time remaining on them. Along with the full gamut of wireless security measures, the AP offers web access controls, although all you do here is create a blacklist of URLs.

ZyXEL’s ZyAIR G-4100 compares well with SMC’s Hotspot kit, as it offers a similar level of billing and accounting features. Both are easy to install and use, but the SMC option provides better value as it costs slightly less and includes a printer keypad along with more internet connection and security options.

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