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Review of Zyxel NWA90AX Pro AX3000 class access point with 2.5 Gbps port

22.12.2023 19:04

This product is intended for the small business segment that requires support for a small number of users and low data transfer rates. The use of this device may be relevant, for example, for small offices, hotels or cafes. It is important to note that in terms of software, the device is equipped with all the popular technologies, including portal authorization and 802.1X authentication functions. This ensures that the created networks comply with modern security standards.

Among the main features of the product, the manufacturer highlights the ability to configure and manage through the Nebula cloud service, which includes a mobile application, as well as support for connecting to a local network via a port with speeds up to 2.5 Gbit/s.

Equipment and appearance

The access point comes in a compact cardboard box with a simple design, which is typical for business segment products. In fact, the only interesting thing here is the sticker with the model name, serial number and MAC address.

The access point comes in a compact cardboard box with a simple design, which is typical for business segment products. In fact, the only interesting thing here is the sticker with the model name, serial number and MAC address.

The delivery set includes a mounting plate, a set of screws and dowels (two options), a rubber foot for installation on a table, an optional sticker for more secure fastening of the network cable, a power supply with a replaceable plug block, and a universal leaflet with information on the safe use of the device. Instructions for getting started are presented only as a QR code with a link to the manufacturer’s website.

The delivery set includes a mounting plate, a set of screws and dowels (two options), a rubber foot for installation on a table, an optional sticker for more secure fastening of the network cable, a power supply with a replaceable plug block, and a universal leaflet with information on the safe use of the device. Instructions for getting started are presented only as a QR code with a link to the manufacturer’s website.

The power supply plugs into a power outlet, has compact dimensions, 12 V 2 A parameters and a 1.4 m cable with a standard round plug.

The power supply plugs into a power outlet, has compact dimensions, 12 V 2 A parameters and a 1.4 m cable with a standard round plug.

The complete plate has many holes for various mounting options and special elements for holding cables.

The complete plate has many holes for various mounting options and special elements for holding cables.

On the company's website in the support section you can download firmware updates, electronic versions of documentation (quick start guide, user manual, CLI description — all in English) and other documents.

On the company's website in the support section you can download firmware updates, electronic versions of documentation (quick start guide, user manual, CLI description — all in English) and other documents.

The access point has a housing made of durable white matte plastic with rounded corners. Overall dimensions including fastening are 142×142×41 mm.

On the conventionally upper part in the center we see the manufacturer’s logo. There are ventilation holes around it, and in one of the corners there is a single multi-color access point status indicator. It is large enough and bright, so it will be visible from afar.

There are also many holes on the bottom of the case to ensure a comfortable temperature regime for the device. In the center there is a traditional information sticker.

We also see guides and a latch for the mounting plate (accessible without the use of additional tools), a hidden reset button and a niche for cable connections.

The alcove contains one RJ45 port for copper cable with built-in LEDs, a power supply input, and a service port for the console (probably a standard low-voltage serial port).

The weight of the device including the mount is about 370 g.

Overall the access point makes a good impression with its design, materials and construction.

Specifications and hardware features

The main characteristics of this device include support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) in two frequency bands with the ability to connect at speeds up to 576 Mbps and 2402 Mbps, as well as one network port with speeds up to 2.5 Gbps. These parameters are considered optimal for creating wireless networks in the small business segment at the moment.

The device supports prioritization, WDS/Mesh, seamless roaming with 802.11r/k/v, DCS, WPA/WPA2/WPA3 authentication for both PSK and RADIUS server. In addition, it has support for IPv6, VLAN, MAC filtering, SNMP and other common features.

A web interface, Nebula cloud service and command line interface (CLI) are available for management and configuration. The device is powered by PoE (802.3at) or a standard DC 12 V 2 A input. Power consumption does not exceed 20.5 W. The device is intended for indoor use and operates at temperatures from 0 to +50 °C with a relative humidity of 10% to 90%.

Technically, the device is based on the Mediatek platform with the Mediatek MT7981BA SoC, which includes two ARM Cortex-A53 cores at 1.3 GHz. At the same time, the Mediatek MT7976DAN radio chip is used, providing MIMO 2x2:2 modes at 2.4 GHz and 3x3:2 at 5 GHz. The device has three built-in antennas: two for both bands and a third for 5 GHz only. The limitation on the number of spatial streams entails maximum speeds corresponding to the AX3000 class. However, actual speeds may be limited by regional Wi-Fi equipment regulations.

The device is also equipped with RAM and flash memory chips, as well as a chip for working with a wired network port. To effectively cool the printed circuit board, metal plates are installed on both sides. Access points were tested using firmware version 6.65(ACGF.1)C0.

Optional equipment

The access point in question generally does not require any additional equipment for its operation. It has a standard input for the power supply, and the latter is included in the kit. But we tested the device together with the Zyxel XS1930-12HP switch, which supports PoE.

This particular model has already been mentioned before in previous materials. We are talking about a switch that is equipped with ten ports for copper cables, capable of supporting different speeds — 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps. Eight of them provide PoE++ (IEEE 802.3bt) power with a total budget of 375 W. Additionally, two SFP+ ports are provided for connection to an upstream switch, with the ability to use 1 or 10 Gbit/s transceivers.

In terms of software, the device falls into the Smart L3 Lite category. Detailed information about this model can be found on the official product page. It is also worth noting support for the Nebula cloud management system.

Software Features

The main difference between this Zyxel access point model and older models is the lack of support for working with hardware controllers. However, all other functions remain the same: management via a web interface, use of the Nebula cloud service and command line access (CLI).

To start using an access point for local standalone management, you can either connect it to an existing router with a running DHCP server, or connect to a Wi-Fi network created by this access point. Next, a web interface opens, where you can go to the setup wizard section. Here you can perform basic configuration of the access point: select the country, set the time, set the administrator password, configure wired and wireless networks.

The main access point control panel via a web interface essentially differs little from the company’s previously reviewed models. The explored panel contains three main tabs. The first tab serves as an information page for quickly assessing the current status of the access point and obtaining key information. It displays the use of computing resources, the status of radio units, the number of connected clients and other basic parameters of the device’s operation.

The second tab — Monitor (the web interface does not have a translation into Russian) — is used to obtain more detailed data. In particular, here you can already see a list of clients with their addresses, connection type, signal level and channel speeds. Here you can also view the internal event log.

The third tab already contains the access point settings itself. As with other “adult” models, a system with objects and profiles is used here.

Some useful features include support for multiple SSIDs, the ability to switch profiles on a schedule, VLAN support, MAC filters, work in the WDS system, support for WPA3 and RADIUS servers.

The fourth tab of the web interface is dedicated to service operations for servicing the device. Here you can configure the configuration and update the firmware, collect diagnostic data for technical support, and manage LEDs and other service parameters.

Getting started with settings via the web interface can be difficult for new users. Especially in the case of small businesses where there is no qualified network administrator. In such situations, the company recommends using configuration and management through the Nebula cloud service. This requires registration in the system using an email address. It is also necessary to have access to the Internet through the existing network in order for the new device to communicate with the cloud servers. This is standard practice in most small networks.

We have already talked about the cloud service earlier. In this article, we will focus on testing the scenario of setting up a new access point using a mobile application. To do this, you need to install the Nebula Mobile application (Zyxel Communications Corp) on your smartphone. By the way, unlike the local web interface, this application supports the Russian language, which makes the process more accessible and understandable.

If the account is new, you will need to create an organization and a platform. This approach allows you to further delegate management and monitoring to third-party administrators while maintaining control over the system.

The next step is to add the device to the cloud. There are two ways to do this: you can scan the QR code on the body of the access point with your smartphone camera in the application, as we did...

...or you can manually specify the MAC address and serial number.

By the way, this operation can be done in advance, without yet connecting the device to the network. Let us remind you that the service is also supported by switches and security gateways. So you can add new devices to the network and gain access to manage them without a personal visit to the office by the administrator.

We are waiting for the device to appear on the site in Online mode. An automatic firmware update will also be offered.

In the mobile application, go to the second page by selecting the Wi-Fi icon in the bottom line and create a new wireless network.

To do this, just enter a name and create a password. After applying the settings, the network will begin serving clients.

The advantage of this approach is that if you expand the network by adding new access points, you will not need to configure anything on them. Just add a new device to the same site — and all Wi-Fi settings are automatically downloaded to it. If you need to change the network or password, you also change this data only in the site settings, and all devices working on it will automatically receive new data.

During operation, you can use a mobile application (remember, it works via the cloud — that is, you do not need to be directly on the site) to monitor the operation of the equipment, including traffic and the number of clients.

The mobile application also provides account management capabilities, including granting administrative rights to sites, setting up push notifications when devices are disconnected from the cloud, and managing licenses and subscriptions.

According to testing results, the Nebula service is attractive to the SMB (small and medium business) segment, providing quick and easy wireless network setup on Zyxel equipment, even using a mobile application. Although the web version of the service provides many more options and settings, the cloud version is also of interest.

It is also important to note two features that may be useful to users. The Smart Mesh function allows you to create a wireless network of several devices connected to each other without the use of wires. One checkbox in the site settings allows you to disconnect access points from the cable and install them in the required places.

Using password protection for a wireless network has a significant drawback in the business segment: changing the password and then reconnecting all users if you need to disable access for one of them. A solution may be to use Nebula's built-in portal feature. This setup only takes a couple of minutes. After connecting to an open network, the user will need to provide a name and password, as well as register using an email address. Confirmation of the new account will be required by the administrator. In addition, you can configure user access by VLAN, provide open access to certain resources, use a voucher system for access, or allow access after agreeing on network rules.

Finally, it is important to consider that cloud services are not always suitable for all scenarios. When using a cloud approach, it is important to have service availability from the manufacturer. Zyxel provides the ability to switch between local and cloud modes at any time. The user receives flexible configuration via the web interface or even via the CLI, as well as convenient management via the Nebula cloud.

Performance testing

In the first stage of testing, the access point was tested with several adapters for mobile and desktop devices to determine the maximum connection speeds. Connection to the wired network was made through a Zyxel XS1930-12HP switch with a port speed of 2.5 Gbit/s. Basic settings of the access point included creating a network with different SSIDs in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, fixing the channel number and using WPA2-PSK security mode. All other parameters remained at default.

It is noted that users focused on high speed in a wireless network prefer to use the 5 GHz frequency range, since the capabilities of 2.4 GHz are significantly limited. Additionally, the 2.4 GHz band has regional restrictions that may limit channel width to a minimum if other networks are detected in the band. This is important to consider when interpreting test results. In «clean field» conditions, a 40 MHz channel can be used, which can approximately double the speed.

As part of testing, Intel 7265, Intel AX210, Mediatek MT7922 and Qualcomm QCNFA765 adapters were installed in a workstation running Windows 11. All of them are M.2 format, and adapters to the standard PCIe bus were used for installation. The first adapter complies with Wi-Fi 5 and acted as a client of the previous generation. The remaining three adapters are AX3000 class and support Wi-Fi standards up to and including Wi-Fi 6 in both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, each equipped with two antennas.

The second participating workstation was connected to the 10 Gbps port of the switch. The distance between the access point and clients was 10 meters of line of sight.

Although the 2.4 GHz band is currently of interest mainly for IoT devices and various automation systems, a speed test was also carried out in this range for completeness of the analysis.

Taking into account the situation described above with restrictions on channel width, the connection speeds for the adapters were 144 Mbit/s for the first one and 287 Mbit/s for the other three. In general, the results are as expected. Let’s just note some advantage for the Mediatek MT7922 client; perhaps in this case, “family ties” in the hardware platform played a role.

The results for the Intel 7265 at 5 GHz can be assessed as good. The connection speed was standard for this configuration 867 Mbit/s. For all Wi-Fi 6 multi-stream clients, we got “gigabit” speeds with a connection speed of 2402 Mbps. At the same time, the Intel AX210 adapter turned out to be the fastest this time.

To assess the quality of the coverage area, we use smartphones and additional testing at a distance of 15 meters from the access point with obstacles. The clients in this case are Xiaomi Mi5 and Huawei P40 Pro. The first is a very middle-aged representative of Wi-Fi 5 class devices with one antenna. While the second one is formally similar to the adapters used above — Wi-Fi 6, two antennas, HT160 support.

At 2.4 GHz, the speed of the second point drops by one and a half to two times, but remains quite sufficient for most mobile applications. Based on this, we can assume that the tested access point will be able to effectively serve low-power IoT devices. Let us only recall that in Wi-Fi the quality of communication depends on both the access point and the client, so you should not count on covering large areas with one “powerful” point. For such tasks, the correct option would be to use several points in the Mesh system.

The test results for Xiaomi are generally similar to other access points, and there are no complaints about their performance. The connection speed in this configuration is 433 Mbit/s.

For Huawei, at a distance of 10 meters from the access point, we received a speed in one stream of 350 Mbit/s in the direction of the smartphone and about 280 Mbit/s in the opposite direction. This is enough to use any services on a mobile device. Complicating the conditions reduces the performance by one and a half to two times, but the speeds remain at a fairly high level.

Performance tests have shown that the access point performs as expected from equipment of this level. With desktop and mobile adapters that have large antennas and can handle 5GHz multi-stream scenarios with 802.11ax under favorable conditions, we achieved speeds equivalent to a gigabit wired network (half-duplex). Working with smartphones also went without problems — even a previous generation device, being at a distance, is capable of receiving data of more than 100 Mbit/s. And a modern client, being close to the access point, showed a speed of 500-700 Mbit/s.

Conclusion

Today, in the domestic market, the choice of modern wireless equipment for use in the business segment is, unfortunately, limited. This is especially true when it comes to supporting cloud services. The Zyxel NWA90AX Pro access point is interesting due to its combination of AX3000 class and 2.5 Gbps port at an affordable price. Closest competitors offer such a wired port only in significantly more expensive models. Testing has confirmed that this configuration provides a definite advantage in service speed for wireless clients.

In general, the device demonstrated the expected speeds when working with clients using adapters based on chips from different manufacturers. This indicates that Wi-Fi 6 is the optimal choice for building modern high-speed wireless networks. We also praised the Zyxel access point's coverage in challenging environments, as well as its compatibility with legacy devices.

In addition, among the advantages of this model, it should be noted that it has a compact body, a set of mounts for various surfaces, as well as the ability to be powered via PoE or from a regular adapter that is plugged into an outlet.

In terms of firmware, the Zyxel NWA90AX Pro model differs little from the high-end devices of this manufacturer. Control via browser and CLI is available here, as well as support for the Nebula cloud service. The list of functions and settings is typical for the business segment and provides the necessary flexibility and controllability.