The twin Linksys Access Points (APs) LAPAC1750C (priced at $329) and LAPAC1200C (priced at $199.99) represent a new direction for the brand.
Small businesses are often forced to choose between low-cost consumer devices such as the Google AP and much higher-cost APs, such as those from Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company) or Ruckus Networks.
Both have cloud management components, but the first lacks some of the configurability you get with a business-grade AP and the latter can come with hefty price tags.
Linksys has effectively created a middle tier by injecting some features that small businesses can appreciate, mainly by adding Linksys Cloud Manager, which is a free cloud-based management tool—and doing it without adding any ongoing costs, provided you buy new APs every five years or pay to have the cloud service extended.
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To the Cloud
Until now, managing a cluster of APs is challenging at best, but managing multiple networks with multiple APs is a challenge even with the best of tools.
Linksys has lightened this burden considerably with Linksys Cloud Manager.
Signing up for Linksys Cloud Manager is as simple as entering a username and password on their website here.
After that, you're ready to start adding APs across multiple networks to configure them in one easy-to-use location.
Anyone who has configured a business-grade AP knows how confusing it can be.
You generally need to connect to the AP, set your IP address to match the subnet, log into the local console, and then perform all of the setup steps to add it to your AP cluster and network.
With the new Linksys APs, you just plug them in; that's it.
To add them to Linksys Cloud Manager, all you need is the Media Access Control (MAC) address and serial number noted on the bottom of the unit.
They are smart enough to phone home by themselves.
Once you've completed the steps, the unit shows up on your network and you're ready to roll.
Set Up and Performance
Once you've paired each of your APs to Linksys Cloud Manager, it's time to set up a Service Set Identifier (SSID) so that folks can connect.
You can do this by simply clicking "New Wireless SSID" under your network's "Wireless SSID Slots" menu.
There are a total of eight slots available, which should be more than enough for most small businesses.
Once you have an SSID, you can do a number of useful things such as set up a captive portal.
If you've been to a coffee shop recently, then you've seen one of these.
It shows a splash screen with a place to enter in a password to gain access to the AP.
It helps ensure that the folks using your APs are actually customers since they'll have to come in to get the password; plus it just appears more professional.
If you use virtual LANs (VLANs) to segment out network traffic, then you can do that, too, with a simple switch.
Ensuring that no one AP hogs the total bandwidth available is an important part of ensuring the best possible experience for all users.
This can be easily managed under "Wireless Settings" using a simple slide bar.
If you need to adjust download and upload speed independently, then there is a small Advanced toggle below to open the menu.
As for determining which AP to which you'll connect, Linksys doesn't currently support load balancing, intelligently determining which AP to connect to based on usage.
Given that this isn't often necessary on small networks, it's a forgivable omission, though it could limit the platform's usefulness to midsize organizations.
You do have the ability to limit the number of concurrent clients connected at any given time, so you can at least have some degree of control.
Administration and Security
Being the only person with access to the network's management consoles often means being the only person who can't take a vacation.
Linksys has provided an easy-to-use but somewhat limited means to manage alternate administrators that seems especially geared toward small IT shops.
You can invite managing members but there are really only two distinctions.
Either you can manage all of the networks or you can manage and own all of the networks.
Simply managing means you'd be able to adjust the network's configuration settings, while owning a network would allow you to do that plus invite additional managers.
That's not a lot of difference.
It would have been nicer to have had a bit more granularity over defining what folks can do.
Being able to define read-only access for troubleshooting purposes, for instance, would be a nice-to-have.
On the security front, this set of Linksys APs offers several good though fairly basic features.
The first feature is client isolation, which can be turned on via the Advanced screen.
This will prevent systems connected to the AP from seeing each other and will prevent would-be hackers from preying on users.
The second feature checks for rogue APs that might try to steal users and perpetrate man-in-the-middle attacks, a favorite technique used to skim information from user traffic.
It's also possible to turn off broadcasting the SSID, which forces users to know it in advance to connect.
For those unfamiliar with this concept, it's common to see the SSIDs of nearby APs presented in a list when you turn on Wi-Fi in a new location.
That list is essentially every wireless network in range broadcasting its name (the name being the SSID).
By not broadcasting the SSID, your network won't show up for new clients trying to connect to new Wi-Fi networks, though it will allow new users to connect as long as they know both the network name (SSID) and the password.
If you're in a fairly high-traffic area and don't want "drive-by" hacking, then this puts things a bit more out of sight.
While these measures may seem a little light, remember that the LAPAC1750C and LAPAC1200C are APs, not full-on wireless routers.
They're designed to integrate with your existing network router, which should preferably be another Linksys product, such as the Linksys LRT224 Dual WAN Business Gigabit VPN Router , but it doesn't have to be.
If you're looking for more advanced security features such as identity management and virtual private network (VPN) support, then you generally won't have them on an AP.
Rather, you install and enable those capabilities as part of your router or back-office server layer, and most versions of either will work fine with Linksys Cloud Manager.
If you're working on a network with 20 or fewer users, then Linksys has nailed the user experience (UX) on the management side.
Linksys Cloud Manager does a great job of getting your APs deployed and everyone online with little effort.
It also includes the basic security and management features that small business owners would want, and hopefully these will be expanded on in future software updates.
Linksys' pricing is also highly attractive as the absence of a subscription fee is a huge plus for anyone looking to invest in a business-grade solution.
It is a product that you might outgrown eventually, but it would take a significant jump in your user base to make that necessary.