Mini Review – Netgear WAX218 Business AX3600 access point

Executive summary: Utterly unsuitable for the task at hand. NOT recommended. Decent (probably) hardware let down by mediocre firmware.

I purchased a Netgear Business Essentials WiFi 6 AX3600 Dual Band Wall/Ceiling Mount, PoE Powered, Local Management access point for evaluation. I have several dozen older (non-AX) access points spread across a half dozen or so locations that I am looking to upgrade to AX3600. Based on a quick look at the specs, the Netgear WAX218 seemed as though it could be a potential candidate as a replacement model.

Before I go any further, I should mention that this is not a full review with lots of nice graphs showing throughput vs. number of clients, etc. – I didn’t get that far before giving up in disgust and boxing the unit up to return for a full refund.

In my opinion, a “Business” networking product should be able to be configured and deployed remotely, with on-site workers simply running the network cable (if there wasn’t one already), mounting the access point, and reporting the installation as complete so support can remotely configure and test the unit. The WAX218 fails to meet even this expectation. Initial configuration requires an on-site system with WiFi to connect to the special WAX218XXXXXX-CONFIG-ONLY SSID. The password is printed on the bottom of the unit, along with the actual SSID (replacing the X’s in the above example). After entering basic information such as the new admin password, the SSID and passphrase for the first WiFi network, etc. the WAX218 stores those and reboots – which takes an unusually long time. The next thing I did was update the firmware that shipped with the unit to the latest firmware found on Netgear’s support site. After uploading the firmware, the WAX218 goes catatonic for 10 minutes (!), displaying a countdown timer from 600 seconds until 0 seconds when it will resume communicating. This is accompanied with dire warnings not to interrupt the power, close the web session, etc.

With those preliminaries out of the way, I attempted to continue the configuration by connecting to the WAX218’s IP address over the hardwired Ethernet. After accepting my connection, it performed a redirect to which gave me the message “You may not be connected to your Router’s WiFi network. To access, your device must be connected to your Router’s WiFi network. Check your current connection and try again.” I then tried connecting via WiFi to the SSID I had defined in the initial configuration and got the same error. It appears the only way you can access the web management interface is via the dedicated WAX218XXXXXX-CONFIG-ONLY SSID. That pretty much rules out any remote management of these devices.

Next, I used the web interface to attempt to configure the timezone. The WAX218 allowed me to specify the offset from GMT, but required me to provide a specific start and end date for Daylight Saving Time (DST). It does not even support rules like “second Sunday in March”, so you need to remember to update the config on every WAX218 annually. What makes this particularly galling is that the WAX218 is running Linux as its underlying operating system. Linux comes with a very complete set of timezone rules for the whole world. Another annoying point is that when I clicked “Save” after making these changes, the WAX218 reported it was rebooting. This was a matter of just a few seconds, but config changes that don’t affect user connections should NOT affect user connections by rebooting the device.

I then enabled the SSH server on the WAX218 and logged into it via SSH to see if there was any sort of a decent menu system. There isn’t – it is a very deep tree of commands, none of which can be abbreviated. Other than checking to make sure the timezone setup was equally brain-dead via the CLI and a few other things (including doing a reset to factory defaults before packing it up for a return and refund) I did not experiment with the CLI in depth. There did not appear to be any supported way to get to a Linux shell prompt to investigate if there was a timezone file there at all. Frankly, Netgear would have been better off using a character cell based browser like Lynx to access the WAX218 web server. At least that way the device would be remotely manageable.

I did examine the T-bar / ceiling mount bracket included with the WAX218. It was a flimsy appearing piece of plastic, not something I’d be comfortable to support a 1.75 pound (yes, the WAX218 is huge and heavy) 8 feet or more over my head.

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