|At a glance|
|Product||NETGEAR Insight Managed Smart Cloud Wireless Access Point (WAC505) [Website]|
|Summary||AC1200 class dual-stream PoE-powered access point with MU-MIMO support|
|Pros||• Supports AP load balancing and band steering|
|Cons||• All settings not available via app|
• Smartphone app is not suitable for managing multiple APs
• No MU-MIMO disable
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The NETGEAR WAC-505 is a small, unusually lightweight off-white rectangular lozenge. Its Ethernet jack is hidden behind the back, and the front sports an unusual five LEDs—LAN, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, power... and something odd, a bit like a recycling logo (three little arrows twisted to make a clockwise-pointing circle). It booted very quickly, noticeably faster than most APs.
Once booted, the WAC-505 produces 2.4 and 5 GHz WLANs. The SSIDs themselves are "SSID" plus a phrase unique per AP and "secured" with the PSK "sharedsecret". The usual NETGEAR setup URL, routerlogin.net, works to connect to a new WAC505 for configuration.
Also as typical for NETGEAR, the web UI is very well laid out, easy to navigate and attractive. My only complaint is an interminable list of alphabetically ordered time zones in the "Day Zero" wizard for initial configuration—am I going to be in Eastern, or New York, or US/New York, or US/Eastern, or...? You have no choice but to scroll through a hundred-plus possibilities in the drop-down box to find out.
Once you get through that, the "real" configuration UI is easy to navigate; I had no difficulty setting up my standard three test SSIDs (one 2.4 GHz, one 5 GHz, and one dual-band) and enabling 802.11k and 802.11r for them. The "firmware upgrade" button is also prominently placed at the top of the dashboard home, and warns you there's a new one out and you should upgrade without you even needing to click anything.
NETGEAR WAC505 Web GUI
The WAC505 did quite well on 2.4 GHz, aside from dropping a page or two at station D. About four out of five page loads completed in 1500ms or less at all stations, which is better than it sounds when you realize just how much traffic and congestion we're throwing at an AP here—our four stations' combined 32 Mbps of traffic is roughly equivalent to 15-30 stations with actual humans behind them animatedly browsing websites.
NETGEAR WAC505's 2.4 GHz application latency curves
The WAC505's application latency curves at 5 GHz are still tightly grouped, and do a slightly better job bringing home the data, meeting or exceeding a 1500ms latency in 9 of every 10 attempts. The relatively close grouping of the curves for each STA are also a good sign here—if the curves match closely as they do here, it's an indication of good airtime management by the AP.
NETGEAR WAC505's 5 GHz application latency curves
When testing with a single client, the WAC-505 produced some of the best throughput of the round-up. Only the Edimax CAP1200 outperformed it in overall raw throughput, with slightly lower 2.4 GHz scores and slightly higher 5 GHz scores.
NETGEAR WAC-505's single-client throughput
With the performance testing on a single AP done, it was time to shift into multiple access points and a controller. For the WAC505, this means NETGEAR's new Insight cloud controller. The APs report to a NETGEAR-managed controller algorithm in a datacenter somewhere. NETGEAR's pretty proud of Insight; they're currently offering free "Basic" management of no more than two APs (further APs cost $5/year apiece) or "Premium" management at $1 per AP per month. Basic management only allows use of the mobile app; you need Premium if you want to use the web UI. I didn't want to junk up my phone with another app, so I took the free seven-day trial for Premium.
Philosophical objections aside, I didn't enjoy this interface much. There was no network discovery of APs; you have to type each AP's serial number into a text box, after which the cloud controller eventually "finds" it. (There's a QR code on the back of each AP, which does at least heavily imply that I could've just scanned it, if I'd been willing to use the mobile app.)
Adding a new AP was obnoxious and slow; mine reported "Disconnected" with no apparent reason why for a good ten minutes after I'd added it. Hitting that AP's web interface directly on the LAN similarly showed its status as "Cloud Disconnected" with no reason given. Eventually, I tried to upgrade its firmware from the local web interface, only to be told "An upgrade is already in progress"—which was apparently triggered from the cloud controller. After that invisible upgrade process finished and the AP rebooted, it showed up on the Insight controller.
Changing my existing, standalone AP to Insight-managed mode worked the same way—type its serial number into the Insight controller and wait. Annoyingly, Insight was perfectly willing to add my standalone AP and report on its status, even though it was in standalone mode and already configured, not in Insight-managed mode. I'm suspicious of unforeseen infosec pitfalls in that area, since it means anyone with an Insight account can get some degree of monitoring of any arbitrary NETGEAR access point just by serial number shopping.
After going back to my standalone AP's local interface and switching it to Insight-managed mode, it warned me that it would drop its SSIDs, and then disappeared for reconfiguration. In the meantime, I configured my usual three test SSIDs, and enabled "Fast Roaming" and band steering in the Insight controller. It took another ten plus minutes before my standalone AP had finished reconfiguring itself and showed up as "Connected" in Insight.
Every page load or refresh in Insight tended to take ten to twenty seconds of staring at a CSS-rendered "spinning circle of wait" icon waiting for lists of devices, APs, or what have you to render. I really did not enjoy Insight at all.
Stepping away from Insight and recycling the connections on my four stations, they distributed between the two APs, all staying on 5 GHz.
The WAC505 supports 802.11k and r. Walking my path through the house from Station D, the "Fast Roaming" feature I'd enabled in Insight was very clearly present and functioning. Roaming to AP2/5GHz occurred just before I arrived behind Station B upstairs, and hopping bands from 5 GHz to 2.4 GHz occurred before I'd quite reached the far corner downstairs. Tracing my steps back, I was back on 5 GHz at AP2 at the top of the stairs. Arriving back to Station D where I'd started from, it roamed back from AP2 to AP1 unprompted after about ten seconds. This was easily the best roaming experience of all access points tested.