Review By Dean Bielanowski  D-Link Website - http://www.d-link.com

NetComm NB620W Wireless Router

By Dean Bielanowski

Wireless home and business networks are but one of the technologies enjoying a growing audience worldwide, predominantly because households now contain more than one computer, and businesses are demanding faster and more convenient internet access. Previously, shared internet access was only available in the wired variety for both business and household consumer use, meaning an ongoing battle with wires and restrictions with movement of the computer to different locations.

Enter the Wireless Router, a device that allows more than one computer to share an internet connection, and access servers, all without the need for wires or complex setup procedures. Indeed, the wireless router allows freedom from a physical connection, meaning you can roam around the space within range of the router and still enjoy a fast internet connection. Many cities around the world are also now setting up public wireless internet access areas as demand for access to the internet in personal and business life is growing rapidly, and with more and more technology almost demanding an internet connection for functionality, it's no wonder the tech manufacturers are jumping at the opportunity this emerging market demand is generating.

Now, there are perhaps hundreds of companies manufacturing and selling wireless broadband routers, and to be honest, a lot of them offer similar features and speeds, but today we are taking a look at the NetComm NB620W Wireless Gateway, because it has a few additional extras you will not find on your stock standard 802.11 router.

NetComm NB620W
The NB620W Super-G router conforms to the 802.11b/g wireless standards. Via the 'b' option, it is backwards compatible with existing 802.11b wireless network interface cards, however, the 802.11g standard offers much faster data transfer speeds, and is now the standard in wireless broadband data transmission. While 802.11g can transfer up to speeds of 108Mbps with some fancy tweaking and tricks from the manufacturers, the 802.11g offers up to the standard 54Mbps transfer speed, and this is the speed one can expect from the NB620W package with a basic setup. The router does seem to work as fast as my Optus broadband connection will download data in general web surfing activities. There is a little longer delay between activating the request and receiving the response from the internet when working on a remote computer hooked up wirelessly, however, this is perhaps only 20% longer than the delay experienced when hooked with wire to the modem directly. The NB620W also features what the company calls "Atheros' Super-G wireless mode" which helps to further speed up data transfer, potentially up to the 108Mbps speed claimed (with appropriate receiver hardware and solid wireless connection strength).

The NB620W can be used with both ADSL and Cable modem connections. It plugs in directly between your existing cable/ADSL modem and your main computer box. So the data link from the outside "world" first passes through your cable/ADSL modem, then to the NB620W router, and then to your main computer wired to the router. Because the router is placed between the modem and the main PC, the internet connection can also be broadcast wirelessly to any computer within its range (typically 100m indoors and up to 300m outdoors). Range can also be affected by solid objects in the line-of-sight between the router and remotely connected computers, but the NB620W will easily pass through walls in a standard sized home dwelling or small office building, so having remotely connected PCs in another room of the house or workplace is generally not a problem.

Setup of the router is easily achieved via the web-based interface coded into the router itself, and accessed via a standard web browser. From this setup interface, all feature options can be enabled or disabled and the router can be initially setup and maintained via the point-and-click menus. There is no coding to be done for basic setup and even a novice to networks will be able to get through relatively easy if they follow the included documentation carefully. One thing I had to do to get it running with my Motorola modem on the Optus network was to switch the modem off and the router, leave the modem off for a few minutes then switch the modem back on, followed by the router. After this the router was successfully able to identify the broadband connection and complete setup. This is a one-off setup event and from there on everything worked fine, and automatically.

Unlike some other routers on the market, the NetComm NB620W is compatible with any operating system that supports TCP/IP protocols, including Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh and Linux-based systems. However, TCP/IP is not the only protocol it supports. Support is included for PPPoE, DHCP (Client and Server), UDP, ICMP, DNS Proxy, Dynamic DNS and SNTP protocols and the router will work fine with both Optus and Telstra broadband connections.

"Back of Unit" Features
The NB620W features 4 10/100 ethernet ports for wired connections to computers hooked up to a LAN, so the internet connection can be shared in both wired and wireless form. Network Address Translation (NAT) features allows the private network to be concealed from the internet for added privacy/security by masking the actual IP address of the user. In addition, the NB620W features two USB ports on the rear of the unit. These USB ports are not found on all wireless routers, and rarely found on any of the budget offerings on the market. They are USB 2.0 ports (for faster data transfer, but backward compatible with USB 1.1 devices) and you can hook up a wireless storage device (such as a USB flash drive or a USB hard drive) and the data on that drive can then be accessed via the network readily. Via wireless connection to the storage device, the data can also be externally accessed via FTP using the "server's" IP address and the virtual port/server features of the router. The USB ports support universal plug-and-play options, so most devices that are plug-and-play enabled will be recognized and configured for use automatically. I find the option to hook up a storage device to the router for wireless access to be very handy, particularly if your connected computers are not used as your 'main' system but you still require access to data you may have stored via your 'main' system.

The second option for the USB port is to hook up a USB printer. When a USB printer is connected to the router, wired and wirelessly-connected computers have access to the printing queue of that printer, so you can initiate print jobs from a 'remote' computer hooked into the network. This is great if you do not have a printer for each computer hooked up to the network, and all connected systems can utilize the one printer as if it were connected locally.

The 2.4Ghz Range
The NB620W operates in the 2.4Ghz wireless range, like most home cordless phone systems. There can be issues with running more than one system in the 2.4Ghz range, however, most of these issues are now resolved with newer technology by providing the systems with multiple channel options within this range. The NB620W router has over a dozen available channels to utilize. I also run a 2.4Ghz cordless phone and a 2.4Ghz AV sender system in my residence and neither have caused any problem running alongside the NB620W, so it shouldn't be an issue with this router. Channels are selectable via the router configuration interface, so you can readily change channels if the default selected channel (channel 6) is causing problems with other 2.4Ghz systems operating in the same area.

Security is a big issue with wireless networks, and rightly so. Without any security measures implemented, virtually anyone with a wireless receiver card can tap into your broadcasted internet connection if they are in the vicinity. Thankfully, wireless security is quite good these days, and the NB620W features the latest set of security options built into the router.

In addition to the NAT protection mentioned above, the NB620W also features SPI/DoS (Stateful Packet Inspection/Denial of Service) firewall technology. The NAT security works by basically masking your connected computer's IP addresses to the internet. SPI involves examining packets of data downloaded from the net via the router and denying suspicious packets, because the router knows what type of programs might be utilizing a particular protocol. Denial of Service attacks from hackers are but one type of attack the router helps to prevent via this technology. The NB620W also features VPN passthrough to allow secure connection between specific computers over the internet.

WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol) provides another level of security for the user by encrypting data transferred over the wireless network, usually with either 64 or 128-bit level encryption.  However, WEP security is not considered to be very strong. WPA (WiFi Protected Access) security is considered a much better option, and the NB620W also features this higher level of security in both PSK and Radius modes. To use WPA, all network hardware must be WPA compatible/enabled. The technology works via keys and passphrases. There is more detailed descriptions of the technology available online for further reference.

The three types of security available with the NB620W should be sufficient to maintain network security if used properly, but individual security situations should be assessed if you are very conscious of network security, for business or personal use.

In Use
Once initial setup is complete, the router is virtually maintenance-free, runs in the background and is barely noticeable. Speeds seem close to the 54mbps maximum at most times, even when our indicated connection strength was indicating "low" on our D-Link receiver card. We experienced virtually zero dropouts using the router in the last 5 weeks we have been testing it. Although the router has a rotatable transmitting antenna, we found it didn't make a lot of difference where this weas actually positioned in our tests, but your mileage may vary. If you do have transmission problems, try moving the router itself to different locations of the room you wish it to be in. This can make small differences in signal strength received but for your average sized home or small office building, the router should work very well.

This router is not the cheapest on the market at AUD$330 (Oct 05), however, it offers many more features than budget models, and these features will appeal to those looking for print and disk sharing, as well as more advanced security options. For the price, we feel it offers good value for money if these are the features you are looking for. In comparison to the D-Link DI-624 router we reviewed elsewhere on this site, the NetComm NB620W certainly offers more features and is a much more versatile router for both home and small office use. You are paying a bit more for it over the D-Link option, however, the additional features are well worth the extra investment in our opinion, mostly because they offer options that make the home network more efficient to use.

For more information on this router, or where it can be purchased from, visit the NetComm Australia website at www.netcomm.com.au

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NetComm NB620W Photos
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The NB620W retail box

Quick Start Guide and CD has all the instructions to get you going.

The NB620W in horizontal position

Power, WAN and WLAN led lights indicate router status.

Plus there are 4 LED lights to show router port status too.

The antenna broadcasts and receives internet requests to and from other PCs in the network.

Onboard USB port for printer/USB storage connection plus WAN cable port.

Four ethernet ports for wired connection of up to four systems.

Use the included mounting foot to position your router in the upright/vertical position if this suits better.

One ethernet cable is supplied to allow hook-up to the 'host' PC.

Setup and Configuration screens are coded into the router for easy access, even when there is no 'active' internet connection established or available.