Routers Spread WWAN Links Far and Wide

 
 
By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-02-20
 
 
 

Routers Spread WWAN Links Far and Wide


Junxions Junxion Box wireless WAN routers provide an excellent option for companies to deliver Internet connectivity to multiple devices in previously hard-to-network locations. While new tools are available for centrally managing a fleet of these devices, the version designed for in-house deployment still needs a lot of work.



Click here to read the full review of the Junxion Box.

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Junxions Junxion Box wireless WAN routers provide an excellent option for companies to deliver Internet connectivity to multiple devices in previously hard-to-network locations. While new tools are available for centrally managing a fleet of these devices, the version designed for in-house deployment still needs a lot of work.

The Junxion Box can be quite useful for furnishing Internet connectivity in either fixed- or mobile-use cases. For fixed devices, such as kiosks or ATMs, the product can provide either a wireless backup Internet connection in case the primary connection goes down or serve as the primary link for locations that are otherwise difficult to cable. The Junxion Box also can provide connectivity to multiple data clients on the go—literally—when mounted on shared forms of transportation such as buses or ferries.

We tested both Junxion Box models: the $599 JB-110e, which features two Ethernet ports (one WAN and one LAN) plus a slot for a WWAN adapter, and the $699 JB-110b, which has the same features as the JB-110e plus an 802.11b radio for wireless LAN clients.

The latest Junxion Box firmware (Version 1.3) adds support for Junxions new remote management tool, Field Commander, and an on-board IPSec (IP Security) VPN client that encrypts traffic between a Junxion Box and a remote network. The latter enables secure communications of sensitive transmissions back to the primary corporate network. Version 1.3 started shipping in January.

Click here to read more about wireless security.

While both models are affordable, the devices ultimate cost will depend more on how much bandwidth will be consumed. According to representatives from Cingular Wireless, which resells Junxion gear as part of its BusinessConnect suite of products and services, data plans range in price from $8.99 per month for 0.5MB to $279.99 per month for 1,000MB.

Both Junxion Box models are similar to many other consumer-focused routers on the market today: They offer NAT (Network Address Translation)-based routing, an embedded DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server, configurable port forwarding, and the personal flavor of both WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 wireless encryption.

However, the Junxion Boxes WWAN capabilities differentiate them from just about anything on the market today.

Unlike WWAN radios in routers from Digi International and AirLink Communications, the WWAN radio is not embedded in the Junxion Box chassis. Instead, administrators add the WWAN radio via the Junxion devices PCMCIA slot, which allows customers to easily migrate to different WWAN technology, hardware and carriers. Junxion adds support for new adapters and wireless technology via free firmware updates. For example, Junxions Version 1.3 added support for Cingulars forthcoming HSDPA-based technology.

We tested both Junxion Box models using PCMCIA cards from Novatel Wireless—the Merlin V620 adapter with Verizon service and the Merlin S620 with Sprint service. (For a list of the 17 adapter and carrier combinations supported, see www. junxion.com/product.)

The Junxion Boxes can be configured individually, but larger companies supporting multiple devices should opt for the new Field Commander centralized remote management tool. Field Commander comes in two versions of decidedly different quality: a hosted version maintained by Junxion engineers and hosted on Junxions network or a licensed version designed for in-house deployment.

The hosted version is surprisingly inexpensive. Junxion charges only $200 for initial setup, and there are no ongoing per-device management fees. However, Junxion officials acknowledge per-device charges may be added in the future.

The look and feel of Field Commander is the same for the hosted and the licensed versions. In both cases, administrators must initially point each Junxion Box to a Field Commander server, but all subsequent changes can be effected centrally. Each Junxion Box then periodically pulls down configuration or firmware updates from Field Commander at regularly scheduled intervals. All configuration traffic is currently transmitted via HTTP, but Junxion officials claim they will be able to encrypt this traffic soon.

We were far from satisfied with the installation of the in-house, licensed version of Field Commander, which costs $2,000 (also with no per-device charges—yet). Within hours, it was obvious that we were beta testing the software for Junxion; indeed, Junxion representatives revealed that no customers were using the licensed version of the product at the time we tested it. This is a good thing because it appears that Junxions Web developers, database developers and documentation author still havent sat down together to hammer out some niceties, such as consistent naming practices.

To install Field Commander, we had to install and configure the latest versions of Apache, MySQL and the PHP scripting language. Junxions instructions were less than helpful, featuring tips such as "make sure PHP is installed correctly." We also had to make many tweaks that were not documented.

Junxion officials acknowledge their installation procedure could stand some streamlining and are working to address the problem. They are also investigating the cause of some data corruption that tainted the installation package delivered to us.

The new IPSec client allowed us to encrypt data back to the corporate network, but Junxion needs to open up this feature some more. The VPN client assumes the VPN tunnel is configured using Triple DES (Data Encryption Standard) and MD5 authentication. If this is not the case, the user will need to build a new tunnel just for the Junxion Boxes.

Also new is WAN Juggler, a feature that allows either Junxion Box model to automatically switch between a wired and wireless Internet connection if one connection fails. For a backup connectivity solution, we configured the WWAN to engage only if the primary Ethernet Internet connection failed. When we pulled out the Ethernet cable, the Junxion Box seamlessly redirected traffic over the WWAN until we restored connectivity.

We also encountered occasional problems managing the Junxion Box through its embedded Web interfaces. Junxion representatives said they have encountered problems with certain builds of Microsofts Internet Explorer that cause error pages to appear and recommended that we use the Mozilla Foundations Firefox.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

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Evaluation Shortlist

Digi Internationals Digi Connect WAN family Radios are embedded in the Digi Connect devices, but models are on the way for Sprint Nextel, Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Alltel networks (www.digi.com)

AirLink Communications Raven Ethernet Available for both EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) and EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) data networks, the Raven Ethernet includes a stateful inspection firewall (www.airlink.com)

Verilinks NetPath 2000 wireless access router Like the Junxion Box, the NetPath 2000 uses a PCMCIA card to add the WWAN radio (www.verilink.com)

Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at andrew_garcia@ziffdavis.com.

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