Zyxel’s NWA50AX: a solution for WiFi dead zones

March 4, 2024
8/10

Summary

Zyxel NWA50AX Access point – Moar Wi-Fi

$210

PAT PILCHER reviews an affordable and practical solution for homes and small businesses dealing with dead zones and finds it very useful.

There are almost always Wi-Fi dead zones in homes, and for small businesses, getting secure Wi-Fi set up is often more trouble than the effort is worth. With most people considering wireless to be rated as important as breathable air, not having Wi-Fi at your business, or having the Wi-Fi crap out at home because of interference or a lack of range from your router is the stuff of nightmares.

While you could dump Wi-Fi and plug everything in with Ethernet, this translates into cable spaghetti. That solution is often unworkable (besides, many smart home widgets need Wi-Fi, and a growing number of laptops don’t come with an Ethernet port).

You could upgrade to a more powerful router or mesh network, or if you’re a business, get the experts in to install a secure and manageable Wi-Fi option, but spending the GDP of a developing nation for usable Wi-Fi isn’t ideal either. What’s a poor geek to do?

The folks at Zyxel might have the answer with their affordable NWA50AX Wi-Fi 6 access point, which only costs $210 and compared to a mesh set-up or a new router is a steal.

An access point is a mini Wi-Fi router that can extend your network by creating a single wireless connection point. They are cheaper than mesh, and access points can be installed across an entire office building (or large McMansion) to provide localised coverage. Because fine-grained control over each access point is possible, they’re useful where precise and controlled coverage is essential. That said, most access points (the NWA50AX included) require a wired connection back to your network switch or router (which arguably makes them faster than many mesh systems).

The NWA50AX is designed to be wall or ceiling-mounted. Its square-rounded design could easily be mistaken for a smoke detector. It’s not huge either. At just 14cm square x 3.75cm deep it can tuck into most locations unobtrusively.

Cleverly, you don’t need to use the power brick as the NWA50AX is capable of PoE (power over Ethernet). In non-geek speak, a LAN cable can carry power and data, neatly minimising cable clutter and freeing up a wall socket. You’ll need a POE-capable network switch to use PoE. Cables connect to Ethernet and power sockets on its edge. While this makes for simpler wall or ceiling mounting, it does mean that some cable management is needed to keep cable clutter at bay.

According to Zyxel’s bumf, the NWA50AX can deliver a blistering 1775 Mbps of throughput, which can be divided up for anything up to 256 users. A Gigabit network port helps things, but anyone on a 10Gbps fibre plan might find this a tad restrictive.

Perhaps the biggest selling point aside from its compelling sticker price and simplicity is (much like the SCR50AXE I reviewed last year) its enterprise-level security chops and Cloud management capabilities. For businesses wanting to keep their network secure and manageable without involving costly consultants or obtaining a degree in cyber security and data networks, this is a real boon.

This means getting set up is a doddle thanks to the Zyxel smartphone app. That said, you must register a Zyxel account before starting the setup process. Connecting the NWA50AX to Zyxel’s industrial strength Cloud security was as easy as scanning a QR code on the underside of the access point using the app.

Beginners might find configuration and management confusing. Even though the NWA50AX device appeared in the app’s MyZyzel portal, its management tools were tucked away in what Zyxel calls the Nebular control centre, which is counterintuitively a web app. That said, you can do exactly what I did and access its built-in web admin console to get set up. However, using the free security features means some features are disabled on the web console.

 


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Either way, the NWA50AX is very configurable. It sports up to 8 SIDs, Bridge mode, WPA2/WPA3 logins and a tonne of other stuff that might (or might not) prove useful. The optional Cloud security and management controls are impressive because of their affordable price. Best of all, there’s no subscription cost for Nebula functionality (that said, heavy-duty real-time reporting and enhanced security require a premium Nebula subscription).

After setting up, I tested the connection and managed a respectable 800+Mbps in the same room. Moving further away, I saw throughput dip to a still zippy 650Mbps. For testing purposes, I was using a Wi-Fi 6-capable MacBook Pro M2. Using an older Windows laptop with a Wi-Fi 5 adaptor, I found throughput/coverage varied depending on which band I used. 5GHz delivered around 574Mbps and 2.4GHz about 229Mbps. Using 2.4GHz, I got greater coverage at the expense of slower data speeds.

Zyxel’s NWA50AX is an affordable gadget and adds a free Cloud management service into the mix, making it a robust option that is great value for money. If you need fancy pants features such as Layer 2 isolation and Cloud portal logins, the more upmarket NWA90AX might be worth considering, but the NWA50AX is probably all you’ll likely need for home or small business use.

https://www.zyxel.com/global/en/products/wireless/ax1800-wifi-6-dual-radio-nebulaflex-access-point-nwa50ax

 

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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