The most important resource you have is your health. Second most important is time. The time that was stolen from me dealing with Netgear products is time I will never get back.
Suppose you’re a consumer who wants fast Wi-Fi. You might entertain getting an 802.11AX router, which is now also called “Wi-Fi 6”. Even if you don’t have a new laptop, you’ll still get faster speeds from it, in general.
The problem with Netgear consumer product
However, if you choose a router like the Netgear AX6000 RAX120, you get a nice enough looking piece of hardware, with two antenna fins instead of the sci-fi arachnid antennae we usually see.
The firmware is the problem. You buy a modern, very expensive router, and a few things happen:
- It lacks some features we’ve come to expect: when editing the IP range handed out to clients over DHCP, it is no longer possible to specify what DNS server will be used by clients on the LAN.
- It works very fast initially under default configuration, but then gets much slower over the first 24 hours of use.
- Setting it up as an access point (in order to let another device on the LAN handle DHCP, DNS and routing) failed, the RAX120 as Access Point refused to pass DHCP requests, so clients didn’t get IP addresses.
Netgear, what happened? You used to be cool.
I searched Netgear’s support forums for this product and found many other people unhappy with it. When it worked, it was very fast.
Netgear wants you to put enterprise products in your home
There’s a post on Reddit, an AMA with Doug C. Sr. PLM at NETGEAR Business – AMA about using Business AP’s, Switches in your Home Network!
Allow me to respond: Don’t. Just don’t.
For the past few years, I have been managing a network that consists of Ruckus wireless access points, EnGenius point-to-point links, with an EdgeRouterX as the gateway for a community center. The goals were simple: get Wi-Fi to the employees, and client isolation to the guests, with network across disparate buildings to carry the signal from IP cameras back to an NVR, and support IP phones.
This was a shoestring budget operation, so I donated equipment where I could, including some Wi-Fi access points for guest clients and some EnGenius access points for carrying signal from a post with IP cameras to a newly constructed sports pavilion.
I would have preferred to bury fiber, coax, or cat6 between buildings, but that wasn’t an option. By bouncing signal from a main building with ISP service to a trailer, from the trailer to the post, and the post to the new pavilion, I was getting about 40Mbps down on a connection that delivered 100Mbps in the main building. Fine, it’s asking a lot to relay with that many point to point links.
You want the TL;DR?
I’ll tell you the TL;DR right now. Buy EnGenius products. What went wrong?
Initially, I tried replacing the EnGenius link from the post to the new pavilion with Netgear WBC502 Air Bridges.
I began to configure them in standalone mode, but it was clear that Netgear pushes their Insight cloud management, so I shifted to using that to set up and configure.
For 7 hours, I was able to get a connection that was up and down, unreliable, and not, as people with posh accents might say, ‘fit for purpose.’
They were positioned in the same places as the EnGenius links, with aiming and line of sight, and would not reliably hold signal as the EnGenius links had.
Netgear claims they’re good for 9000 feet. I couldn’t get 2000 feet out of them.
Wirelessly joining two buildings on the same network costs a fraction of the labor, time and material of laying a wired Ethernet cable. NETGEAR now brings to market a solution that enables building-to-building high speed network connectivity of up to 9,000 ft apart!Netgear’s copy for a webinar on the WBC502
It’s worth pointing out that the EnGenius links weren’t even the same model units: one was an indoor unit being used outdoors because it’s what I had. The other had four antennae, covering 2.4 and 5Ghz. ENS620EXT and EAP1250, if you must know.
“It wasn’t even supposed to be used outside!”
What specifically went wrong
After trying 3x Air Bridges and not getting a stable link (Netgear Insight reported it going off- and online), I put the EnGenius mismatched products back up, which restored a stable connection. That’s at least 2x products that weren’t good out of the box.
A Netgear AirBridge can be an access point, or it can be either master or satellite in point-to-point or one-to-many links, acting in place of Ethernet.
The EnGenius products can be point-to-point and access points.
I tried to configure a second Air Bridge link between some old basketball courts and the new pavilion. The app refused to add them, and then when it did, only saved half the data (renaming the Air Bridge, but not the new SSID info.) Only after repeated attempts did all the information get updated.
As soon as the EnGenius were re-installed, all the other devices on the bridged pavilion started to come alive, claim IP over DHCP from the EdgeRouterX (good).
Netgear does this thing where when a device gets Internet, it immediately tries to upgrade firmware. Fine in principle, but when you have a large number of devices coming online, this is bad – what if one reboots while another is still downloading or upgrading?
What if the one that reboots is providing PoE to the downstream device and it cuts power while downstream devices are upgrading? I have no confidence Netgear planned for this, and so I patiently claimed each device on its own and let it complete upgrading before claiming another, which would kick off the firmware update.
Adding the equipment is possible either via scanning the network once things are on a valid IP range, using standalone mode and a web browser, or scanning a QR code on the back of the device (Air Bridges).
It’s possible to join an Air Bridge’s management SSID and then try and configure it. In practice, this sucked. With the bridge mounted, it’s impossible to scan the QR code, and they’re up 12-24 feet in the air.
There I was, up on the ladder, trying to scan a code with my iPhone, when the Netgear Insight app did a few different things:
- Get in a state where the camera wouldn’t activate on the QR scanning screen.
- When already joined to the management SSID, it would act as if it was adding the device, but would not actually add the device.
- Scanning the QR code while not on the management SSID, and letting it join the SSID seemed to work best.
At 9pm, I stopped climbing ladders and gave up. The next day, I came back, and as soon as I put the EnGenius links in, the second set of AirBridges started to work. Great, right?
No. For the past 48 hours I’ve been getting notifications about two GC510P switches and two WAC540 access points, all going offline and coming back online every few minutes.
The switches are PoE and the access points are powered by PoE, but they aren’t connected to these switches. Instead, these switches are powering IP cameras.
That’s right, 5 security cameras just drop off the network for no good reason.
Of the WAC540, one of them goes down much more frequently than the other. Neither of them pass an IP through to a client. Clients can join, but won’t get issued an IP. There’s a pool of about 140 addresses available at the router. Why won’t it issue them to clients on the SSID?
They’re set up as an open network, client isolation enabled, and no captive portal. It’s funny how they fail at passing an IP to a client the same as the home Nighthawk RAX120 did.
What else could it have been
It’s possible that some the Ethernet cable itself is bad. It could be that it wasn’t crimped well at the switches and access points. But those first Air Bridges weren’t good, using known good cable and crimps. It’s unlikely, since all the wiring was made at the same time, and the devices do come back online and claim IP addresses. Possibly, but unlikely.
Now in the scheme of things, this was a big order of switches, access points, air bridges, and vpn gateways (to link buildings together via VPN when I get a second ISP drop up at the pavilion and can do away with point-to-point Wi-Fi links.)
2 switches. 2 access points. 3 air bridges. 7 products suspected of failure out of the box. How many failed out of the box is acceptable? I would say, “none.”
Over at Reddit, Netgear’s Bret D., SMB Brand Manager, Marketing & Community, and Doug C., Senior PLM for Business want you to use these Business level products in your home.
Don’t. Netgear sucks. It isn’t ready for home use where things have to work out of the box, and work well. Arguably, some of their home products also aren’t ready for that.
If you’re a business, buy EnGenius. Or Unifi. Or anyone else.
Just not Netgear. Their stuff is broken, and I have 1008 emails within 48 hours, from Insight telling me a switch or access point is up, or down.