For $202, the 3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway comes with everything you need to set up a wireless network. In addition to the gateway, the box includes a printed, foldout installation guide; an Ethernet cable; and a CD that contains a comprehensive, 88-page user guide and 3Com's Gateway Discovery application software. With its small footprint and four rubber feet, the gateway fits easily on a small table or shelf. The OfficeConnect also features a sturdy, built-in mounting bracket on the bottom of the chassis, so you can easily hang it from the ceiling or the wall. The back of the device sports two adjustable antenna, an Ethernet cable/DSL port, and four 10/100 LAN ports.
No experience necessary
Like most gateways, the OfficeConnect features a Web-based configuration tool, which you can access through a standard Web browser. However, because this involves messing with your computer's IP settings, 3Com developed a much easier approach. Just insert the included CD, launch the Gateway Discovery application, and follow the onscreen instructions. The program automatically finds the gateway and opens the Web-based configuration screen--a convenient feature for the TCP/IP challenged.
In addition to a setup wizard, the Web-based configuration tool includes some wireless LAN extras. For example, you can view a list of connected devices, a table of your current network settings, or a log of network and security activity. But perhaps the best feature is the check box that lets you disable the wireless network. By switching off the gateway's radio, you eliminate any wireless security threats.
To serve and to protect
In CNET Labs' tests, the OfficeConnect performed well. It delivered 4.8Mbps on its 802.11b interface, on a par with competing devices such as the Belkin wireless cable/DSL gateway router.
The OfficeConnect offers some of the best security features in its price range. The built-in firewall recognizes common attacks used by hackers and automatically blocks access to the offending party. It also lights an LED on the front of the gateway for two seconds--a nice touch. Of course, we would prefer that it stayed lit much longer. In addition to its NAT abilities, which hides your computer's IP addresses, the gateway blocks inbound pings on the Ethernet cable/DSL port, so hackers will have a harder time detecting your device. You can also assign network privileges to connected computers, restrict network access using Mac addresses, or set up one or more computers to act as a virtual server. The gateway offers VPN pass-through support (IPsec and PPTP) but requires an additional server to initiate and terminate connections.