ZYXEL Communications has been around for more than a couple of decades, managing to become one of the main suppliers of networking products in the world (both wired and wireless) and successfully branching towards Europe, North America and Asia. Of course, my main focus is not really towards its top-tier corporate devices, but on the more consumer-friendly networking equipment which borrows some of the professional-level functionality, but keeps it as close as possible to an affordable price point.
Some of the devices that I managed to test are the ZYXEL PLA5456KIT AV2000 HomePlug AV2, a great powerline adapter and the ZYXEL ZyWall USG40, a professional dual WAN router, both of these devices ranking quite high considering their fierce competition.
Now, it’s time to look at another ZYXEL device, the ZYXEL NWA5123-AC HD, which is one of the latest PoE wireless access point from the Taiwanese company, featuring some of the most interesting 802.11ac Wave 2 features (such as the MU-MIMO and the BeamForming technologies) and, using the Smart Antenna tech, it aims at covering a large area with WiFi and delivering a high degree of network stability.
ZYXEL has followed a similar design approach to the Linksys LAPAC2600PRO, adopting a hexagonal shaped case (a popular choice for business-type APs, besides the circular one), but it has avoided adding any sharp lines, so there is a smooth curve to the body of the access point.
Furthermore, similarly to most (if not all) wireless access points, ZYXEL decided to cover the case with a white matte finish (which doesn’t retain fingerprints), therefore, further enhancing the minimalist design of the device. Unlike the ZYXEL WAC6503D-S which had the top side slightly raised, the NWA5123-AC HD has a more subtle transition to the circular middle area and the ZYXEL logo in the middle is now less prominent.
I did look around the case and tried to pinpoint some relevant cut-outs which would suggest that the case has a proper internal ventilation, but, except for some bottom side small holes, everything seems to be sealed off. While it was under a heavier load, the access point can become quite warm, but it does seem that the device was created in such a way that it will remain operational even within a temperature range which goes as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to the ThermoSense Adjustment technology which continuously monitors the temperature threshold and makes all the necessary adjustments to the operating parameters.
In terms of positioning, you get the horizontal option, where you can put the device flat on a surface, but, if you worry about space (especially if it will be installed in an office), it is recommended to either mount it on the wall or on the ceiling (you can use the included mounting plate and mounting screws). One thing that took me by surprise is the weight of this wireless access point, as at its 1.65 lbs it will deliver a high level of stability if you decide to keep it on a desk. Otherwise, you don’t really have to worry about its dimensions because it won’t stand out if mounted on the wall or ceiling (it’s no larger than a flush mount lighting – it measures 8.31 x 8.78 x 1.54 inches).
Unlike the older WAC6503D-S which still kept the good ol’array of LED lights, the ZYXEL NWA5123-AC HD decided to adopt the same approach as the newer WiFi mesh systems and went with a single LED light which will show the status of the access point: if it’s green, then the device is On and functional (slow blinking amber, On for 1 second and Off for 1 second shows that the AP is booting up, while slow blinking three times and afterwards it turns Off for three seconds indicates that the device is discovering an access point controller); if the LED is bright blue then the wireless interface is activated, but no wireless clients are yet connected; a red LED indicates a system failure (fast blinking indicates a firmware update, slow blinking 3 seconds at a time shows that the Uplink port is disconnected); if the LED light is slowly blinking green (1 second at a time), then the wireless LAN is either disabled or it has failed.
I have said many times that I am not a fan of this type of approach since it certainly looks good and may make you feel that it is the simpler system, while it really isn’t and you will often find yourself checking the manual to see what’s going on with your device. The LED lights can be turned off by accessing the Maintenance tab > LEDs and then Suppression from the interface.
On the rear side of the device, you can find a special area that gives you an easy access to all the ports: a 12V DC-In Power Port, a Gigabit Ethernet Uplink / PoE port (802.3at / 802.3af – the maximum power draw is 15.5 W – if you connect both a power cable and use the PoE port, the DC-In port takes priority), a LAN1 Gigabit Ethernet port, a 4-pin serial Console port, a Kensington Security slot and a small, recessed Reset button.
Note: Unfortunately, ZYXEL did not include a PoE injector along in the package, you will have to purchase one separately if you want to use this feature.
On the inside, ZYXEL has equipped the NWA5123-AC HD with a dual-band Broadcom BCM43525 Wave 2 3×3 chipset, 256 MB NOR flash memory (Macronix MX25L25635FNJ-10G), 2Gb (128M x 16) DDR3L-1600 RAM (Winbond W632GU6MB-12) and a RTL8363NB GAH44G2 Layer 2 Managed 2+2-Port 10/100/1000M Switch Controller. Furthermore, the ZYXEL NWA5123-AC HD is also equipped with a Broadcom BCM47452B0KRFBG 2X2 802.11AC SoC.
Now, let’s see how does the access point fare in terms of wireless performance. While using the 2.4GHz radio band, the NWA5123-AC HD managed a downlink throughput of up to 152Mbps at close range and afterwards, the speed decreased to 132Mbps at 15 feet and then it averaged at around 109 Mbps when at 35-40 feet away from the access point. Furthermore, I tested the uplink throughput and measured a maximum of 143Mbps, 5 feet away from the device. At 15 feet, I measured 128Mbps and at a bigger distance (35 feet), the AP managed 98Mbps.
Next, I switched to the 5Ghz radio band and there had been a clear improvement. At 5 feet, the NWA5123-AC HD managed a downlink throughput of 395Mbps and then, at 15 feet, the speed decreased to 260Mbps and lastly, at 35 feet, it only managed up to 166Mbps. The uplink throughput at 5 feet was around 362Mbps and then, it slightly decreased to 308Mbps at 15 feet. At 35-40 feet, the speed went up to 168Mbps.
ZYXEL features a Web Configurator that allows you to easily manage the access point (you can also use the Command-Line Interface CLI, SNMP or FTP). To access it, open up your favourite web browser and go to https://192.168.1.2, where you’ll be prompted to enter the user name and password (by default, it’s admin and 1234) and click Login. Afterwards, you will be asked to change the default password. So, from here you can freely browse the Web Configurator’s interface.
On the main page there are multiple areas for you to explore, but first let’s see the top title bar which allows the users to Logout, initiate the setup Wizard, visit the Site Map, consult the Help or About sections, see the Object Reference or access the CLI popup windows (underneath this top menu, there’s a small Widget Settings shortcut). On the left, there are four main tabs for Dashboard, Monitor, Configuration and Maintenance. On the Dashboard you can find device information, the status of the system, the WLAN Interface status summary and any other type of general information (such as the Ethernet Neighbour, the WDS Downlink/Uplink Status or the System Resources).
The Monitor tab displays the Network status, Wireless statistics (AP Information, Station Info, WDS Link Info and Detected Device) and the View Log. The Configuration tab is home to a series of sub-tabs: Network, Wireless, Bluetooth, Object, System and Log and Report. The Network sub-tab allows you to configure the IP address for the Ethernet interface, as well as manage the VLAN settings and configure the Controller settings. The Wireless sub-tab is a bit more complex, as here you’ll be able to edit the AP info and manage all the APs, as well as configure the NWA/WAC monitors for rogue APs. Furthermore, there is the Load Balancing function, which is an awesome asset for businesses and you can configure the DCS (Dynamic Channel Selection).
The Object sub-tab allows you to create, manage and change the settings for all your users, as well as create and manage wireless radio settings and wireless SSIDs. Additionally, you can create and manage rogue AP monitoring files, WDS profiles and setup trusted certificates. The System sub-tab is where you can configure the system and the domain name for the NWA/WAC (it also includes SSH, TELNET, FTP and SNMP). The Maintenance menu consists of File Manager, Diagnostics, LEDs, Antenna, Reboot and Shutdown.
Note: The NWA5123-AC HD is also compatible with ZYXEL One Network (ZON) Utility tool (a universal controller for all ZYXEL devices).