Cisco Cloud Connect and Smart WiFi: Routing for the little guy

I’m a self-confessed tech nerd (a real built-my-own-computer nerd not just a guy in thick glasses) but not even I can get excited about routers. I love everything to do with Internet but the mechanics of how it gets into my house don’t generally excite me. So when Cisco invited me to spend half an afternoon being wowed by the latest and greatest in routing technology I was worried that I might fall into an involuntary nap, never to recover.

How wrong I was. Cisco pooled their engineering might and did the unthinkable – made routers exciting.

 

Cisco-Universal-Media-Connector

Wifi is everywhere. Cisco expects that in 2016 there will be 19 billion connected devices globally and that 1.2 million minutes of video will be viewed online every second. I’ve spent the past few days setting up wifi scales, wireless speakers, TVs and more. Now granted I’m a tech journalist but these things will be worming their way into your living rooms soon. I’ve seen a wifi fridge with a touchscreen panel attached. The future is clearly on its way. But setting up wifi devices is a pain. It’s easy to get a laptop online but a speaker with zero buttons is much more fiddly. And with more and more strain being put on your one wifi you don’t want your bathroom scales slowing down your Netflix streaming.

Cisco have made all of this easier. The new Linksys Universal Media Connector makes it a doddle to connect wired devices such as Smart TVs and game consoles to Wi-Fi networks to enjoy the magic of streaming. The connector operates in the 5Ghz band and has four gigabit ports.

Cisco-Smart-Router

The new Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA6500 has blazing fast AC technology but is backwards compatible with prior wireless networks and devices using 802.11a/b/g/n. The router contains six internal 3D antennae that are designed to insure the same performance whether placed on a desktop or mounted against the wall (apparently this was a popular configuration for people). And it still looks pretty slick.

Cisco showed off a SimpleTap function, enabling you to connect devices by swiping an NFC-enabled smart phone over an NFC tag to connect to the network (great if you want to hook people up to a guest network), and they are working to jam this into as much consumer tech as possible.

Cisco-Connect-Cloud-Cafe
This man is such a dull conversationalist, she’d rather tweak her home network settings.
Thanks to Cisco Connect Cloud … she can!

Even better was Cisco Connect Cloud, a cloud platform that has been designed to provide convenient anytime, anywhere access to the home network and its connected devices – from a web browser or mobile device. This means it’s easier than ever before for normal people to control their Internet service. Most routers have powerful QoS etc technology built in that are never used as it’s way too complicated. Cisco have “changed the game” in terms of opening up functionality to “civilians”. It’s easier for parents to hop in from their smartphone (Android or IOS) and block certain websites. You can also see various Internet services and throttle them or block them at certain times (“No Facebook till you finish your homework”) or make sure that your downloads in one room don’t get in the way if you suddenly want to stream a movie on Netflix.

The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA6500 is targeted for availability in September at major retailers, as well as the Linksys online store. The Linksys Universal Media Connector is expected in October at the same outlets.

Cisco Linksys WAG320N review

Linksys-WAG320

We thought we take a look at the new Linksys WAG320N ADSL2+ modem, which provides easy access to Gigabit Ethernet and functions as a Dual band wireless router. Out of the box, the smooth black pebble that is the WAG320N immediately makes an impression, looking slighty futuristic, in a retro way, but better looking than the vast majority of ugly boxes that tend to define the router market. As you’d expect, all the cables, leads and micro filters you need are included.

Swapping out my default router from my ISP was relatively straightforward, and anyone who has ever set up a network should be right at home. Configuring the modem is done via an installation CD and if you are with a major Internet Service Provider you will have no issues. Simply select your provider and your Internet will be configured automagically. Otherwise you will have to manually configure your router. After 30 mins faffing about with my ISP on the phone for settings, I was good to go.

The router comes with lots of neat little features that required minimum knowledge to set up and basically allows you to play Network Admin (a fun pastime and I’m sure a board game is in the works). You can monitor usage of devices on your network, blocks certain websites or time restrict web access and there is simple yet powerful keyword and URL filtering. Of course technocrati reading this will know how to do all these things and more on a regular router but the WAGE320 puts power into the hands of regular folk. Also with the controversial Digital Economy Bill it’s a little bit more important to be responsible for your network traffic (whether you like it or not). A handy feature was the ability to view everyone on the network and identify free loaders on your network.

The routers performance is solid with no drop-outs on ADSL2+ performance and the MIMO technology reduces dead spots. I ran multiple devices across the network with no problems. There is a USB storage port at the back so it’s pretty easy to share stuff over a network. You can also set up a DLNA server, which is excellent if you have a modern TV or set-top box and want to stream pictures, music or video. 1080p mkv’s stutter a little wirelessly and I’d recommend a wired connection if you are planning on streaming heavily, but 720p content played back over-the-air fine. You can also set up an FTP server so you can remotely access content online or share it.

On the downside you can’t run mixed 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks but it is quite fast if you want one or the other and is cheaper most routers that can support mixed networks.

The WAG320N is about £100. If you move fast you might be able to catch the end of LinkSys’s cash back promotion with PC World, where you if buy any Linksys by Cisco Wireless-N router you can trade in your old one and receive a £20 reward. The promotion lasts until 27 August 2010.