The wireless access point market has undergone a regeneration since the advent of AX-class devices and the increasing popularity of MESH-compatible solutions.
Instead of monolithic routers, companies are now using ceiling or wall-mount access points that simplify installation using Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology.
Some of these are very cheap, like the Zyxel NWA90AX we reviewed recently, or they could be significantly more, like the EnGenius or Netgear Orbi Pro hardware.
Today, we’re at the pricier end of the cost conveyor belt with our Zyxel WAX630S review, an access point (AP) several times more expensive than its NWA90AX sibling.
What can Zyxel put into this entry point that makes it worth this price?
In the UK, the WAX630S can be found for £448.60 and has a suggested retail price of $379.99 at authorized US resellers.
Looking for hardware with similar specs, the EnGenius ECW230 costs around £435, undercutting the Zyxel by a few pounds. It’s worth noting that the EnGenius ECW230 has four channels on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, while the Zyxel design only has dual channels on 2.4GHz.
The equivalent of the Zyxel design for the ECW230 is the WAX650S, which costs a whopping £744.48 or over $800 for US customers.
Design and Features
When placed next to the much cheaper NWA90AX, the WAX630S looks almost identical from the outside.
The continuity of the styling is somewhat deceiving, however, as this is a larger device at 18cm square and 3.9cm thick, compared to the 14cm square and 3.75cm thick NWA90AX.
That extra space in the case almost doubles the weight of the WAX630S compared to its little brother, which works out to a hefty 530 grams.
If more than half a kilo of router falls on its head, it would be unpleasant, so next to the router, Zyxel has a sturdy mounting plate that fits into the slots on the bottom.
PROCESSOR: Quad-core 1GHz Qualcomm IPQ8071A
Storage: 256MB MXIC
LAN: Qualcomm QCA8081 / Atheros AR8033
5GHz radio: Qualcomm Atheros IPQ8072A (4×4)
2GHz radio: Qualcomm Atheros IPQ8072A (2×2)
bandwidth: 575 Mbps (2.4 GHz) and 2400 Mbps (5 GHz)
Tire Control: Yes
Load balancing: Yes
Fast roaming: Pre-authentication, PMK caching and 802.11r/k/v
authentication: WPA/WPA2/WPA3-Enterprise/EAP/IEEE 802.1X/RADIUS Authentication
LAN: 1 x 1/2.5 Gbps LAN, 1 x 1 Gbps LAN
Flow: PoE (802.3) at: power consumption 19 W, DC input: 12 VDC 2 A
Mate: 180 x 180 x 39mm
Conveniently, the mount is designed to support both vertical and horizontal placements, making the WAX630S just as much at home on the ceiling as it does on a wall.
Many MESH access point designs are ceiling-mount only, but the antenna can work in both directions, providing some much-needed options for those with tricky installations.
The bottom of the router has two RJ45 ports, one for the uplink to the network and the other is an additional LAN port that can be used for local equipment or to extend the network.
The one labeled ‘uplink’ is a 2.5GbE PoE-compatible port that can distribute more bandwidth across the network’s Wi-Fi than we typically see with 1GbE ports, and it also powers the device.
An additional 12v DC input is also provided, but a power supply for it is not included in the box by Zyxel. For those who need extra protection against an electrical fire, this router also has an earth connection underneath.
The disappointment here is that there is no PoE injector in the box and the documentation points out that customers are using Zyxel’s PoE12-30W injector, an additional $45 accessory.
Aside from the 2.5GbE PoE port, this may seem a bit disappointing, but what this AP has in its white plastic case is much more impressive.
When we previously reviewed wireless equipment, we tried to explain that even if a router has 1800 or 3000 Mbps throughput, it can’t really deliver that performance to a single user.
That’s either because client hardware can only communicate through one channel or because the uplink to the server is limited by a gigabit LAN port.
The same limitation is present in this hardware, although some of the bottlenecks have been addressed to allow better use of the available bandwidth.
One of the reasons this hardware costs a lot more than the NWA90AX is the number of concurrent streams it can use.
The WAX630S is a dual-radio (dual 4×4+2×2 MIMO) 802.11ax platform with a maximum data rate of 2975 Mbps.
That’s four streams on the 5GHz for 4×4 and another two on the 2.5GHz for 2×2, and it makes the most of those streams using Dynamic Channel Selection (DCS), Load Balancing and Smart Client Steering.
Technically it wouldn’t be able to use all 2975 Mbps if it were for clients accessing the network resources as the uplink is only 2.5 GbE. It’s close enough that most of that bandwidth can be used, and there’s still some left for clients to talk to each other through the access point.
The other improvement here is how the antenna array is organized and how this reduces the possibility of interference from other wireless sources by using Basic Service Set (BSS) colors. This functionality improves the effectiveness of spatial reuse by adjusting the antenna pattern to avoid confusing the signals with others using the same channel.
Aside from the reuse of overlapping channels, the other problem businesses in cities may encounter is interference from local 5G/4G antenna, and Zyxel has put a filtering system in this router designed to reduce the impact of those signals.
What all this work ensures is that those who need stable connections are not bothered by others in the same office, in the adjacent building, or from the cell tower across the street.
For those with larger locations, this hardware is also designed to seamlessly manage users moving around the building through multiple access points.
Management tools, managed locally or globally using the Nebular Control Center service, can implement load balancing with limits set to the maximum number of
clients associated with each access point, and the bandwidth each client can use.
What this design lacks is a 160Hz backchannel to connect other access points wirelessly, but given the 2.5GbE PoE LAN port, networking over wireless technology would be a poor architectural choice.
Testing an access point like the WX630S is quite a challenge. The technology adapts in real time to the signals detected around it and constantly changes the wireless landscape, resulting in a moving target for those trying to evaluate it.
Therefore, the connection speed of a single customer is not the most crucial factor, as this device is more about quality of service than about the actual maximum speed a customer achieves.
What we can say is that within the same room, client speeds of around 500mb/s on 5GHz are achievable and half that in an adjacent room. The 2.4GHz side of this design seems solid, and the distance where a connection is still possible should easily be extended outside the property if mounted internally on an outside wall.
Zyxel has very kindly documented how the ‘smart antenna’ in this unit behaves when mounted on a wall or ceiling and how it compares to the more expensive WAX650S model.
With the WAX630S there is little difference in performance between the two orientations. With the WAX650S, the signal performance is marginally better wall mounting and worse ceiling mounting.
Our overall assessment of this device is that the performance is good, if not spectacular.
A lot of effort has gone into this hardware to withstand the myriad of invading signals that a typical urban installation brings. But only installing it at your location can determine whether those mechanisms will work in that particular context, with so many variables at play.
While Zyxel designed the WAX630S to give it the best picture possible, there are no guarantees with wireless networks.
Before we get into what’s so great about this device, let’s take a look at a curious twist in the logic of how these devices are priced.
As a six-stream access point, the WAX630S costs $379.99, but its bigger brother WAX650S is double that for two additional streams.
If we ignore the fact that the WAX650S has a better processor, could one of them handle the same amount of traffic as two WAX630S? No, not even close.
Because unless the location has a lot of interference issues, each of the WAX630S can use completely different channels and antenna patterns to avoid interference with each other. And together they would have 5Gbit Ethernet backhaul to the network and 12 streams.
The problem is that when you go down this divide-and-conquer rabbit hole, it’s easy to suddenly think that several cheaper four-stream capable AP could be a better direction. It would provide more coverage, greater throughput, more concurrent users, and greater resiliency than a single device with multiple streams.
Obviously, there are drawbacks to this approach in terms of cabling, the switch, and more complicated installation. Even from this perspective, it points to the fact that the WAX630S is probably overpriced and the WAX650S dramatically overpriced.
If the WAX630S has a mitigating feature, it’s the 2.5GbE PoE connection, as the cheaper four-stream access points of this type generally only offer 1GbE LAN. But paying triple the cost for two additional streams and that 2.5GbE LAN port is probably too much.
What’s even more concerning is that Zyxel has priced this device slightly higher than the EnGenius ECW230, an 8-stream AP from a highly respected brand.
If the WAX630S was $299.99 the spec might make more sense, but it doesn’t.
The added value of this hardware is the subscription-free cloud management that Zyxel offers with the Nebula control center, the flexible floor or wall installation and a reputation for providing reliable and thoughtful hardware.
These are reasonable justifications, but they may not be enough to make this AP that AP’s IT executives will gravitate towards.