Mini WiFi access points

The ASUS WL-330g is quite small and works well

I don't travel all that much, but in the next few months my iBook and I are likely to travel to a couple of places where there's high-speed internet access, but where the Ethernet jacks aren't necessarily in the places most convenient for me. So it would be nice to bring along an 802.11g wireless access point so that I could use my iBook in a convenient spot. A Linksys WRT54G access-point with appropriately hacked firmware is unquestionably cool, but I hoped to find something a bit friendlier to my carry-on bag.

Apple's AirPort Express looked like just the thing and I promptly got one. How well does it work? Heck if I know. You see, you need OS X 10.3 (the latest version of OS X) in order to configure it and my iBoork runs OS X 10.2. I'm not going to upgrade my iBook's OS right now because dong that would break too many things. (It seems that you can use various flavors of Windows, but only one flavor of OS X to do the configuration.) I have no idea what the people at Apple were thinking when they decided that you'd have to use an OS version that's less than a year old in order to make the AirPort Express work. I'm pretty sure that when I ordered the AirPort Express, Apple's website said that under OS X 10.2 the thing had "limited functionality". I interpreted that to mean that the music-streaming and/or printer-sharing features probably wouldn't work. I didn't interpret it to mean that I'd be completely SOL because I couldn't even configure the thing.

Yes, I could have borrowed a 10.3 machine to do the configuration. But the idea is to have a portable access-point and I'm quite sure that if I took an access-point that I couldn't reconfigure on a trip, something would require that I reconfigure it.

OK, fine, then. Does anyone else have something similar? It turns out that they do. Tom's Networking had a review of the ASUS WL-330g and they rather liked it. So I ordered one.

The WL-330g is undeniably small. Here's a photo of it, its AC adaptor, and a ballpoint pen for scale:

Taken together with its small AC adaptor, it's about the same size as an AirPort Express, though not nearly as attractively designed. For some reason that I can't guess, ASUS decided to use high-intensity blue LEDs for the status LEDs. They're bright enough and blinky enough that they'll be distracting if they're in your line of sight. I can live with all that, but we're clearly not talking about Apple-like attention to design.

Configuration was easy. (Kind of ironic, huh?) There's a configuration utility that I didn't use because I'm sure it runs only under Windows. Instead I did the configuration by web browser. The WL-330g has a tiny webserver in it and its default address is So all you have to do is turn on your machine's 802.11b/g interface, manually assign it an IP address and subnet mask on that puts you on the WL-330g's network (such as and, and point a web browser at The configuration pages aren't very pretty but they're straightforward to use. If you get something badly wrong, just press the reset button for ten seconds or so and the defaults are restored.

Of course, one of the ways that the WL-330g manages to be compact is that it doesn't have an external antenna (or indeed a jack for one). So it's going to be important that its internal antennas give it reasonable range. For that reason, I conducted a very scientific experiment. I put the WL-330g on top of a desk in a Mark A1 standard suburban office building. To ensure randomness, I paid no attention at all to its orientation. I then picked up my iBook and walked as far away from the access-point as possible while staying in the building. From there, the access-point was on the other side of a wall, around 120 feet away. The signal strength shown in my iBook's menu bar had gone down one bar (actually it's an arc) and Apple's Internet Connect showed about half signal strength. In keeping with the spirit of the experiment, I didn't do any detailed throughput experiments, but web pages loaded at what looked like the full speed of the 640kbps connection there.

So color me thoroughly satisfied; at least as satisfied as I can be without having used it "in anger". At $75 from NewEgg, I can't see anything to complain about in this handy little gadget.

The WL-330g can also be used as a client. (There's a switch on the bottom to change modes.) That might be useful in some conceivable circumstances, but I haven't tried it because I don't think I'm likely to run into any of those circumstances. There's a cable in the box that allows the WL-330g to run from the power available on a USB port, which might be useful if you were using it as a client. The quick-start guide is reasonably good and there's a carrying case and a short Cat-5 cable in the box. As for the carrying case, I continue to prefer AeroStich's nylon envelope bags.

Update: September 2, 2004
The WL-330g worked very well in practice. In an ordinary house, I plugged it into an unused cable-modem port and I got excellent signal strength 20 meters or so away. Or rather, I did after I realized that the switch on the thing's bottom that's labeled Access Point/Ethernet Adaptor had gotten moved by accident while it was in my luggage. It seems that it may not have been the best idea for ASUS to put that switch on the bottom since I didn't notice it or think of it for the first ten minutes of troubleshooting. The switch has a ridge around it that's intended to prevent it from being moved accidentally, but it's obviously not completely effective when the thing is packed in a suitcase.

After I thought of the switch on the bottom, I found that it's much more reliable to configure the WL-330g by wired Ethernet than by its radio link. After the configuration is done, the radio link is perfectly reliable. But when I was applying the various configuration options by radio, the link to my iBook would often drop and when I reconnected, the options generally hadn't been applied. Plugging the WL-330g's Ethernet cable into my iBook solved the problem. In that process, I also found that it may be desirable to configure the WL-330g to use an IP other than the default of since it's quite possible that whatever you to plug it into is already using that address because that is its default. I set the WL-330g to use which I judged likely to be outside the range that the network's DHCP server was using and everything was fine.

Posted: Sat - August 14, 2004 at 06:19   Main   Category: