Reliability and Service: Readers Rate the Manufacturers

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Wireless Gateways: Setups Get Easier

Wireless networks have a reputation for being a troublesome technology to set up and use. So it's encouraging to observe that this year our survey respondents didn't report many serious problems with their wireless gateways (also known as routers).

Only one wireless-gateway vendor received a worse-than-average grade in any of the survey's reliability measures: 24 percent of Dell gateway owners reported a severe problem that required a call to tech support. The mean for vendors overall on this measure was 13 percent; Netgear posted the best score of any company for severe problems, at 10 percent. Netgear and Linksys both earned better-than-average grades for overall satisfaction with reliability.

For many of the measures, the similarity of the scores is partly due to the fact that gateways often use the same parts from a handful of manufacturers in Taiwan. Netgear, however, works with a manufacturer that makes small- and home-office routers for Netgear alone, says Vivek Pathela, Netgear's senior director for product management and marketing. This arrangement, he says, opens lines of communication and improves reliability. Pathela notes, too, that Netgear has improved the setup process of its equipment, resulting in fewer support calls and increased customer satisfaction.

Netgear's rivals also seem to have learned a lot about setup in the past year, based on the acceptable survey grades that readers issued across the board in this category. Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates, says that all the major wireless vendors improved their setup procedures this year. He notes that the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security standard makes it easier for consumers to choose settings, in contrast to older routers that use the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard. In addition, he says that PCs running on the Windows XP operating system do a better job of recognizing wireless products than do computers running older Windows versions.

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