PROS / The Cisco Valet supports parental controls and guest networking.
CONS / The firewall does not include Network Address Translation.
VERDICT / The Cisco Valet is extremely easy to setup and has a powerful firewall.
[This product is discontinued by the manufacturer. For similar products click the wireless routers link below.]
The Cisco Valet has the right stuff to be one of the best wireless routers. Don’t be put off by the Valet’s content-free datasheet, which assumes attention deficit disorder in the implied target audience (folks who want Wi-Fi at home but won’t concentrate for nine-and-a-half minutes to orient themselves to the technology). In fact, Cisco does not even refer to the Valet as a wireless router. Cisco uses a supposedly more accessible term, “Wireless HotSpot.” No matter what you want to call it, a glance under the Valet’s UFO-like hood reveals plenty to admire and earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
The Valet supports the dual-stream specification of IEEE 802.11n on the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi radio band, which means that it has a theoretical data throughput rate of 300Mbps. The Valet is similar to its slightly more capable sibling, the Valet Plus, in that it does not support the 5GHz radio band. The Valet makes maximum use of the 2.4GHz radio by supporting dual-stream wireless n on both 20MHz and 40MHz channels. Legacy Wi-Fi clients (that conform to specifications prior to 802.11n) will employ only the 20MHz channel. But if wireless n clients connect to the Valet’s Wi-Fi network, the 40MHz channel is there to support them with faster data throughput. Single-stream wireless n routers have a theoretical data throughput speed that is capped at half the speed of the Valet.
The Valet Plus and the Valet lack USB 2.0 ports. The Valet Plus, however, supports faster local area networking via Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Valet makes do with the slower variety, Fast Ethernet ports. Wi-Fi Multimedia Quality of Service manages multimedia application priorities in order to make the most of available bandwidth.
If your neighbor’s Wi-Fi network interferes with your 2.4GHz Wi-Fi radio or you plan to stream high-definition video or access networked storage, then neither the Cisco Valet nor the Valet Plus will suffice because neither of them supports dual Wi-Fi bands. The 5GHz band does not reach as far as the 2.4GHz signal, but it is less susceptible to interference from garage-door openers and cordless telephones. The best wireless router that we have seen, which supports 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and involves no compromises, is the Linksys E3000.
Parental controls include website filtering, duration access control and specific domain blocking. Guest networking provides internet access to guests in such a way that guests cannot access resources that belong to the host. Wi-Fi Protected Access and Wired Equivalent Privacy encryption are included.
The Valet’s firewall detects traffic from hackers and blocks malware and spyware because it has Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI), which equips the firewall to monitor the state of the connections on the network. For each type of connection (for example, TCP streams or UDP communication), the SPI firewall can recognize legitimate data packets and it can reject packets that do not match what it expects to find in known connection states.
The firewall lacks Network Address Translation (NAT), a technology that allows the local area network to present a single IP address to the internet. NAT modifies network address information in the data packet headers to remap IP addresses during routing operations. Because NAT works in conjunction with IP masquerading, it maps the hidden IP addresses of the network-attached devices behind the firewall to a single IP address visible from the internet.
Ease of Use
Setup and installation do not require an expert. The product does not even come with a printed instruction manual. To get one of these home wireless routers up and running, a USB flash drive that has the Cisco Connect software is included. The USB drive also contains an “Easy Setup” key to configure additional PCs to work with the Wi-Fi network. Configuration via web browser is also available, but if you use it you can’t revert to the Cisco Connect software. The default IP address for the browser-based utility is 192.168.1.1 and the username and password are both “admin.”
The product supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) to facilitate streaming from multimedia players. In order to conveniently secure PCs to the Wi-Fi network, there is a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button.
Help and Support
Cisco offers useful online resources, a one-year warranty, plus a year of free support by phone or chat (24/7). It is possible to purchase support calls after the complimentary support period expires. Cisco also uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to communicate with home wireless router users.
The Cisco Valet, with its Fast Ethernet ports, will not support local area networking as fast as the Cisco Valet Plus with its Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Valet’s firewall is not as strong as the firewall in the Linksys E1000, but it is better than the firewall in the Apple Airport Express. The Valet has strong parental controls. The Valet supports guest networking, a convenience only found in the Linksys E1000 and the ASUS RT-10 EZ N.
Techies know the Linksys brand and Linksys routers are associated with demanding home and office applications. With the Cisco Valet, Cisco seems to be leveraging brand recognition among non-techie home users, and the Cisco Valet is one of the best entry-level home wireless routers.