The Zonet ZEW2546 wireless USB adapter is a fundamentally sound product, but it doesn’t offer any distinct advantages over similar devices. As a single band adapter, it lacks the standout performance of dual band units. In its favor, the device’s low price makes it easy to enter the wireless networking world for those on a tight budget. Our biggest concern is that customer service doesn’t seem to be a very high priority for the company. For side-by-side comparisons and objective reviews of more highly rated products in this category, see our wireless adapters review site.
As a wireless adapter conforming to the Wi-Fi n standard, the ZEW2546 surpasses previous wireless adapters in the critical areas of range and speed. Even though it’s a single band device operating within the 2.4GHz, it can support multitasking and transferring of large files. MIMO, or Multiple-Input/Multiple-Output is responsible for increased range and the virtual elimination of dead spots that could plague previous wireless products. The technology takes advantage of reflected radio signals and reuses them in a way that greatly improves performance.
Owing to the Wi-Fi Multimedia feature, WMM, the adapter allows for user-defined prioritization of various data streams. This allows the most important information to get through without being overridden by less important data.
Like other single band adapters, the Zonet doesn’t operate in the 5GHZ frequency band. There are a couple of disadvantages as a result. First, the 2.4GHz band is crowded with numerous wireless devices including those that use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as radio frequency remote controls. Additionally, household appliances like microwave ovens tend to encroach on this band. Devices operating in the 5GHz range have few competitors for bandwidth and tend to operate interference free. The higher band is also better able to transmit data that require high bandwidth like streaming video and voice applications.
Every available step to prevent unauthorized network access and to protect sensitive information is in place with the Wi-Fi n standard. The defense begins with Wired Equivalent Privacy, WPA, a first generation technology that has a number of known vulnerabilities. More importantly WPA and WPA2, or Wi-Fi Protected Access technology, is added, which provides multiple levels of data encryption. WPA2, which incorporates Advanced Encryption Standard, has never been known to be breached.
Secure setup is facilitated by the use of Wi-Fi Protected Setup, or WPS. Pairing the adapter with a WPS compatible wireless router is simply a matter of pressing a button on each device.
The included installation CD makes initial setup an easy proposition. It includes necessary drivers and utility programs to take full advantage of the adapter. The device can be used with Windows 7 as well as Windows Vista, XP and 2000. It isn’t Mac compatible.
Zonet provides customer support by email and a toll-free telephone number that is available from 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM, Pacific Time, on weekdays. Their web site provides a FAQs section but it has very little information compared to the competition. Further, it’s awkward to use in that it’s not searchable and information for all of the company’s wireless products is covered in a single FAQ listing. The product is covered by a 1-year warranty.
The Zonet ZEW2546 is a competent single band wireless adapter but doesn’t standout in any particular regard. In its favor, it is among the lowest priced products in the category so it can make wireless networking a reality for a broad range of consumers. Our only major concern is the seemingly low priority that the manufacturer places on customer support.