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Cisco's Valet wireless hotspot. (Cisco)
Cisco's Valet wireless hotspot. (Cisco)

Cisco Valet Plus a foolproof wireless hub Add to ...

Cisco Valet Plus Wireless Hotspot

What's in a word? A lot, according to Cisco, makers of a new line of consumer-oriented routers unveiled in Canada last week that aren't being advertised as routers at all but rather "wireless hotspots" for homes.

The Valet ($99.99) and it's big brother the Valet Plus ($129.99) come in clean white boxes on which you won't find the word "router" scrawled anywhere, save for the tiny print on the bottom flap detailing system requirements. Lift the lid and you'll find a sleek, white networking device resting in a carefully sculpted cradle of cardboard, an "easy setup USB key" embedded in the lid, and a pamphlet filled with pictures of bright eyed, smiling people enjoying their wireless products and a phone number that can be called for 24-hour live support.

Such sleek and simple packaging and product design is far from the norm in the networking world. It could almost fool a person into thinking they've purchased Apple's latest gizmo rather a device with the sole, mundane task of steering bits of digital information through the air.

The idea, I was told by a Cisco product manager, is to reduce home networking to its basics and make getting online as simple and unintimidating as possible for the mainstream user who wants to connect and then forget about the device that makes it all possible.

These guys may be on to something.

Here's what I had to do to set up the Valet Plus (distinguished from its cheaper sibling by a stronger Wireless-N signal range, more suitable for a larger house):

  1. Plug the easy setup USB key into one of my computers.
  2. Follow a directive that popped up on screen telling me to plug the device into both a power outlet and my modem.
  3. Wait a couple of minutes for a message that said setup was complete.

That's it.

It was easily the quickest and most painless router-err, home wireless hotspot-installation I'd ever undertaken. It named the network for me, came up with a high security password, and configured all settings automatically. To connect other computers to the same network I simply plugged in the USB key. To connect other wireless devices I opened Cisco Connect-a program that was installed automatically on my computer during setup-and clicked on the Valet Settings button to display the network username and password.

Right about now there are likely thousands of speeds-and-feeds geeks crying foul, saying that Cisco has castrated the utility of traditional routers in favour of making the hardware accessible to Internet idiots.

To them I say simply that this wireless hotspot is not for you.

There are plenty of routers available for folks who want to mess with port forwarding, switch between bands, change app priorities, clone MAC addresses, and manage firewall filters. This device is for people who would prefer never to know that these functions even exist.

And before you rush to judgment, consider that the Valet provides easy access to many of the most common customization options through Cisco Connect. This remarkably clean and simple four-button application lets users quickly and easily change network names and passwords; create basic parental controls for each computer connected to the network; enable and manage a guest network; and add other devices, such as wireless printers.

It really is foolproof; the sort of thing your never-before-connected grandparents could install and maintain without calling you for tech support.

Keep in mind, too, that should there ever be a need to dive into more advanced settings, a traditional web interface filled with the standard network options geeks know and love is just a click away.

On any given day my household typically connects two laptops, two desktops, three game consoles, one tablet, two phones, and three handheld game devices to the Internet. And that doesn't include the various wireless toys I bring home to test. The Valet Plus has handled all of them with aplomb. And zero headaches. Which is the point.

I have no idea whether taking the word "router" out of the mix will change the perception of networking hardware. In the end it doesn't really matter. Regardless of what you call the Valet or the Valet Plus, they are smashingly successful in their endeavour to make home networking easy peasy lemon squeezy.

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