For most homes and small offices, a simple network hub is sufficient for managing traffic. These devices are inexpensive, and offer enough bandwidth for most people’s purposes. A network hub simply sends data to all connected devices, and the devices sort out which packets belong to them. But on a larger network, this quickly gets inefficient. The more devices are connected, the more packets will be getting sent over all connections. This can overwhelm even the fastest network if too many devices are operating at once.
For better performance, you need an a network controller, sometimes called a network switch. These switches will identify which packets are meant for each device. Then, they route the packets only to the devices that need them. This frees up your network for more important traffic. And it’s practically essential for any enterprise-scale network.
We’re about to review one of the most powerful network switches on the market, the EnGenius SkyKey. You may already be familiar with EnGenius from some of our previous reviews. They specialize in manufacturing blazing-fast, enterprise-level networking equipment. And now, we’re going to find out if the SkyKey lives up to their previous standards. Here’s an overview of what we learned.
The EnGenius SkyKey is a compact switch that’s 3.9 inches long, 2.3 inches wide, and less than an inch thick. It weighs only 5 ounces, so it’s very lightweight. Overall, you’re looking at a device that’s about the same size and weight as a large flip phone. It’s constructed from white ABS plastic, with grey highlights around the ends and along the sides. The EnGenius logo is engraved in grey on the top of the unit, with the words “SkyKey I” printed on the side. On the back of the unit, you’ll find a pair of Ethernet ports. The first is designed for a Power Over Ethernet (POE) input. The second is an actual data input.
On the front of the unit, there’s a small green LED that illuminates when the SkyKey has been powered up. Next to that, you’ll find a small pinhole that houses the reset button. You can operate this button easily with a paperclip or a small pin. Alternatively, you can just unplug your POE input, wait five seconds, and plug it back in. Finally, there’s a Micro SD slot. We’re not quite sure what this is for. Perhaps EnGenius will let you use it for installing firmware upgrades at some point in the future.
The bottom of the SkyKey has a pair of slots which can be used for screw-mounting. This allows you to affix it to a wall, a ceiling, or even underneath a raised floor. If you want to set it on a table or desk, a pair of rubber skids ensure that it’s not going to slip. Inside the SkyKey, a powerful quad-core CPU ensures the most efficient packet routing possible. This is a significant upgrade over less powerful network controllers, which typically use slower, cheaper processors.
Of course, you don’t always need a network controller to improve your speeds. In many cases, it’s a smarter idea to upgrade your router. This is particularly true for home networks, where there aren’t that many devices connected to begin with. If you want to maximize your home internet speeds, the ARRIS SURFboard mAX is a solid choice. Not only is it very fast, but it’s also designed to be aesthetically pleasing.
Installation and Connectivity
Installing the SkyKey is easy. For most purposes, it’s plug and play. Yes, there are exceptions. Primarily if you’re using the SkyKey to operate a very large network. We’ll talk about those exceptions in the next section. But for operating a single, local LAN, installation is as simple as it gets. All you need to do is plug in the POE cable, and you’re good to go. Make sure your LAN supports POE, though. There’s no option for an external power supply. So you may need to make some upgrades to your network if you want to use this controller. Once it’s been plugged in, you can either screw-mount the SkyKey or position it on a stable surface.
The SkyKey offers an incredible level of network management. It can handle up to 100 EnGenius access points and switches. That’s enough power to handle an entire skyscraper’s worth of network devices. It’s twice as powerful as EnGenius’ previous offering, the Unifi, which could manage 50 devices. This allows it to manage even a very large office, with hundreds of employees. Alternatively, you can make use of EnGenius’ ezMaster software to expand the SkyKey’s capabilities. With this cloud-based utility, you can use the SkyKey to manage a distributed network across several offices.
Of course, the SkyKey only works in a single location. It will speed up your office’s connection, but it won’t do much to help you on the road. Frequent travelers would do better to consider a portable router. If that sounds like something that could help you, consider the Keezel 2.0. Not only can you fit it in a small backpack pocket, it also has a built-in VPN connection for security.
Control and Configuration
To get the most out of the SkyKey, you’ll need to use EnGenius’ ezMaster Network Management Software. If your business already uses other EnGenius hardware, you’ll already be familiar with this tool. But if the SkyKey is your first EnGenius device, you might want to learn a bit more about how it works. Here’s a quick overview.
ezMaster is a powerful configuration software that controls not just the SkyKey, but any EnGenius device. It’s a cloud-based service, hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for exceptional security. You can use it to track the status of all your switches, routers, and access points. It will tell you which ones are working, which ones are offline, and which ones are handling too much traffic. This can help you identify parts of your network where data is getting bottlenecked. As a result, you’ll be able to speed up transfer speeds with minimal investment of time and money.
ezMaster also performs several other functions that are necessary for large enterprises. For one thing, you can set custom IP addresses for your devices. This may not be needed on many networks, but it’s a useful feature if you need it. You can also control multiple devices at multiple locations from the same IT office. This can be very helpful if you’re running a large company and want plenty of visibility from your corporate office. In addition, ezMaster can be used to set up virtual machines on your network. For many businesses, this can replace an existing service and save you money.
The one downside of the ezMaster Network Management Software is that it’s expensive. This is understandable. It’s enterprise-grade software, so you expect to pay a premium. And truth be told, it’s still a great value if you need all the enterprise features. But small business owners don’t need to worry. If you’re only using the SkyKey for a single office, it’s more or less plug and play. Unless you need all the fancy ezMaster features, there’s really no need to pay for this pricey software.
It’s probably become apparent by now that the EnGenius SkyKey is built for business. While it might be tempting to use a network controller to maximize your home network speed, it won’t be helpful. Unless there are dozens of people in your home, you won’t get much benefit. Your best bet for fixing slow home network speeds is simply to upgrade your router. We recently reviewed the Vanin AX1500. It’s one of the fastest home routers on the market, and even supports WiFi 6.
The EnGenius SkyKey may be the most powerful network controller on the market. We’ve certainly never seen one this powerful. The most obvious benefit is the ability to control 100 total devices. Whether you’re running a single large office or several distributed offices, that’s a lot of capacity.
But let’s address the elephant in the room. Much like Netgear products, EnGenius products do best when paired with other devices from the same brand. If you’re not using EnGenius routers and access points, you’ll still get plenty of benefits. But you’re not going to get the full benefit of the ezMaster configuration software. That said, the SkyKey is also useful for smaller offices. It can drastically speed up connections on everything from PCs to printers to peripherals. No matter how you want to cut it, it’s a great solution for just about any sized company.
The physical design is also a plus. While the most obvious, important thing to look at are the technical stats, it’s hard not to like the design. The small, slim profile makes the SkyKey very easy to install. It will fit just about anywhere, so you won’t need to struggle to find space for it. And it’s exceptionally sturdy. No need to worry about it breaking from a small drop.