Sunday, 29 April 2012

Extending the range

I last looked at extending wireless networks in “Wireless working” in October 2006 and “Extending a small network” in January 2007. So it’s about time I had a look at what’s currently available. Here at iTech-Ed Ltd, we got our hands on the Netgear Universal Wifi Range Extender – WN3000RP.

We’ve been using wifi to connect various laptops to the printer and to the router for a few years now and it has worked successfully. We also have high-speed broadband and everything is working well. But nowadays we also have smartphones and tablets that want to be on the wifi, and we could have a whole range of games boxes and other devices that would be naturally located at the limit of where our wifi reaches – or perhaps even just beyond. The answer to that problem is a device like Netgear’s range extender.

It looks like a big plug that would go into any socket, but it also has two small antennae that stick up on either side. Having said that, when it’s plugged into the socket, it can be quite unobtrusive – depending on where the socket is placed. There’s a picture of the device here.

Setting up the device is fairly straightforward. We found a socket on the wall that was close to the fringe of the current router’s wireless coverage and we plugged it in and turned on the power using the button on the side of the device. The instructions say that we could have set up the device using WPS (Wifi Protected Set-up), but we didn’t have that facility. We used the wireless connection manager facility on a laptop to ‘see’ the NETGEAR_EXT wireless network. This is the SSID (Service Set Identifier) the plug was sending out. The next stage was to launch Firefox (in our case, but any browser would do) and try to connect to a Web page. This automatically re-directed the browser to This is the set-up page for the device. We simply ran through the required set-up and saved our answers. The effect was to reboot the device. The next stage was to go back to the wireless connection manager and look for wireless networks. From where we were located, we could just see the original network from the router, and we could see the new one from the Range Extender. This second one now had the same name as our original router’s with “_EXT” on the end of it. We made sure that the laptop would connect to this new wireless device automatically and treated it as a ‘home’ (ie safe) network.

There are lights on the front of the Extender that indicate when it’s powered on; when there’s a connection between it and the router; and when there’s a connection to a PC. It also comes with an Ethernet port, if you need it.

It really didn’t take very long and the instructions were very clear about what to do. Our first test was to move the laptop we’d set everything up on into distant corners of the building. It could still see the new network (whereas before, it couldn’t it couldn’t see the old one). We then tried a smartphones, which easily found the new network. And then tried an iPad. It, again, could now get signal in the furthest corners of two different rooms. But having signal is one thing, having a decent speed is something else again. We used our standard network test – which is to connect to the BBC iPlayer and see whether we can watch a TV programme without it needing to buffer. We found a recent edition of Horizon and tucked ourselves away into a corner. The good news is that the reception was great. We watched about five minutes worth and there was no buffering – and we assumed that if we watched longer it would be the same. Now, there are all sorts of factors that can affect speed, and I’m not saying that HD TV would work as well or streaming a blu-ray DVD. But for our kind of usage. It passed the test with flying colours.

I liked the speed and ease of the installation. There was no CD required and I didn’t have to connect to the device with an Ethernet cable. I simply used the wireless connection manager. If anyone wanted to use this at home to send a signal to distant rooms, I have no doubt that most people would be able to follow the instructions with ease. But there are plenty of smaller offices that have thick walls, or long distances between the router and their furthest reaches that could benefit from such a device.

If you’re looking for a range extender, then the Netgear Universal Wifi Range Extender WN3000RP is a good place to start.

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