Category: Network Connectivity Devices

Product Review-Western Digital MyNet Range Extender

Introduction

I am reviewing the Western Digital MyNet Range Extender which is a surprising take for the new crop of Wi-Fi range extenders. This dual-band range-extender has the Ethernet port so it becomes a client bridge for an existing Wi-Fi segment, but it has the ability to work as an Wi-Fi access point for a wired network segment. This means that it can be set up to extend a wireless network’s coverage once you use it with a HomePlug AV kit or an existing wired Ethernet backbone.

WD MyNet Range Extender

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$149.99

LAN Connectivity

Ethernet 1
Wireless 802.11a/g/n dual-band single-radio WPA2-Personal WPS
– access point, repeater, client-bridge

The device itself

A lot of devices of this class can show their worst side when you are setting them up and integrating them in to your home network. Manufacturers tend to say that they are easy to set up but they can be difficult to set up for reliable operation.

Setup

WD MyNet Range Extender connections - Ethernet and band selector

Connections on rear of the range extender – Ethernet connection, band selector and power

The WD MyNet Range Extender is very much close to plug and play installation if you are using a router or access point that works with the WPS “push-to-setup” method for the wireless network. On the other hand, you have to log in to a special SSID to set the unit up for most networks. Don’t expect this dual-band range extender to work like a radio or TV “translator” station where it can pick up on one band and extend the network to another band, like picking up on the 2.4GHz band and repeating to the 5GHz band – it doesn’t support this functionality.

There is the problem of a worrying error message that mentions that the network connection has failed when you are setting up wirelessly even though it can work. Another problem that also worries me is the use of the same SSID and channel for “extending” the network. This can cause problems that lead to this same error message due to a “beat” frequency being created by the range extender or the risk of a data storm being created. As well, I had to configure the range extender so that its “extended” area is identified separately to the main router so as to identify if it is working properly.

Other than that, the use of a signal meter on the side of the WD MyNet Range Extender allows you to determine how strong the signal is to allow for optimum positioning, whether it serves as a range extender or a client bridge.

The WD Range extender also works well as a client bridge for an Ethernet-ended device even while it works as a range extender, serving one or more wireless devices. This is although the manual says that it is to serve on device but if you use a switch with this device, it could be a different case. It is worth knowing that the bandwidth for the wireless cell created by this device is effectively half of what would be normally available from the router but this is more about assuring reliable operation for your network equipment and it would be installed at the “fringe” of your main access point’s coverage.

The fact that the DC power comes in from the supplied AC adaptor as 12 volts 1.5 amps may also please people who may want to use this device in a vehicle or a boat to “draw out” a caravan park’s or marina’s Wi-Fi coverage or feed it to an Ethernet device without the need of an inverter.

On the other hand, I had a fair bit of trouble getting this unit to work as an access point and found that the review sample wouldn’t even obtain the DHCP address and identify itself on to the network. Following the instructions in the online manual was a futile exercise and I would suggest that WD make the job of setting up as an access point an easy effort. For example, the use of DHCP or Auto-IP be implemented properly on the Ethernet connection in this mode.

Operation

I used the WD MyNet Range Extender as a “fringe coverage” extender for the existing network and found that it was able to work with my phone when it came to streaming Internet radio at the London-based station’s maximum rate.

I also ran it as a client bridge but it also works as the “fringe coverage” extender and it was able to work properly with an old laptop that didn’t come with integrated Wi-Fi wireless.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Western Digital could offer a simultaneous dual-band variant of the MyNet Range Extender that could extend both bands of a simultaneous dual-band router or work as a simultaneous dual-band access point.

Similarly they could have this unit be able to work properly as an access point including using DHCP or Auto-IP setup for integrating itself to the Ethernet segment so you can configure it. It could also support an “access-point” setup mode for simplifying the setup of an extended-service-set where one of the access points is equipped with WPS or you run it as a “client bridge” or range extender and it locks on to the wireless network you intend to “extend”. This issue could be sorted out through a firmware update that could apply to equipment that is in current circulation.

As well, there should be a “client WPS” button so you can quickly enroll client devices to the MyNet Range Extender rather than just enrolling the Range Extender to the host router.

Conclusion

Like most wireless range extenders, the WD MyNet Range Extender would require a bit of work in getting them to extend a small wireless network properly. It works well as a client bridge but the access point function does need more work on it. I would recommend it more as a dual-band client-bridge or range extender for someone who has had experience in setting these devices up.

Send to Kindle

Raising the bar with MiFi router design

Articles

AT&T’s new MiFi Liberate is LTE-capable, ‘world’s first’ with touchscreen display – Engadget

AT&T Shoved a Touchscreen in Its Latest LTE MiFi Hotspot Because, Hey, Why Not! | Gizmodo

AT&T’s MiFi Liberate LTE is first touch-screen hot spot | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

AT&T – Press Release

My Comments

AT&T have released a new “MiFi” router for 4G wireless broadband networks in the form of the AT&T-Novatel MiFi Liberate. Here, this device is not your “father’s old station wagon”.

The device borrows the P-shaped design cues from the Apple Magic Trackpad and some door-handles rather than Microsoft’s newer input devices. Users can manage their connection using a colour LCD touchscreen rather than the typical Web user interface and, in some cases, a monochrome LCD or OLED display.

It can connect up to 10 concurrent Wi-Fi devices to the 4G LTE wireless-broadband connection and can do this for 11 hours on its own battery. What also impresses me about this MiFi is that it, like a few recent AT&T MiFis, has the ability to share files off a microSD card, including the ability to share media to UPnP AV / DLNA devices like Internet radios. This function could be taken further if the MiFi could mount microSDXC cards of 64-128Gb capacity.

At the moment it’s only through AT&T but I would like to see more carries who run LTE-compliant 4G networks offer this device in their 3G wireless router lineup. The firmware that all of the carriers who run with this device should support all of the functions including the file-sharing / DLNA functionality.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Western Digital MyNet 8-port Gigabit Ethernet Switch

Introduction

I am reviewing the Western Digital MyNet 8-port Gigabit Ethernet Switch which is an Ethernet switch that is positioned for use as the “central” switch in a wired-for-Ethernet house. This device, which is part of Western Digital’s entry into network infrastructure hardware also has a port-based quality-of-service setup in order to prioritise traffic serving multimedia or IP-telephony devices.

WD MyNet 8-port Gigabit Switch

Price: AUD$99.99

LAN Connectivity

Ethernet 8 x Gigabit Ethernet
Quality-Of-Service Port-Based
2 High-Priority
4 Medium-Priority
2 Best-Effort

 

The device itself

Setup

Western Digital MyNet Switch front

Front indicator lights – orange for 10/100 Ethernet connection and green for Gigabit Ethernet connection

The WD MyNet Switch has a setup routine that is typical for any unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch that is pitched at small network use. This is where you simply plug the Ethernet devices in to the switch, then connect it to the power.

But this switch implements a port-based quality-of-service setup with dark-green ports for high-priority traffic, light-green for medium-priority traffic and orange for best-effort traffic. This is to assure that VoIP and audio/video streaming is passed through without any glitches.

In the product documentation, Western Digital recommends that a NAS full of multimedia files or PVR acting as a DLNA Media Server be plugged in to a light-green port and a network media device is plugged in to the dark-green port. This would be of best effect if you were viewing content held on the server without glitches caused by email checks or Web-surfing.

Functionality

WD MyNet Switch rear Ethernet connections

Rear Gigabit-Ethernet connections – dark-green for highest priority, green for high priority, orange for best-effort and connection to other LAN segments

Compared to a lot of Ethernet switches, the Western Digital MyNet Switch has the status lights located up front rather than the lights being next to the Ethernet sockets. This may be a benefit if you have the unit on a desk or mount it to the wall using the keyhole slots and you have the sockets located on the opposite side. Here, you can still troubleshoot the network connectivity and link speed without having to swivel the unit around.

A test that I do for Gigabit Ethernet switches is to find out whether they do work properly with UPnP and Bonjour. This test has become important for me with network hardware because I once bought a “Chinese special” Gigabit Ethernet switch at a computer market and found that it didn’t pass through any of the broadcast data that was required for essential UPnP functionality. Then I replaced it with a D-Link Gigabit Ethernet switch and found that this one worked properly with these devices.

Here, I connected it between a UPnP-enabled printer and my computer then power-cycle the printer to see whether the printer presents itself as a UPnP device to Windows 7. The printer had presented itself properly to Windows 7 as a UPnP device. Subsequently I had plugged my WD MyBook World Edition network-attached storage device in to this switch and kept an eye on the availability of its DLNA server from behind the switch and it was still available.

There is inherent support for quality-of-service prioritising but this is a port-based affair. Here certain ports are coloured in distinct colours for applications where high QoS is desired with some marked as “Low” preferred for LAN, off-ramp and router uplinks. You may have to do things like plug the smart TV or network media player in to the green ports while you plug the regular computer that does a lot of Web traffic in to the orange ports.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There is no quality-of-service pass-through or trunking available with this switch for use with LAN connections. This can be an annoyance if you are trying to prioritise multimedia data across the whole network and is due to the industry not implementing standards for assuring quality-of-service across a logical network.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Western Digital MyNet Gigabit Ethernet Switch as a “central” switch for a small Ethernet network where quality of service for multimedia applications is considered very important such as most home networks. It would also keep the home network “futureproof” for IP-based telephony if the telephony equipment is connected to a “green” socket.

Send to Kindle

WD now is in the network-infrastructure scene

Articles

WD Enters Wireless Home Networking Market With My Net | Tom’s Hardware

WD joins networking with My Net router family | CNET News

From the horse’s mouth

Press Release

Product Website

My Comments

Last year, I reviewed the Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV network kit which comprised of two 4-port Fast-Ethernet switches that were able to link to each other via a HomePlug AV powerline segment. Initially I though that WD had run this product simply as a “flash-in-the-pan” product while focusing on their storage and media-streaming products. But it became a taste of things to come for WD when they released more network-infrastructure hardware over the last week.

They, like Belkin, AVM, Linksys and a few others, have taken the step of focusing their efforts on the consumer, SOHO and small-bsuiness space rather than running products for larger managed networks before tackling this space. But WD had crept in to this space with network-attached storages for home and small-business, then offering the WDTV Live lineup of network media players before tackling the network-infrastructure market.

But what has happened further is that the devices are set up for the expectations of next-generation broadband Internet. For example, the My Net routers are dual-band dual-radio Wi-Fi access points that work as dual streams on each of the bands. As well, all of the routers except the economy N600 model use Gigabit Ethernet for the LAN and WAN connections and handle IPv6 networks. The top-shelf N900 even has 7 Gigabit Ethernet ports, which makes it able to work as a hub for a home that is wired for Ethernet.

These routers can provide media content to the DLNA Home Media Network when they are connected to a USB external hard disk full of media.

As to integrate their hard-disk prowess, WD have released the N900 Central which is effectively the N900 and a My Book Live network-attached-storage in one chassis. This comes in either a 1Tb or a 2Tb capacity and can act in the same capacity as a network-attached storage, including sharing media to the DLNA Home Media Network.

But WD have not forgotten the idea of an Ethernet switch. They have also released the My Net Switch which is an 8-port Gigabit Ethernet desktop switch with port-based quality-of-service management. The limitations with this setup include requiring that the QoS benefits only affect traffic passing through that switch and that you may have to revise the connections for different applications if you are using it as a “central” switch for your wired-for-Ethernet house.

Who knows how these home-network products will fare in the onslaught of the likes of Netgear and D-Link and whether WD could innovate this class of product further and get a foothold in the connected home and small business.

Send to Kindle

D-Link fronts up with a plug-in wireless NAS / router combo for travellers

Articles

D-Link Shipping Wireless Mobile Helper – SmallNetBuilder

D-Link SharePort DIR-505 is a router / repeater that fits in your pocket, ships today for $70 | Engadget

My Comments

There have been a smattering of “travel routers” released on the market through the past ten years. These devices typically had a Wi-Fi access point and an Ethernet socket and were able to be set up as an access point or router. They were typically pitched at travellers who wanted to share a wired Internet access service, typically in their hotel, amongst Wi-Fi-only devices.

Now D-Link have come back with one of these routers but it also works as a “universal wireless range extender” and an access point that shares files from a USB storage device.

Personally, what I fear of devices like the D-Link DIR-505 is that they could become the “same-old same-old” where they have the same functions for their device class as everyone else but no more. The D-Link device had moved towards an AC-powered device that combines the previous travel-router/access-point model along with the same function model as devices like the Kingston Wi-Drive.

This could be a chance for manufacturers to break from the mould by doing things like making one of these devices become a wireless-broadband travel router, support multiple USB devices or use CIFS (de-facto network-file-transfer standard in desktop operating systems) and DLNA for file and media management.

At least D-Link have taken the step further with this class of device by amalgamating the travel router and the “storage access-point” device classes in to a single device.

Send to Kindle

A logo for IPv6 readiness has now arrived for network hardware and services

After all of the PR that has occurred around IPv6, which I have discussed previously on this site, there will be consumer and small-business demand for computer and network hardware and software that supports IPv6. This will be made more real when people subscribe to fibre-based next-generation broadband Internet or sign up with ISPs that offer any form of “cutting-edge” Internet service.

What will typically need to happen for most small networks is for the network equipment, especially the router that sits at the edge of the network, to support IPv6 in a dual-stack form. This may be achieved through a firmware update for most recently-issued existing equipment or will be part of recently-sold equipment.

Of course, a router manufacturer may say that their equipment is ready for the new standard but is it really ready when the ISP enables this technology? This includes interoperability with other IPv6 and IPv4 network equipment, whether the equipment works on one of the standards or is “dual-stacked” to work on both standards.

The IPv6 Forum (http://www.ipv6forum.org/) have established a logo program with a Website called “IPv6 Ready” (http://www.ipv6ready.org/). What you will be looking for is a yellow logo with “IPv6” on the router’s box. You can also check your device’s readiness on the IPv6 Ready website. At the moment, the logo list mostly points to OEM devices or software stacks rather than finished devices under their marketing names. But this logo will typically be found in the marketing literature for the device or on the device itself or its packaging.

This logo proves that the device conforms to IPv6 standards as a network hub or endpoint and works properly with other IPv6 and IPv4 devices on the Internet. This is facilitated by the device or software having to successfully complete a round of compatibility and interoperability tests in accredited testing laboratories before being authorised to display the logo.

There is also an IPv6-enabled logo for Web pages and ISPs that provide IPv6 access with the program at this site (http://www.ipv6forum.org/ipv6_enabled/). The Web-page program is underway and open to Webmasters who want to be sure their Website is future proof. It covers resolving of the URL to an IPv6 address as well as all-the-way IPv6 http access to that site.

The problem with all these logo programs is that there isn’t the customer-facing education that encourages customers to prefer equipment or services that are future-proof with IPv6. The services program could be augmented through promotion of IP services that are ready to provide IPv6 as a standard-issue service than something that you ask for. This also includes the service being enabled by default if a customer connects a dual-stack router to the service.

As the “World IPv6 Day” and similar campaigns gain traction, it will become the time for consumers and small-business owners to consider the benefits of the new IPv6 technology and what it offers.

Send to Kindle

Freebox Révolution–the standard to measure a triple-play service by

Articles (French language – best resources)

Dossier -Test du Freebox Server | DegroupNews

Freebox Revolution – Test du Freebox Player | DegroupNews

From the horse’s mouth

Freebox Home Page – Free (France – French language)

My comments

Typically, the kind of equipment supplied to consumers by telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers for “triple-play”or similar Internet services has typically been drab in design and functionality. This is typically to work to the lowest-common denominator with both price, functionality and style.

The situation is very different in France where there is a lively competitive market for “triple-play”Internet service. Most urban or regional centres in this country are “dégroupée” for multiple competing ADSL-service operators. Here, these operators have access to the customers’ telephone lines as cable without paying France Télécom for a dial-tone service. There is also a steady rollout of fibre-optic service by the competing service providers for next-generation broadband Internet, with an overlaying requirement to provide competitive access to the ducts and poles for the fibre-optic service.

One of these major players is Free who have established a triple-play service for many years. Their latest iteration of the “Freebox” is now a benchmark for anyone offering a similar setup, whether in France or anywhere else.

I have previously covered the Freebox Révolution  in HomeNetworking01.info when a recent firmware update was released that integrated it with Apple’s ecosystem. As well, I have researched many French and English-language resources to learn more about this system.

The Freebox Révolution system

This system, like other triple-play setups offered in France, comprises of an Internet-gateway device, known as a “box”, and a set-top-box, known as a “décodeur”. These units have typically been interlinked by an Ethernet cable or user-supplied HomePlug kit, but is connected through a pair of “Freeplugs” which combine a power supply and a HomePlug-AV-Ethernet bridge in one box.

The units are a statement of industrial design in a similar way that Bang & Olufsen equipment are still a statement in this regard for consumer audio-video equipment. Both the Internet-gateway device and the set-top box have been designed by Phillippe Starck, known for extraordinary designs like the Parrot Zikmu network-enabled speakers or some of the LaCie external hard drives or network-attached storage systems.

Internet Gateway Device (Freebox Server)

This device consists of a broadband router, network-attached storage, VoIP ATA with DECT base station and audio player in one box.

It has a dual-WAN interface for either an ADSL2 service or an FTTH fibre-optic service. But the LAN functionality is one of the hallmarks of a cutting-edge device. It has 4 Gigabit Ethernet switched ports for Ethernet client devices as well as an access point for an 802,11n three-stream 450Mbps Wi-Fi segment. I mentioned previously that this unit also supports a HomePlug AV segment through the use of the supplied Freeplug adaptors. The Wi-Fi access point can also work as a separate “hotspot segment” for other Free subscribers.

The VoIP functionality works with an integrated analog-telephony adaptor and a DECT base station that you can associate 8 DECT cordless handsets with. These will provide full functionality with CAT-iQ DECT handsets.

The 250Gb NAS can work with the regular file-protocol suspects (CIFS, FTP, HTTP) but can work as a DLNA media server. It also works as a “staging post” for FTP, HTTP and BitTorrent downloads, the latter function being described as a “seedbox”. The recent firmware upgrades also implemented Apple TimeMachine support for incremental MacOS data backups. Of course, there is USB connectivity for 2 devices as well as eSATA connectivity for an external hard disk.

There are integrated speakers for playing media held on the hard disk, the Internet or an Apple AirPlay network but you can use it as an elementary amplified-speakers setup by connecting a Discman or iPod to its AUDIO IN jack. Of course you can play the music through better powered speakers or an amplifier using the AUDIO OUT jack.

This router is totally UPnP to the hilt with UPnP Internet-Gateway-Device for hands-free setup with Skype, games, MSN Messenger and the like; as well as being a UPnP AV / DLNA media server. Free could do better by integrating something like TwonkyMedia which can allow content discovery on metadata other than the file-system tree.

Let’s not forget that the Freebox Server is IPv6-ready as expected for a future-proof device. This is being augmented by the fact that ADSL Free subscribers in zone dégroupée aras or FTTH Free subscribers can have an IPv6 connection now.

Set-Top Box (Freebox Player)

This unit has an integrated Blu-Ray player with Blu-Ray 3D support (after new firmware added) as well as a digital-TV / IPTV set-top box / PVR. It connects to the TV via an HDMI connector or a SCART cable, both offering that “single-pipe” connectivity between the Freebox and the TV. Of course, there are connectivity options for other audio-video setups like SPDIF optical; and you can connect USB peripherals like SD card readers to this unit for direct viewing.

It is controlled via a gyroscopic remote control but has a supplied game controller as an alternate input device. Of course, you can connect a USB keyboard and mouse to it as extra input devices or control it from your iPad using the Freebox Connect app.

One drawcard in my opinion is that it is a fully-fledged Internet terminal with access to an app store, namely the FreeStore app store. This allows you to download games and similar “lean-back” apps; as well as view the Web or check email from your couch. Just of late, this set-top box has had YouTube support baked in to its latest firmware update.

You can now use the Freebox Player and its associated sound system or television’s speaker to play material from your iTunes software or iOS device using AirPlay. This at the moment applies to audio content only.As well, you can discover and play content held on DLNA-compliant media servers on your network including the Freebox Server’s hard disk.

Plans and Pricing

You can equip that French home or apartment with this device for € 29.90 per month. This gives you inclusive unlimited telephone telephone calls to standard phone services in most countries (Europe, Francophone countries, US, Australia, NZ, etc); and mobiles in France.

The Internet service would be up to 28Mbps while you have access to most basic TV service. Pay €1.99/month extra for 185 additional TV channels while you can service another room with Free’s TV service for €4.99/month extra with a simple set-top box or another of this Freebox Player for €9.99/month extra.

Existing Free subscribers can upgrade for €199.99 less €30 for each year they have been with Free.

The prices are obtained from Free’s latest tariff charts available on their site and would appear to be ridiculously low for people who live in a country that doesn’t have a lively competitive broadband-Internet market.

Conclusion

What I see of the Freebox Révolution is a system of equipment for a home network that is all about an Internet service provider offering a future-proof attractive cutting-edge piece of equipment rather than offering second-rate equipment to their customers.

This is primarily driven by a country who is behind a really competitive Internet service market for consumers and that the competition is driven on value rather than the cheapest price possible.

Send to Kindle

A HomePlug AV 500Gbps switch–now with 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports

Articles

ZyXEL To Ship 500 Mbps Powerline Switch | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Zyxel press release

My Comments

Gigabit Ethernet is now becoming the order of the day with most current desktop and laptop PCs as well as network-attached-storage units being equipped with such a port. This is being taken further with routers having to be equipped with Gigabit Ethernet LAN (and WAN) ports in order to be considered fit for next-generation broadband Internet. This situation is also augmented with basic 5-port and 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switches now becoming more affordable.

At the moment, most HomePlug AV-Ethernet switches have been equipped with Ethernet ports that can work to a link speed of 100Mbps. This wouldn’t work in an optimum manner if you are connecting Gigabit-Ethernet-equipped computers to a HomePlug AV segment.

What Zyxel have done now is that they have announced a HomePlug AV Ethernet switch, the PLA4225, that uses Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as working to the unqualified 500Gbps extension of the HomePlug standard. This could allow you to provide a proper high-throughput HomePlug AV on-ramp for your desktop or laptop computer; fully-compliant next-generation-broadband “edge” router and NAS with these devices working at speed.

This is also in conjunction with them releasing the PLA4205 “homeplug” that works to the same powerline-network standard but uses a single Gigabit Ethernet socket.

Personally, what I would like to see for all of these 500Gbps HomePlug AV devices is that they are able to work to the full HomePlug AV2 standard once it is ratified and a proper firmware update is delivered.

But what I am pleased about is that the Ethernet connectivity of this HomePlug hardware is up to standard for people who use next-generation broadband Internet services with the proper routers.

Send to Kindle

Freebox Révolution–the first to be compatible with the full Apple ecosystem

 

La Freebox Révolution est compatible avec AirPlay et Time Machine – DegroupNews.com

My Comments

It is not common for Internet-gateway equipment that is typically supplied by a communications provider or ISP to support any of the protocols that are peculiar to Apple’s ecosystem. Typically a person who wanted a device to work tightly with their Macintosh or iOS device had to use a network device supplied by Apple or an Apple-approved third-party vendor.

Increasingly most network-attached storage devices started to support iTunes server functionality or Apple Time Machine backup functionality through the use of open-source components that were enabled through the device’s Web-based dashboard. But the AirPlay playback function has been based on code that Apple controls and devices had to have Apple approval in order to compete with the Apple TV device as a media player.

Now Free, one of the telecommunications carriers in France’s lively and competitive “triple-play” Internet market have integrated their latest Freebox Révolution customer equipment with the Apple ecosystem. This functionality is supplied for free as part of the latest firmware update for the Freebox Révolution router and set-top box.

At the moment, the AirPlay playback functionality is available through the Freebox Server’s integrated speakers or an audio device connected to the Freebox Server’s line output. The Time Machine network backup is done by using the Freebox Server’s integrated hard disk.

There are some other slight improvements for the Freebox Player in the form of  improved MKV compatibility and UTF-8 subtitle handling. But this device could really support the AirPlay functionality better because it would ordinarily be hooked up to the TV and a good-quality home-theatre system. As well, if Apple allows, it could support AirPlay video playback from from a Macintosh computer or an iOS device.

It certainly shows how capable the consumer-premises equipment for a triple-play service can become under a highly-competitive environment for “triple-play”Internet.

Send to Kindle

My comments on the WiFi “universal range extenders” like the Netgear WN3000RP

Product Page

Netgear WN3000RP

My Comments

There has been some increased Internet publicity about Netgear’s WN3000RP “universal range extender” which is intended to extend Wi-Fi coverage in to a network’s dead spot. Devices like this one are billed as being able to work with any 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network segment such as an ISP-supplied “Internet-network edge” wireless router.

But these devices work in a particular manner that may cause problems with network use. Here, they work as a wireless client bridge to the existing network and set themselves up as a Wi-Fi access point that is its own “extended service set” or Wi-Fi network segment. Most of these devices will typically have an Ethernet connection for use with Ethernet-ended network devices like PCs, network printers or games consoles and work as a Wi-Fi client bridge for these devices.

What can go wrong

Positioning in the wireless network

There is infact a lot that can go wrong in setting up and using these devices. One issue is how the device is positioned in the master wireless segment that is to be extended. You have to locate these devices just off the fringe of that wireless segment in order to avoid unreliable service from the client devices on both network segments. Usually, you would have to keep an eye on two indicator lights – one which shows reception quality relative to the master wireless segment and one which shows the quality of the wireless segment created by the device.

Operation of Wi-Fi client devices

As well, users will need to make sure that their laptop computers, smartphones or other devices point to the SSID associated with the range extender. In the case of the Netgear device that is set up using WPS to the “master segment”, the SSID will be a combination of “master_segment_SSID” + “_EXT”; like “BIGPOND-1234_EXT” for a hypothetical Telstra-supplied Wi-Fi router whose SSID is “BIGPOND-1234”. Of course, the WPA security parameters will be the same as that for the “master segment”. It may also require users to make sure their devices “latch on” to the SSID that is strongest for the area they are in; which may be a problem with laptop computers running some desktop operating systems; or some network devices like some Internet radios.

Bandwidth availability and advanced Wi-Fi setups

Another factor that is also worth considering is that the data bandwidth available in this newly-created segment will be smaller that that available in the master segment due to the device working from a weaker point of the master segment. Of course, never expect these devices to offer advanced network behaviour like client isolation for use with hotspots or support for multi-SSID access points for example. With the latter example, these devices will only work with one of the SSIDs available from these access points.

WPS network setup

A key point of confusion that can occur with Netgear’s wireless range extenders is the way the WPS “push-to-connect” function works. These devices have one WPS button on their control surface, which handles associating with the “master segment” or associating with a client device on its own segment. When you set up the range-extender for the first time with a WPS-enabled access point or router on the master segment, you are meant to press this button on this range extender to start the WPS cycle then press the button on the WPS-enabled access point to complete the process. Then you enroll a WPS-capable client device on this range extender’s segment by starting the WPS-configuration process on that device then pressing the WPS button on this range extender. What can happen is that a person who is enrolling the client device could press the button on the range extender before starting the WPS-setup process on the client and this could make the device assume it is connecting to another master segment rather than enrolling the new client.

What could be done to make these devices better

Firmware that suits multi-function operation

Of course the current firmware with these devices prohibits using them as a “pure” Wi-Fi access point with a wired backbone to the network. This is although they work properly as an access point for the new segment with the Wi-Fi “master segment” as their backbone. Rather, I would prefer that these devices have a “multi-function” firmware in place which allows at least three operation modes: a wireless range extender with one wireless segment as the backbone and another covering the area; a wireless access point with a wired backbone; and a wireless client bridge serving Ethernet-connected devices.

Improved designs could use a hardware switch that selects between the operation modes. This can then lead to a logical foolproof WPS operation mode with the WPS button only used for enrolling client devices in modes other than “Client Bridge” whereupon it would be used to enrol with the master segment. The user would be required to set the unit to “Client Bridge” mode when the want to establish a wireless backbone, then set the unit to “Range Extender” mode for operation as a range extender with a distinct satellite segment.

Improved WPS operation

Similarly, these devices could have improved WPS-button logic such as a “long press” for setup with a master segment and a “short press” for client setup. This can avoid further operation complications due to someone who intends to enrol a client device causing these range extenders to “hunt” for new master segments and affecting access to the network by established devices.

Conclusion and my opinion on these devices

If I was to extend the coverage of a wireless network segment, I wouldn’t necessarily use the wireless backbone method that is encouraged with these devices. Instead I would use access points run off a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV) backbone. This would then make sure that there is the full bandwidth available across the coverage of the network

Send to Kindle