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Wireless How To

Setting Up

Compared to all the hoops you need to jump through to set up a WDS connection, using a non-WDS bridge / repeater is a breeze. The hardest part is connecting to it for initial configuration. Some devices will be set to automatically grab an address from a DHCP server, while others may come set to a static IP address. Still others may include a utility program or setup wizard that will find the device and initially configure it.

Make sure you read the setup guide that comes with your product so that you don't waste time. I recommend connecting the device via Ethernet to your LAN. This will ensure a reliable connection from the computer you're using to set it up and has the benefit of confirming a working wireless connection by the same flash-all-your-LAN-switch-lights method we saw when setting up a WDS connection.

After you're connected to the repeater / bridge, all you need to do is find the Site Survey (or similarly-named) function that shows you in-range networks, choose a network and connect. That's all there is to it. If you've done the job right, all your router's LAN port activity lights should start flashing wildly due to the network storm caused by two connections to the device (wired and wireless).

As noted, earlier, since channel and SSID must match for a client - AP connection, you can't set the bridge / repeater's SSID to anything other than the SSID of the network you're connecting to. But if the bridge / repeater has multi-SSID capability (also known as "guest network"), you can enable a second SSID and set it differently.

If you can't set up a separate SSID, then I recommend that you force your client to disconnect and reconnect to the network when moving to a location where you want to be connected to your repeater. But even then, there is no guarantee.

The only easy way to know if traffic is flowing through your repeater is to look at its wireless activity light while you are watching a streamed video or copying a large file. It's important to have continuous wireless activity running for this check, since the wireless activity light may flash occasionally, even when the repeater is idle.

If you're lucky, your repeater will have some sort of bandwidth monitor or other indication showing what's connected to it. But don't hold your breath. Checking the wireless activity light is the most reliable way.

Performance

The biggest mistake most people make when setting up wireless range extenders or repeaters is putting them too far away from their main AP, at the fringe of the wireless coverage area. Doing this gives the repeater very low bandwidth to start with, which it then reduces by ~ 50% when its single radio receives, then retransmits data. Let's look at an actual example.

Figure 4 shows the wireless test layout here at Chez SNB. The diagram is the same one from How We Test Wireless Products - Six Location Open Air Method, which describes our standard test methods, but with a few changes.

Wireless repeating test layout

Figure 4: Wireless repeating test layout

On the Lower Level, the wireless router is shown in the Utility room, instead of its usual spot in the Office. This central location is really where the NETGEAR WNDR3700 that I'm currently using as my home router sits.

On the Upper level, you can see two little EnGenius ESR9850s, labeled 1 and 2. These represent two spots where I parked the ESR9850, running in repeater mode.

For all tests, I put my test notebook, which uses an Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300 adapter, at Location F.

For the first test, I put the ESR9850 in Location 2, on a counter in the kitchen about 6 feet from the notebook, with no walls in between. I then fired up inSSIDer to take the snapshot of signal strength shown in Figure 5. The Vendor shown for the EnGenius in the table at the top of the screenshot is Senao, EnGenius' parent company.

Main AP and repeater signal strength - repeater in Location 2
Click to enlarge image

Figure 5: Main AP and repeater signal strength - repeater in Location 2

inSSIDer shows that the signal from the EnGenius is 23 dB higher than that from the NETGEAR, which is about 200X.

I then used TotuSoft's LAN Speed Test to run a quick measure of wireless speed from the test notebook to my primary desktop, connected via Gigabit Ethernet. Figure 6 shows the test notebook was able to write a 5 MB test file of random data at 12.7 Mbps and read at 5 Mbps when connected directly through the WNDR3700. I insured that the notebook connected only to the WNDR3700 by unplugging the ESR9850.

Wireless throughput - client direct to WNDR3700

Figure 6: Wireless throughput - client direct to WNDR3700

I then forced the client to disconnect from the WNDR3700, powered up the ESR9850, reconnected the client, then reran the test. Figure 7 shows essentially no change in write speed, while read more than doubles to 12.9 Mbps.

Wireless throughput - client through ESR9850 in Location 2

Figure 7: Wireless throughput - client through ESR9850 in Location 2

More Wireless

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