This afternoon, I picked up a Linksys WRE54G, which is a WiFi Range Expander. At $99 from my local Radio Shack (yeah, I know I could have gotten it mailorder for a little cheaper), it’s a little more expensive than just getting a new access point, but this device does have some advantages.
The biggest advantage this unit has is that it plugs directly into the wall with no wires. Basically, if you’ve got a power plug somewhere in range, you can plug this device in. I’ve got my unit tucked behind my couch in the living room, for instance. There are other mounting options available as well. Linksys also give you a cord you can use to get some length away from the plug along with appropriate mounting hardware.
The WRE54G utilizes a feature present in the latest versions of the Linksys WAP54G/WRT54G/WRT54GS access point/routers called WDS or Wireless Distribution System. In short, it is a way to extend the range of a WiFi access point. A wireless mesh network is created whereby traffic is heard by a sort of slave access point which then forwards the packets to the master access point. Conversely, packets destined for the wireless network are relayed by the master to the slave access points. The end result: a much larger coverage area.
WDS does have some downsides, namely that not all access point vendors support WDS. WDS is also not an official IEEE standard or anything, so it’s not as likely to be vendor interoperable. I do know that Belkin and Linksys products work together as a friend of mine has done this. Others may be interoperable, but I don’t care enough to do the research.
WDS is also currently limited to WEP 128bit encryption, i.e. you can’t use some of the more advanced security features. I’ve got a number of older devices that don’t support anything beyond 128bit WEP, so this isn’t a huge obstable for me. I follow all the other security suggestions, i.e. disable SSID broadcast and allow only certain MAC addresses to connect.
Configuring the WRE54G was kind of a nightmare as I had to temporarily reconfigure my network in order to configure the repeater, which has a default IP of 184.108.40.206. There also appears to be some compatibility issues with using Firefox. IE, of course, had no issues. It took several tries, but I finally got the settings configured right. And now that I’ve set them, I’ll probably never need to revisit them again. Unless, of course, I change my WEP keys or my SSID or something like that.
Now I can reliably use my Nokia 9500 in WiFi mode while sitting in the living room. Now if I can just get a VoIP client for it…