The folks at Cisco Linksys were kind enough to provide me with a new RE1000 Range Extender to test on my home network. First, a reminder about my set up (which explains why a range extender is pretty important for me home). My Shaw cable modem and Linksys E4200 router are on the bottom floor of my place (which is also my home office). On the main floor I have the Linksys WES610N Entertainment Bridge which provides connectivity to my Blu ray player/entertainment system. On the top floor—I have nothing. Which is a potential problem because my WiFi connected printer is up there as well as this is where I like to read the morning news on my iPad. This is exactly the kind of situation a range extender was designed to solve. Good thing the RE1000 works exactly as advertised and I even have graphs to illustrate.
So, just want is a “range extender” anyway? Well, look at it this way, a WiFi router is just like any other wireless signal (radios, cell phones, wireless phones, baby monitors) the signal is strongest closest to the device and weakens (degrades) the farther away you are. The rate and amount of degradation depends on what physical material is between you and the device (glass, wood, metal, a Faraday cage) and the amount of interference coming from other devices close by that also use the same frequency. So if you have a lot of other wireless networks around you and live in a place with lots of glass and metal, you might find a lot of dead spots in your place. This is the problem a range extender solves. A range extender connects to your existing wireless network and rebroadcasts the signal (thereby strengthening it) to act as a relay on your network. So, when I put the range extender on my main floor, it connects to the router on the bottom floor, but then when I’m on the top floor I’m actually connecting to the extender on the main floor which relays to the bottom.
In the end I have a good, strong signal to my wireless network all over the house no matter where I am.
Before I get into the data showing how much better it is, let’s talk about setup.
I don’t think it could too much easier. Pop in a CD (OS X Lion folks you might have to download an updated version of the software that recognizes it), plug in the device, and let the software do its thing.
That’s pretty much it. The software remotely configures the range extender to work with your existing WiFi network so you’re pretty much good to go in about 5 minutes. Yes you can log into the range extender just like any other router or device, but I did this with the entertainment bridge and found, truthfully, there wasn’t anything I’d really want (or need) to change. I’m guessing that the range extender would probably be the same.
Now lets get into results. I used the “secret” WiFi diagnostic tool built into Lion to get these results. I chose to go with a strength vs interference measure instead of connection speeds. Now I did do the connection speed tests (with my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro), but I realized that those can be misleading for a lot of reasons.
Let’s start with the signal in my office where I’m about 4 feet from the router:
The orange line is the signal and is about –48 and interference is about –90 dBm. For signal strength, the less negative the number the better and stronger the signal is.
Now let’s look at the main level of the house (one floor up from the router) first without the extender, followed by with the extender:
You’ll see that without the extender the signal is about –65 but with it’s about –55.
Now for the big test, the top floor, two floor above the router. Again, no extender followed by with extender:
Yeah big difference here. About –72 dBm without and –55 with. Also notice that without the extender the signal and noise are pretty close together. This is bad. This means the connection probably wouldn’t be terribly reliable and you might see some timeouts, etc when using bandwidth intensive things (downloads, Skype, video).
You might be wondering why the extender isn’t on the top floor so I have have a really strong signal there. The funny thing is things don’t work out that way. The range extender needs a strong signal to connect to in the first place in order to be able to relay it. On the top floor, as you can see, the signal is pretty bad, but on the middle floor it’s pretty good. So connecting on the middle floor I get the best bang for my buck.
That’s really what it comes down to, if you have dead spots in your place and want to make things better, a range extender is the choice for you. Prices are coming down and the device are becoming more popular now if nothing else because we have so many wireless devices now. Having a dead spot in your house wasn’t a big deal before when we didn’t have devices to connect to the Internet. Now we have more and more devices and it matters. Matters a lot.
So check out range extenders. I like this one and it works really well with the existing Linksys hardware I have already. The only negative I have to say about it is that the RE1000 only works on the 2.4 GHz band and not the 5 GHz band as well (dual band, like the bridge and router). I think we could see an even better performance boost if it could use both bands to get around interference. That said, it’s still a solid device and I certainly noticed the difference immediately when I started using it.
Originally posted on the Future Shop Tech Blog.