The Wifi Range Extension Problem
Extending wifi coverage throughout your home is always a bit of a difficult trade off. As a rule in the past the best way to extend wifi coverage was to install multiple access points throughout your home all of which need be connected via a wired Ethernet connection. This approach allows the most seamless coverage but comes with a cost. That cost is complexity of setup and configuration and the requirement of having a wired Ethernet infrastructure throughout your home. Up until now this approach was best for performance as your wireless connections to the main router were done through the Ethernet cable and that let your wireless network solely support your mobile wireless devices.
There have been many wireless range extenders on the market for some time now. The problem with them all has been their wireless performance was sub par compared to that of your main wireless router or an access point. The reason for the performance hit is that in all cases the wireless extenders were single band devices that had to share their limited bandwidth with the wireless network they were extending and the devices they were connecting to. This solution would be fine for basic web browsing but any media related task would generally always have stuttering or other network constraint issue.A new solution to the range extension problem
Netgear recently began shipping the Netgear WN3500RP Universal Dual Band Wifi Extender with Apple Airplay. What is very unique in this solution is that while it is dual band, meaning it supports simultaneous 2.4 ghz and 5.0 ghz it possesses a great many ways of using it's dual band radios. Generally the wifi extenders link to your existing wireless network and if placed somewhere within clear range of your main router will allow you to get extended wifi coverage. But as I stated earlier this approach come with a performance cost as the radio must share its limited bandwidth with the devices connecting to it and the wireless router it is connecting to.
Netgear solved this performance issue by allowing 3 different ways of configuring the WN3500RP dual radios. The 1st mode is the standard range extension as stated earlier. You connect to an existing wireless signal and repeat it. Being dual band you can connect to both the 2.4 and 5 ghz sides of your router. Or if you have multiple routers they can be split amongst 2 different devices. This in its own is a nice approach for range extension but in and of itself doesnt solve the performance issue. These next 2 setup options do though.
Configuration option 2 and 3 allow you to select the newly developed FastLane Technology
. Fastlane is an ingenious approach to fully utilizing the dual band technologies most of today's routers employ. Fastlane allows you to select one of the extenders radios to communicate directly with your router while using the other band to connect to your devices. This eliminates the bottleneck that previous range extenders have all experienced. This approach is extremely clever as it allows you to fully utilize all that extra wireless bandwidth with dual band devices that often sits idle. A brilliant solution in my opinion.
You have in the setup up to choose which band connects to the router and which is used for devices. This is an important distinction since the range of 2.4ghz is greater then that of the 5 ghz band. By choosing where you wish to place the device and where you need coverage you can select the best option. In my case I have a 3000 sq ft range style home. My main router sits under my desk at one end of the home. My devices (ipads, laptops etc) can see the 2.4 ghz band with middling signal strength at my far end of the house which is my living room but the 5 ghz side is very low and not reliable. I configured the WN3500RP to connect to my router with the 2.4 ghz side and use the 5ghz side for my device connection. I placed the WN3500RP in my kitchen which is aabout midway in my house. This worked fantastically well as I was easily able to stream video and audio to my devices with no issues. While I have an access-point of the far end of my home (yes I ran the Ethernet cable) I disconnected it and used the WN3500RP in its place. Performance wise it was fine. I actually was stunned how well it worked.
For non wireless devices the WN3500RP also has an Ethernet port that allows you to cob=nnecta wired device directly to it so that you can gain access to your wireless network. Just plug it in and you are good to go.
Apple Airplay and Printing Support
This is the 1st wireless range extender that comes without tradeoffs. Or without many. In addition to the stellar operation the WN3500RP also has 2 other key features one of which was near and dear to me. That is Apple Airplay support
. The Airplay support is like that of the Apple Airport Express devices. It supports a mini 3.5 mm stereo jack where you plug into it a compatible cable and connect it to the audio device of your choosing. It is audio only. Not video. Again it works exactly like Apple's Airport devices. There is no configuration needed. Plug the cable in and it shows up on your IOS devices like any Airplay Device. And it works just as well at least in my brief testing with it.
According to the documentation the WN3500RP also supports music playback from Windows Media Player and Android devices with use of the Netgear Genie software which I did not try. I was looking for an Airplay device to connect to my Sonos in my kitchen and the WN3500RP did the trick.
The WN3500RP also supports printer sharing with a USB based printer. I didnt test this functionality but I suspect it will operate similarly to other Netgear printer sharing products like they have on the majority of their routers today.
User Interface and Setup
The UI of the WN3500RP is similar to that of other newer Netgear products. You connect to the 3500 via a wifi device and it walks you through the setup. It is relatively straight forward. The one minor issue is you will want to do a firmware update immediately as several of the enhancements are in this new firmware. Once complete the setup was straight forward. I played around with the 3 setup options and settled on the best configuration for my home.
The hardware itself is flexible. It comes with a wall plug to use directly in an outlet or you can stand it up solo and includes a 6 foot power cord.
The Netgear WN3500RP is the best and most flexible extender I have had the opportunity to use. With is flexible configuration and added capabilities I cant see how you can go wrong here. It sells for $99 and has a tremendous bang for the buck. I highly recommend it.
For more information check out Netgear site at http://www.netgear.com/home/products/wireless-range-extenders/WN3500RP.aspx#
Netgear AV Consultant