In small homes and buildings, most wireless routers provide enough signal strength for a reliable connection in every room. However, in larger buildings, such as offices or three-storey houses, a single set of antennae will not be enough to guarantee total wireless coverage. That's where products like the Zyxel WAP3205 come in.
There are different ways to overcome this problem, including using a second wireless router in another room. This isn’t ideal though, as you’ll be running two networks, which then becomes a hassle to configure and maintain. Careful attention must be paid to ensure IP addresses are correctly allocated, without any conflicts between DHCP servers, and moving from one network to another means disconnecting a device from one router and connecting it to the next. See all Wi-Fi/networking reviews.
A better option is to use a wireless access point, such as the Zyxel WAP3205. When it’s set to repeater mode, it extends the wireless signal from the main router, with the same security and routing rules, subnet and IP allocation. The SSID (network name; service set identification) and security key remains the same. There’s only a single DHCP server handling the network’s IP addresses, a single security policy, and the entire network can be configured via the administration pages of the main router. See also: Group test: what's the best wireless router?
It connects to the router via a wired connection, using one of the two LAN ports at the back. The other port can be used to connect a wired device, or to daisy chain another wireless extender to the network, to further increase its range.
While a powerline networking kit can be used instead of a long piece of Cat 5 cable, that limits the WAP3205 to the transfer speed of the powerline adaptors.
The only limit on how many wireless extenders can be connected to one another depends on how many connections the router can handle, rather than any limitation of the WAP 3205. However Zyxel recommends a maximum of three when they are linked in a chain.
As with many Zyxel products, the WAP3205 comes in a plastic white chassis, with green LEDs at the front. Although Zyxel’s design is rather bland, it’s identical to the style used on its routers, so the WAP3205 won’t look out of place alongside other Zyxel devices. Aside from the two LAN ports at the back and a Wireless Protected Setup (WPS) button, there’s little else to it.
Setting it up wasn’t quite as easy as we had hoped. The WAP3205 can operate as an Access Point, Universal Repeater, or a Client, which is where it acts like an external network adapter for any computer connected to it via a LAN.
After plugging it in, we connected a PC via a wired connection to the WAP3205 and successfully obtained an IP address from the router. However, since it was in Access Point mode instead of Universal Repeater it created a second SSID rather than extend our existing wireless network. This is still preferable to using a second router, since despite creating a second network SSID, it uses the same routing rules and IP address allocation from the main router.
However, logging into the WAP3205’s on-board software to adjust this setting was tricky. The manual advises setting a static IP address, in order to connect to the WAP 3205’s administration pages, without explaining exactly how to do so. A decent tutorial in the manual explaining the procedure for all versions of Windows and Mac OS X could be beneficial here.
Once we’d run through the set-up wizard, which prompts you to choose your network’s SSID and enter its security key, the WAP3205 rebooted itself, and the second SSID disappeared. It couldn’t see our 5GHz wireless network nor can it output at 5GHz.
The WAP3205 supports the 802.11n wireless networking standard, so if you have an older router that only supports slower 802.11g wireless networks, the WAP3205 can be used as a way to upgrade its speed.
We measured the performance by connecting it to our network and transferring a file over wireless from an FTP server connected to the router with an ethernet cable. We disabled the router’s wireless to ensure it was only the wireless signal of the WAP3205 we were testing.
At short range we measured a speed of 7.6MB/sec, which dropped to 3.8MB/sec at long range. These speeds are reasonable, but raw performance isn’t the main consideration.
The WAP3205 would be of use to small businesses with a reasonably large number of wireless devices, that want to extend a single wireless network, without complicating their additional networking setup or worrying about security settings on multiple routers.
For home users with a slower 802.11g wireless router, the WAP3205 is slightly more expensive than some cheaper 802.11n routers, so it’s a better idea to just replace your existing router. And if you already have an existing 802.11n network but need more range, it works well, but the alternatives are worth considering. Powerline networking adaptors will work well with a standalone computer, while a device that combines a powerline networking adaptor with a wireless network, such as D-Link’s WP307AV, is also a contender.