Dead spots, sometimes called not-spots, are a fact of life with current Wi-Fi technology. When 11b wireless networks first entered the market it wasn't unusual to have several routers or WAPs (wireless access points) spread around to allow users to get a signal to those dead spots around the house.
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However, as the technology has improved with each wireless revision (from 11b to 11n) the default format for almost all users is the single modem/router combination for coverage of the whole house. This is limiting for anyone whose house lies over several stories. Or for brick or concrete walls as is the case in many blocks of flats, where bandwidth can dramatically deteriorate or vanish over even short distances.
Wireless range extenders allow you to extend the range of your wireless network and increase bandwidth to low signal areas. They do this by receiving the wireless signal of your network, and then rebroadcasting it.
The TP-Link WA850RE is just such a 2.4GHz wireless 11n range extender, also known as the TP-Link 300Mbps Universal Wireless N Range Extender.
The first thing you notice about it is the styling. It comes in a fetching and minimalist white box which contains an even more attractive product.
The white housing is reminiscent of Apple’s designs and feels very chic and stylish. The design of the lights is also elegant, avoiding the usual flashing row of indicators for a compact circular arrangement. The plug is built directly into the back of the device which makes it very neat although you will need a power extension cable if a low-down skirting board site proves inappropriate.
The set up of the device is initially straightforward. You plug in the device, connect to its network SSID – handily called ‘TP-Link’ – and then follow the wizard.
The wizard simply requires you to select your existing network name, enter your password and click Finish. It’s this last part that’s a little confusing. After clicking the finish button we waited for an indication that the device had rebooted and was setup; but none came, no message, no change in Wi-Fi signal lights.
But disconnecting and reconnecting the power spurred the device into life and it then connected to the network without issue.
Like most wireless range extenders, once set up you can unplug and move the TP-Link around the house or office and it will retain its settings. This means you could extend the network to different dead spots depending on where you are in the house, just by unplugging and moving the device.
Once connected the device includes a fairly comprehensive set of tools such as MAC Address filtering, DHCP and throughput data-rate which can be accessed via a web browser. The device also includes an ethernet port which can be used to connect printers or media TVs.
TP-Link TL-WA850RE: Performance
We tested the TL-WA850RE by placing the range extender on the stairwell of our building, approximately 5 metres from the router. This was as far as was possible while maintaining a 4-out-of-5 step signal due to the occluding walls and concrete.
As a baseline we placed a laptop on floors 1-3 to get a baseline speed with the range extender off.
The baseline results were 24Mbps on floor 1, 1Mbps on floor 2 and no signal on floor 3.
With the TL-WA850RE the datarates increased to 29Mbps on floor 1, 26Mbps on floor 2 and 6Mbps on floor 3. This beats a Linksys RE1000 we also tested in terms of raw speed – although the connection on the TP-link did have a tendency to drop out when moving between the router and the extender.
It’s also worth noting that the extremely compact TL-WA850RE actually gave very similar performance to its larger brother, the TL-WA830RE.
Given the lower price tag of £33 the TL-WA850RE could be the more attractive option.