Wi-Fi range extenders typically only come in one wireless flavour, for single-band 2.4 GHz. However given the fact that many people now have dual-band 5 GHz-capable routers it would be nice to have the option to use this band when you are using a wireless range extender. Netgear offers just that in its handsome WN3500RP. See all Wi-Fi and networking reviews.
When you open the box of the WN3500RP you are greeted by what is one of the best-looking and best-built range extenders on the market today. It's made of high-quality plastics, and the white colour gives it a very modern stylish look and feels reassuringly sturdy in the hand. The design offers two setup options: you can either plug the unit directly into the wall for minimal visual impact to the room or use the extension cord to achieve optimum signal strength. See all Wireless router reviews.
In terms of connections the unit does well offering 10/100 ethernet and a USB 2.0 port for connection to printers and other peripherals. The third port, while looking tantalisingly like an antenna expansion port is in fact a 3.5mm stereo jack. This is a very unusual feature and allows you to connect any speaker with a 3.5mm stereo cable to the unit and stream music directly from the extender without any need for an interim player. We've only seen such an option from Apple's AirPort Express unit, which also benefits from a Toslink digital audio output too. Take a look at our review of the TP-Link TL-WN8200ND: dongle that boosts your Wi-Fi performance too.
The setup of the WN3500RP is an absolute joy and really shows Netgear's long networking heritage. No CDs or setup are required – simply connect to its open Wi-Fi network called NETGEAR_EXT and type mywifiext.net into your web browser.
The wizard then runs that allows you to setup both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. Both networks were detected quickly and flawlessly using our test setup. That's not always the case from other units; a WD device did not fare so well on network detection and compatibility.
It should also be noted that the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands work simultaneously, so no manual switching is required as we also found from the similar WD Dual Band Range Extender. We appreciated the _EXT style of extensions given to their names. This means you can choose to connect to the extender or the route, which can be hugely useful. When you are closer to the router you would receive a worse connection if your computer was receiving a signal from the distant extender. This is the case with most extenders.
To test the speed of this extender we placed it on the stairwell of our building approximately 5 metres from the main router. Achieving line of site was not possible or practical. We then ran a speed test using a laptop on floors 1, 2 and 3 above the router.
Without the extender the results were as follows ( 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz ): 56 / 60 Mb/s on floor 1, 20 / 0 Mb/s on floor 2 and 0 / 0 Mb/s on floor 3.
So the 5 GHz signal dropped out entirely by floor 2 and the 2.4 GHz connection had evaporated by floor 3.
With the WN3500RP the results were as follows: 17 / 31 Mb/s on floor 1, 30 / 13 Mb/s on floor 2 and 5 / 12 Mb/s on floor 3.
Given the overall quality of the product the result is surprising as while the range has been extended the data rates are not good. This may have been due to the number of occlusions from concrete walls which are notorious for blocking Wi-Fi signals. However, other extenders have fared significantly better for speed using the same setup such, as WD 2.4/5 GHz extender.