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Netgear Wall-Plugged Wireless Range Extender Kit

 Author: Sean Michael Kerner
 Review Date: 4/7/2005

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Typically speaking, the way to extend wireless range is to either get a more powerful wireless router or to get some kind of bridging antenna that will boost the signal. Howerver, there is another way that will use your environment's power network (the "network" that you plug your electrical devices into) to place a wireless router in closer proximity to the area that needs wireless capabilities. That's what the Netgear Mbps Wall-Plugged Wireless Range Extender Kit: WGXB102 is all about.

I'm not entirely certain that Wireless Range Extender is the right name for this product as it is more than just an extender. That is, it's not just a device that will extend the range of an existing wireless network, but rather what it enables is the creation of a new wireless network that can be placed wherever you have a power outlet.

With this kit from Netgear and a pair of outlets, you can bring wireless to whatever point of presence you choose to plug into. The Netgear kit is an interesting alternative to a traditional wireless setup if your power networks will support Ethernet without too much line noise and/or interference.

The Netgear WGXB102 kit is comprised of two core devices: the Wall-Plugged Ethernet Bridge (XE102) and a Wall-Plugged Wireless Range extender (WGX102). The XE102 is connected to your existing wired Ethernet router and is plugged into a power outlet that then provides Ethernet to all power outlets in your environment. If you had another XE102 you would plug that into another outlet, plug your Ethernet connection into that, and voila, you've got a "wired" connection over Powerline, called PowerLine Ethernet.

Instead of a second XE102, what Netgear provides in this kit is what they call a Wireless Range extender (WGX102), but I'd prefer to think of it as simply a wireless router, since it really isn't extending the range of an existing wireless network. What it does is create a new wireless network acting as either a router or an access point. The WGX102 gets its Ethernet connectivity over Powerline from the XE102 (which is plugged in somewhere else on the same power network) and provides a typical set of wireless router features and functionality.

When the router configuration is selected, the WGX102 provides DHCP as well as content filtering, blocking (based on MAC address) and port triggering. Both WEP and WPA security are also provided as is something called 56-bit DES for the Powerline part of the network.

To the Test
I tested the WGXB102 kit over 30 days in a number of different environments with somewhat mixed results. Fundamentally, the issues that I encountered were all related to the Powerline part of the equation. One of the environments I was keen to test in was a townhouse home-office setup where the main Internet router connection point was in the basement and connectivity was needed on the top floor (an area where "traditional" wireless routers based in the basement simply did not reach).

The other environment that I tested was a standard cubicle wired office setup where "pervasive" wireless was not required, but wireless for a conference room that for whatever reason (maybe lead walls) was not served by a wireless connection. In both cases, on first install the WGXB102 kit was setup and working within minutes. Connection to the Wireless Router component (WGX102) was almost always at 54 Mbps with excellent signal strength across the limited range I was testing.

Though the WGX102 creates a 54Mbps connection (with 802.11g), the Powerline network is restricted (via the HomePlug/Powerline specification) to a somewhat slower speed that I found to hover between 10 and 14 Mbps. So don't plan on using this kit if you're intention is do true 54Mbps file transfer (for media or gaming, for example) as you'll be disappointed by the speed.

What I found though over the evaluation period was that in the townhouse setup network access unexpectedly dropped at infrequent intervals. The connection between the wireless router and the PC didn't drop (except in excessive range conditions) rather it was the Powerline network that somehow disconnected. Netgear does caution in its documentation to ensure that the components are not plugged into extension cords or other such electrical outlet multipliers/extenders as it degrades network performance (though testing I can verify that this is good advice).

However, even on what to the naked eye appeared to be unextended/unmultiplied power outlets, network connectivity did drop occasionally. I don't know if it was because the furnace or the refrigerator came on, or if it was a case of wiring (line noise), all I know is that it happened. In the office setup the Powerline connection dropped as well, albeit far less frequently than it did in the townhouse environment.

The WGXB102 kit (when not experiencing a Powerline network issue) is a simple way to add a wireless access point to an area where either traditional wireless doesn't reach or simply as a new wireless access point. The unreliability of the Powerline network in my two test environments, however, was a cause of concern. There are all kinds of power issues that could potentially impact Powerline performance through no fault of the user that may very well be beyond the users control or knowledge.

My recommendation is that if you are going to give this a try, be aware of your retailer's return policy and make sure you keep your receipt just in case your electrical wiring is too noisy for reliable Ethernet traffic. If your electrical power wiring will support the Ethernet traffic, the WGXB102 may very well be an ideal solution to add wireless access in a particular area without having to bathe a wide area with a stronger wireless signal.

Pros:
  • Simple setup
  • Wireless placed closer to the intended target

    Cons:

  • Speed is limited by Powerline limit of 14 MBs
  • Power network not always reliable and/or stable
  • Sean Michael Kerner is a frequent contributor to PracticallyNetworked.

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