Sunday, April 4, 2010

Linksys WRE54G Wireless - G Range Expander

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

I recently installed a Linksys Wireless-G Range Expander, the WRE54G, and I have to say its working better then I expected.

I got a call a while back from the manager at our vacation time share. Seems the wireless, which was spotty at best, had stopped working altogether. Another owner had donated a couple of Linksys Range Expanders, and she was wondering if I might be able to come down for the weekend and see if I could get the WiFi up and running again, and maybe install the Range Expanders while I was there.

I was all over it, mainly because:

A. We love the place, and the people who run it.

B. It would benefit me greatly to have better coverage when I’m there. All my gadgets would work!

C. The fix/install would be a cakewalk and we’d be free to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Bonus!

Well, the fix/install wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, but it wasn’t bad either. We still had plenty of time left over for a little off season R&R.

Upon arriving, I set up in the office and immediately noticed that I was getting two 5 bar WiFi signals. Different SSID’s, but I was receiving both like they were broadcasting from the same room. Probably because they were.

Originally someone had plugged a Linksys WRT160 wireless router into one of the LAN ports on the office’s Verizon router. This had worked OK, but mostly just provided coverage in the lobby area. When I tried to log in to the Linksys router wirelessly using its default IP, I found myself connected to the Verizon box instead. I double checked the notes that the original installer had left and I was using the right address, so I tried again. Same result.

That’s when the light went on, and I got down on my hands and knees. To crawl under the desk, that is, so I could take a gander at the provider’s router that was hiding under there. Just as I thought, it had a little WiFi light on it, and it was merrily blinking away. AHA!

Seems Verizon had come in over the winter and upgraded their router. Once their new WiFi router was up and running, they very nicely plugged the Linksys WiFi router back into it. Problem is, both devices had the same address, and they were within a few feet of each other. There was a major IP conflict going on, and the dueling radio signals were wreaking havoc on each other. Easy fix. I just shut off the Linksys, re-cabled the office PC’s with longer cords, and moved the Verizon box up on the shelf where the Linksys had been. A quick reboot of everything after the Verizon router was back up, and we were cookin’ again. Nice.

Now it was time to tackle the Range Expanders. I had read quite a few reviews that indicated that they could be a bear to set up, but initially I had no problems. First I did a quick signal check to find the initial coverage boundaries. The building is a large 3 story C shaped structure and previously only the first floor rooms adjacent to the lobby had coverage. I found that the signal was much stronger now and I could connect from all of the second floor rooms in the main hallway. I would lose signal when I turned the corner onto either of the wings, but hey, it was a start.

I went back down to the office and plugged the first Extender into a switch port on the router. Don’t use the included setup CD that comes with it, just plug it directly into your router and log into it through your browser using the default IP address. It’s much easier and cleaner this way. If you feel that you just have to use the CD, then use it as a drink coaster. You’ll be much better served.

Setup was a breeze. I configured it with the Verizon box’s SSID and security settings, shut it down, unplugged the Ethernet cable from the switch port, and then powered it back up. It immediately found the WiFi signal and connected, indicated by the idiot lights turning from flashing red to steady blue. I popped its address into my browser and connected to it wirelessly, good to go.

I shut it down again, removed the power cord and replaced it with the included wall mount plug (think nightlight), moved it up to the second floor and plugged it into a wall outlet that was just inside my coverage zone. Once again, red to blue and I’m good to go. After another signal check I decided the next one needed to go up on the third floor.

I logged into the first one again, changed its default address so it wouldn’t conflict with the new one during setup, and it came right back up. Next I brought the second extender into the office and repeated the setup process. Perfect. Switched the back plate, brought the unit up to the third floor and plugged it in. This is where the fun began. After two power cycles, I finally got the desired blue lights, but upon returning to the office I found that the wired desktops had lost all connectivity. WTF…

A reboot of the router cured things, but now one of the extenders wasn’t showing up on the network. Once again it took two reboots of the extender to get it back in the blue, but wouldn’t you know it, the router was only passing wireless traffic again. Hmmm.

I tried all kinds of stuff, to no avail. It seems that a second extender connecting back to the router through an existing extender slaps the Verizon box with the goofy stick (technical term…). Both work fine when they’re in close proximity to the device, they both show up as registered on the router, and I can log into either wirelessly. When they’re both remote they still show up on the router device list, but one always shows a disconnected icon, and the Verizon box eventually takes leave of its senses.

I finally gave up on getting the second one up. I could have tried turning WiFi off on the Verizon router and hooking the Linksys router back up to it, things might have worked better Linksys device to Linksys device, but it was getting late and I was leaving the next day. You never want to mess with the provider’s gear if you’re not going to be around to pick up the pieces should things malfunction later.

Coverage was much better with the new setup and the single extender (third floor now!), and we’re actually better served with just the one. A little known fact about extenders is that you only average about half of the speed of the original connection when you connect through one. If it connects back to the router at 54Mbps, it will pass along 22Mbps connections. Daisy chain another to it and you're now passing along 11Mbps, and that's before you factor in competing with other traffic, signal interference, etc. While some connectivity is better than none, some isn’t, and you’d be approaching the “isn’t” range with a second unit.

The right thing to do in a case like this is to pull Cat5 cable to your locations from the main router, and then hardwire WAPs to the network. WAPs are Wireless Access Points. You can purchase dedicated WAPs, or you can just dumb down any old wireless router and use it as a WAP. Take a WiFi router, turn its routing capabilities off in the setup, and it becomes a switch slaved to the main router.

We left it that the cable pulls would be targets of opportunity. Next time they need to open up a wall or ceiling, pull some cable. We can install the Linksys WRT160 that I took out of the equation on this last trip once the first cable is in place. A simple and cheap plan of action, my favorite kind!

So, bottom line, the WRE54G is a great product if you’re trying to boost the signal in your home, but it’s not the right solution for a large installation in a hotel or office.

Oh yeah, and you get great service when you visit places in the off season.

That is all.


jman707707 said...

Ok I just got a linksys g wre54g because we a have a verizon router and the main floor but my room is upstairs so I folowes the cd (which you said not to) then I plugged it up upstairs and know it has a blue light for activity and a red light for link and when I click the button beside it.
(auto config) the link light switches back and fourth from blue to red help please

berryjooks said...

When I set mine up the first time, I plugged it directly into a switchport on the wifi router, connected to it via my browser ( logged into it and set it up manually.

I had read a lot of posts that said the autoconfigure feature is "iffy" at best, especially if you're using wep. I think it gets confused if there are any other wifi networks available to it. If you do the initial setup manually while hardwired to a port on your router you should be all set.

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot,u saved so much time.
it Was thinking to buy new router , increase speed etc.
Linksys Router Technical Support