I've been lucky in my new home not to have WiFi dead spots. This doesn't mean I don't have any, just that in the places I use WiFi the most I'm not in a dead spot. My old home had a lot of them. I'm not sure if it is due to the construction of that home (the new home is also wood frame, sheet rock, brick veneer) but there is an obvious difference between these two homes. Where I do have terrible dead spots is at work. At our fire station we pay for internet service with a wireless router. Unfortunately the connection is terrible in most rooms. Steel doors, three layers of brick masonry exterior walls (which includes all the walls that face the garage bay) and a big layout. Did I mention the metal roof? This is a terrible design for any wireless design. TP-Link was kind enough to send the TL-WA850RE Range Extender for review, and as you'll see, its a great little product.
To achieve its claimed 300 Mbps speed the device works on an 802.11n wireless spec. 300 Mbps should deliver smooth video and music streaming. More importantly for my kids, online gaming should be vastly improved. Even if your device runs on a 100 Mbps wireless network at least you'll get every bit of that 100 Mbps instead of a fraction of that depending on the signal strength your device is getting to your original wireless router.
The box that the range extender came in is about the same size as the box my last cell phone came in. That's pretty surprising. Even more surprising is that once you pull the device out of the box you have something about the size of a charger for AA batteries. Its compact and my first impression is that its design is very minimalist. One Ethernet connection on the bottom and a reset button. A small circular LED display on the front of the device with a button in the middle. That's it.
Also included in the box are the instruction sheet. A mini CD and an Ethernet cable are also included. If the paper quick setup guide isn't your thing the mini CD has a full manual on it. Feed your techno-geek for specs. As the device plugs directly into a wall outlet there is no wall wart with 20 feet of cable to contend with nor are there a ton of accessories that have to be installed. This gives me a lot of hope. Older range extenders could be a little on the technical side to setup. Worse, they often had lots of software settings that had to be figured out. I do this pretty often thanks to this hobby but what if I bought one of these for my mom? Thankfully the TL-WA850RE is as simple to setup as could be possible. There are a few steps but nothing the average person who knows how to use a web browser can't do.
Setting it up
Let's dive into this one. First, plug the device into your outlet. You'll notice some LED's light up. At this point you should see the "Wireless" LED blinking. Now we get some options. Should your router be equipped with a WPS or QSS button press that and hit the Range Extender Button on the front of the device. The device will set itself up automatically. I chose a longer setup option to see how hard this was for someone with equipment that doesn't feature the WPS button. You can either use the Ethernet cable provided in the box and plug directly to your computer or if you have wireless in your computer connect to the device wirelessly. At this point you put in the username and password provided in the directions and the only things left to do is put in the password for your existing wireless network and name the extender (you can copy your current wireless network name). I was up and running in less than 2 minutes. Once you have the device working, and you'll know by the LED's on the front of it, its time to move it closer to your dead spot.
Here is where you have to think a little. If you put it in square in the middle of your dead spot it won't get good signal either. Therefore you need to have it between the dead spot and the original wireless equipment. This isn't a limitation as now your Range Extender has eliminated the dead spot and improved the wireless signal for everything else in between the two areas. To optimize this the LED's to the right of the Range Extender button will let you know if you are in a bad, good, or best scenario for reception of the original wireless router. As long as you have three of these LED's lit up you are in business to extend your range. I took the device outside my home and could get more than three LED's so the range distance this device can work at is pretty impressive. I'm not advocating you give your neighbors free wireless but if you have a really large yard now you can sit under a tree and enjoy your network.
Some Cool Options
Remember that Ethernet port on the bottom? Of course one option was to use it during the setup of the device. But what if you have a device that doesn't have built in wireless but does have an Ethernet port? Hook that baby up to the Range Extender and now your device is wireless. As far as it is concerned its hooked up to a conventional wired network. Now this opens up some options. What if you have an older router that has no wireless. Hook it up to this Ethernet port and you can have a couple of devices wired to that router. What's interesting is that you are now on an 802.11n wireless network.
Depending on the size of your building you could use a couple of these Range Extenders to reach different areas in your building. That would be optimal for my situation at work. Heavy masonry walls, metal fire doors, and a metal roof is about the worst situation in conventional construction for wireless signals. By putting the Range Extender in the garage bay closer to the living areas in the front of the building I was able to more than double the signal strength in the kitchen and living room. This used to be a YouTube and music streaming dead area due to the low bandwidth created by the terrible signal.
I'm happy with this device. It is as easy to setup as possible and I'm confident I could hand it to just about anyone with the instruction sheet and they'd get it working. If they couldn't figure it out I know I could walk them through the installation over the phone. Gone are the days of endless options to configure on a range extender. Thank you TP-Link.
The device itself integrated into my wireless network at home seamlessly. When I tried it at work it made an amazing difference in our wireless network. I don't hesitate to recommend this one. I went online and found the device at Amazon for a very reasonable price. Don't be surprised if your local big box retailer decides to really try to move these at this price also. $50 is more than reasonable for the performance improvement.