How to extend Wi-Fi coverage using an access point

Wireless networks often frustrate us with a small range and low data transfer rate. Professional access points will be a serious solution, with the help of which you can easily expand the boundaries of the existing network. They cost about 6000 rubles.

Wireless access points can be seen in offices. Flat boxes are designed for optimal wireless network signal transmission. Network Functions - Internet connection (network gateway), protection (firewall) and management of local networks (IP address assignment and routing) are performed by other devices.

Unlike the professional environment, a router in a private home network performs all network functions, including the creation of a wireless network. It means, that you have to make compromises, and the disadvantages manifest themselves most strongly in the work of the network. Already only the location of the router in most cases is not determined by the optimal coverage, and the place of installation of the power outlet. At the same time, the connected cables do not allow the device to be positioned high, which would provide optimal conditions for a wireless network.

Besides, wireless technologies are developing faster, than everyone else. So, in a five-year-old router, only the wireless network standard is outdated, and all the other components are still working quite well. Besides, fine tuning for most functions is only available in fairly expensive routers, which additionally tips the scales not in favor of the new (that is, expensive) model. However, there are also available devices, operating only in the 2.4GHz band (for example, from the provider), it can be retrofitted with modern 5 GHz technology using an access point.

With the help of Powerline technology, the access point can provide a wireless network to another floor or another part of the house

Access points for professional wireless networks

Access points with support for the 802.11ac standard cost about 6000 rubles, that is, no more, than a good wireless network repeater. Thanks to a powerful transmitter and more convenient location options, the access point can expand the coverage of the router’s network or completely replace it. If previously these special functional stations were only available to experienced users (since they are designed to be used as part of a complex infrastructure), then modern models additionally offer a convenient web interface for the basic configuration.

New Netgear WAC510 Device, which can be configured via a smartphone app, demonstrates, that access points can be very easy to use. In the next two pages we will talk about testing this device, as well as the more affordable TP-Link EAP245 with 802.11ac support with a data transfer rate of 1300 Mbit/s.

The professional access point kit includes a mount, which allows you to install it on the ceiling, wall or cabinet

Connection and operating modes

Access points can connect to the router in fundamentally different ways and work in different modes, of which we have identified four main ones.

Replacing the router’s wireless network.

The Netgear WAC510 access point provides operation in router mode, in which she assigns IP addresses herself

Expansion of the wireless network of routers.

Client devices will automatically find the strongest signal within their reach, even if you move around the rooms with them. Similar functionality is offered by devices, which are called Powerline Wi-Fi Extender, designed to extend the coverage: they combine a Powerline adapter and a wireless transmitter. The advantages of a ‘real’ access point are larger antennas and more flexible location options (for example, installation on the ceiling or cabinet), which promises better signal transmission.

In WDS mode, the WAC510 works as a wireless network repeater, but first you need to configure WDS in the base router

Instead of a repeater.

The access point is in router mode.

Access point with configuration application
Router, WDS repeater or access point only - Netgear WAC510 has several use cases

Rich functionality: Netgear WAC510

This access point is easily configured with the Netgear Insight smartphone app. Considering the relatively low cost, that device becomes attractive, including for private use.

Using the Netgear Insight Android and iOS app, the initial setup of the WAC510 is easy and simple

In the simplest case, the process of the first launch goes as follows. The WAC510 is connected via a twisted pair to an existing router. On a tablet or smartphone, connected to the router’s wireless network, The Netgear Insight app is being installed, in which the assistant window is launched. Next you need to open the ‘Access Point’ menu … WiFi Discovery Connect to WIFI … Discover Device’, click on the access point, select a country, in which the device works (this is necessary in order to, to determine, which channels can the access point use), set the network name (SSID) and password WPA2-PSK - that’s it.

Web interface with extensive features

After the basic settings, connect the client devices to the WAC510 wireless network. Cable devices can be connected via its additional network port. More detailed settings can be found in the WAC510 web interface. To open them, find the IP address of the access point in the router’s web interface. First of all, you need to change the standard login-password ‘admin/password’ - they are in the ‘Management’ menu Configuration System Advanced User Accounts’.

Of the additional options of the WAC510, an example is the WDS setting, which is located in the ‘Configuration’ section. This technology allows you to combine several access points into a single wireless network with centralized management - detailed instructions are in the user manual. You can configure WAC510 to be used as a router via the ‘Configuration’ menu System Basic’ - all configurations are completely reset there, including the name of the wireless network.

For those who wish, the Netgear web interface provides the ability to configure all the subtleties of a wireless network

Practical testing of the configuration and use of the WAC510 web interface left good impressions, although it sometimes took a little longer for the device to apply the changes (primarily for restarting)., than I would like. Performance measurements using the JPerf benchmark on an HP Pro X2 tablet on an Intel AC 8265 Wi-Fi chip were a little disappointing at first, especially in the 2.4GHz band, in which old smartphones work, televisions and other client devices are simpler. The highest speed, and evenly in all directions, the Netgear access point reached then, when the client device was next to and on the same level with it.

That is, the radiation of the signal, obviously, optimized rather for uniform coverage of the surrounding area, than for one-way directional action, therefore, a network with multiple client devices will demonstrate good performance, if these devices are successfully distributed in space. At the same time, the maximum performance of Netgear significantly exceeds the capabilities of old weak routers and repeaters. The power consumption in standby mode is about half of the power of a full-fledged wireless router, and during data transmission, it almost does not increase (from 4.3 to about 4.5 watts).

Netgear WAC510 compared to TP-Link EAP245
TP-Link access point provides higher performance, while Netgear, thanks to its many features, presents more use cases

At high speeds: TP-Link EAP245

In appearance, TP-Link EAP245 resembles Netgear (and many other access points). But here, through a twisted pair, you can only establish an Uplink connection with the router (WAN), and it is impossible to connect the client device. Besides, there is no provision for using the device as a repeater and there is no configuring application for a smartphone.

Wireless Network Specialist
TP-Link EAP245 offers fewer features, than Netgear, but the wireless network of this device is more powerful, and it costs less

But TP-Link is a little cheaper, than Netgear, and in the 802.11ac standard, it does not reach a data transfer rate of 866, and as much as 1300 Mbit/s. The easiest way to configure it is in the web interface. The IP address can be found, as in the case of Netgear, in the router’s web interface. When starting for the first time, first set a username and a strong password for the web interface. The input system works in an orderly manner, responds instantly, and the device quickly applies the changes.

Attention: For TP-Link EAP245, you must first additionally activate WPA encryption for both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands

The real flaw in device security is that, that it creates two open networks by default (in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands), for the protection of which it is necessary to take separate measures. To do this, on the ‘Wireless’ tab and then ‘SSIDs’, click on the notepad icon next to ‘Modify’. Specify the wireless network name (SSID), for ‘Security Mode’, select ‘WPA-PSK’, for ‘Version’ - ‘WPA2-PSK’, enter a strong password for ‘Wireless Password’ and confirm the changes, by clicking the ‘OK’ button at the bottom. Then, at the top of the page, switch to a network in the 5 GHz band and repeat the same thing.

Access points: assortment

Due to the great popularity of access points in the business segment, the range of these devices is very wide, especially from specialized network equipment suppliers, for example, D-Link, Lancom or Ubiquity. Such devices cost more than 10,000 rubles and offer extensive functionality, not used at home. Therefore, we chose two available simple models from Netgear and TP-Link for testing.

High speed wireless network

All other default settings of EAP245 are intuitive. Some options may be of interest for commercial use of the device, for example, a splash page with terms of use. The Scheduler function turns out to be practical for home use, which enables and disables the wireless network according to the schedule.

EAP Controller provides centralized management of dozens of access points

In terms of performance measurement, the EAP245 access point impressed with both the results in the 802.11ac 5 GHz network, so it is in 802.11n 2.4 GHz. Compared to Netgear, the power of the TP-Link directional signal is greater - the maximum speed has been achieved, when the logo panel was facing the client device. But thanks to the large resources of speed in the usage scenario, in which we carried out measurements, TP-Link was faster than Netgear in all directions.

In general, The TP-Link EAP245 is a good choice for those, who needs a clean access point with the highest possible performance at a low price. Buying a Netgear WAC510 will justify itself in those cases, if, first of all, the device should be simple (with control from the application) or used not only as an access point, but also as a router or a WDS device. Anyway, professional devices will solve almost all the problems of coverage and transmission speed once and for all.