Netgear WN3000RP WiFi extender 

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WiFi's become an almost indispensable adjunct to our computing and home entertainment, but it has its quirks. It passes easily through interior stud walls - unless they happen to be foil-insulated - but can grind to a halt when confronted with brick. UK regulations limit transmission power, and hence the range, and dead spots are not uncommon in traditionally-constructed British homes. Sod's law dictates that these will exactly coincide with the location of your Net-connected set-top box, or your favorite place for using your laptop or tablet. It's a problem that happily has a neat solution. But until the Netgear WN3000RP arrived on my desk I had no idea how simple it could be to set up a Wi-Fi extender.

The device resembles an oversized 3-pin mains plug - with wings. The idea is that it should live on the periphery of your present Wi-Fi's signal area, and act as a relay that will cover your dead zone.

The wings are a pair of articulated stub aerials that can be positioned for maximum signal strength. LED indicators on the top surface of the device show the strength of the signal from the original wireless access point and the signal strength of the connection to the WiFi client device it is serving. There is also a power-on indicator and a separate light for initiating Wi-Fi WPS security.

To set up the Netgear WiFi extender you simply plug it into a mains socket somewhere well within range of the wireless access point (AP) you want to relay.  In most cases this means plugging it into a mains socket in the same room as your central router.  But this location is purely temporary - once the connection is set up you can move the extender anywhere else, as long as it can get some kind of signal from that original AP.

The power light should come on immediately you plug the extender into its main socket. If it doesn't you'll need to toggle the power on-off switch on the side of the device. (This switch is a classy touch not usually found in low-cost network equipment. It makes it easy to power down the device when not in use without the need to unplug it, something you might want to do not just for energy saving, but also for security).

The next step is to set up the link between the extender and your main AP. If your AP has WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) this is simply a matter of pressing the WPS button on the extender, and then - sometime within the following two minutes - pressing the equivalent button on your AP. Black magic takes place between the two devices, they flail about across the frequencies until they find one another, then handshake and exchange information, and, lo, mysteriously, the link is established.

If you want to get a much better idea of what's going on under the covers you can use the browser-based set-up detailed in the very comprehensive manual. Either way, once the Client LED on the extender goes solid green and your link to the main AP is established, you now have new AP that you can reposition at the fringe of your current reception in order to fill in your dead spot. The set-up data is retained when the extender is disconnected, so it's easy to unplug it and move it around to find the best position.

By default the extender adopts the same Service Set Identifier (SSID) as the AP it's bridging to, adding _EXT to the name. Simply use the WiFi scanning feature of your phone, tablet or laptop to find this name and connect to it as you would any ordinary AP. Optionally you can also make a wired connection to the extender by way of the standard RJ45 Ethernet socket at the bottom of the device.

Downsides: it's single band - 2.4GHz only - so if your client device also has access to the less crowded 5GHz waveband it will have to sacrifice this option. This means too that the Netgear extender can't handle the new super-fast 802.11ac protocol that some phones and laptops (like the Samsung Galaxy Note and the MacBook Air) have already adopted and which will certainly become ubiquitous within the next few years.

Advanced features like this could easily double the price of a device like this. But the WN3000RP WiFi extender, well-built and thoroughly documented, certainly makes a worthwhile low cost, short-term investment.

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