Like every other technology, Wi-Fi is constantly evolving. You buy the latest-and-greatest networking gear, and in a few years it’s considered old and slow. The alphabet soup of wireless standards has expanded from a, b, g to now include n—plus y for enterprises. The signals are faster, stronger and more secure.
While upgrading the brains of your networking gear—the firmware and drivers—provides many of these enhancements, you usually have to replace your equipment to take advantage of most new features and technologies. For instance, you must buy new hardware to take advantage of the emerging standard, 802.11n (or Draft N now), which offers increased range, faster data rates, and better performance.
TrendNet markets the 300Mbps Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader (TEW-637AP) as an easy way to upgrade your wireless network to the wireless N standard, without having to throw out your existing gear.
Why buy the upgrader instead of replacing the wireless router? This is a good question. Most people probably just swap their router out with a new one. However, as the following bullets discuss, there are advantages to keeping your router and just adding the Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader—another access point (AP):
- Easier installation: You get to keep your router in place and with the same settings. This is a bigger deal if you have changed advanced settings, such as port forwarding, or if your Internet connection requires manual configuration.
- Larger coverage area: If you place both the existing router and the upgrader correctly, you can get even more coverage out of your network. Remember, that would involve running an Ethernet cable from the router to the upgrader that’s located where the coverage boundaries of each overlap a bit.
- Retain support for old adapters: Though 802.11n is supposed to work with 802.11b/g, you still might find some older wireless adapters can’t connect to n routers—this might improve with the finalized standard. Keeping your wireless b or g router powered on ensures you won’t lose connectivity from any of your computers.
Glancing Over the Features
The TrendNet Upgrader’s small, slick-looking, housing includes the usual status lights, network port and the power receptacle. It also sports a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button that you can use in conjunction with supportive wireless adapters. This lets you configure the wireless security with just a few mouse clicks.
|TrendNet’s 300Mbps Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader lets you upgrade to wireless N speed and range without replacing your slower router.|
Overall, we found the Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader to be a toned down, user-friendly access point. It doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles some other APs offer, however this is fine for small businesses or households that want a simple upgrade to wireless N capability.
It supports the latest Draft N 2.0 standard and can also serve as a mixed network with 802.11b or g clients. It also supports the latest encryption methods, WPA/WPA2 personal and enterprise, along with the old and unsecure method, WEP.
The Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader does offer one advanced feature, multiple SSIDs. This lets you broadcast up to four different signals with varying security measures. This comes in handy, for example, if you still must use WEP encryption for some of your older equipment that doesn’t support WPA capability. Since you cannot take advantage of the higher speeds wireless N offers when using WEP, you can create a separate signal for the older machines and one for the new N clients.
Installation and Configuration
The Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader comes with a simple configuration wizard. We just popped in the bundled CD and accessed the Windows-based utility. It helped us choose the IP address scheme and set the encryption.
Many other regular access points require you to configure your adapter with a static IP address in order to connect to and configure the new access point, and then require you to reconfigure the adapter.
Simply put, the Easy-N-Upgrader does make the installation simpler. Another plus is that you’re prompted at the end of the wizard to print and/or save the network and encryption details. You can quickly store them in a safe place.
The only gripe we have about the installation is that the wizard doesn’t let you configure the enterprise version of WPA/WPA2. Though you can set this all up from the Web-based utility later, it would be nice if it were available from the wizard, for those who have access to the required RADIUS server.
Though TrendNet and other wireless vendors try to make upgrading to wireless N seem so easy, sometimes it isn’t. Here are several things to consider when making the upgrade:
- To take advantage of all the great enhancements wireless N offers, your wireless adapter(s) need to support wireless N as well.
- The advertised speed (300Mbps) isn’t the real rate at which your data will travel. The actual speed of any wireless standard is usually less than 50 percent of the stated theoretical amount.
- This particular upgrader has a 10/100Mbps network port, thus file transfers to and from clients not wirelessly connected to the upgrader will be at least under that speed. If your router doesn’t support Gigabit Ethernet, similar bottleneck would occur with other access points. However, this limitation doesn’t apply for file sharing among clients wirelessly connected to the same Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader. Additionally, this doesn’t really affect networks unless the wireless router is replaced with one that supports wireless N or Gigabit Ethernet, or if more than one wireless N AP exists.
- The Draft N speeds can’t be achieved when using WEP encryption; it’s not supported by the 802.11n standard—for good reason, it’s not secure.
- The Draft N speeds are capped at 130Mbps if the default 20-MHz-wide channel setting is left as is—40MHz is required for maximum speed. On the Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader, this setting can be changed on the Basic Wireless Settings page of the Web-based utility.
- Remember, you should also secure the upgrader product with encryption and any other security measures you use on your existing router, such as MAC address filtering.
We found TrendNet’s 300Mbps Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader provides a way for you to add wireless n support to your Wi-Fi network, in one the simplest and easiest methods possible. Though it does lack a Gigabit network port, most people won’t be affected if there’s only one wireless N access point on the network.
Keep in mind, the MIMO technology these wireless N products use also helps increase range even if the high speeds can’t be used or if older wireless g adapters are stilling being used on the network.
Product: 300Mbps Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader (TEW-637AP)
Price: $69.99 MSRP ($47+ online)
Pros: Easy install; multiple SSIDs
Cons: 100Mbps max network port
Eric Geier is the founder and president of Sky-Nets, Ltd., a Wi-Fi hotspot network. He is also the author of many networking and computing books, including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and 100 Things You Need to Know about Microsoft Windows Vista (Que 2007).
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.