Extending The Range Of Wireless Networks

By: Ken Snow

Although a wireless transmitter is limited in its range, wireless extension points can be installed to boost its signal and make the range of the network much larger. These wireless extension points are commonly known as repeaters.

Several companies have started to manufacture wireless repeaters, despite the fact that these devices are not part of the wireless standard. Wireless repeaters are designed to resolve certain problems with wireless coverage. The further away you are from where the wireless signal originates, the weaker the signal becomes. Eventually, you can't receive the signal at all, regardless of what equipment you have. The problem is sometimes addressed by running wires out as far as the network coverage is desired, and then have it 'break out' into wireless every now and then using a wireless access point. This is generally more trouble than it is worth, since the idea behind a wireless network is to avoid installing wires! Wireless repeaters resolve the problem in a much better way.

Wireless repeaters work as a relay, taking existing wireless signals and making them stronger. This makes the range of a signal bigger each time. If the repeaters are placed correctly, you can move computers a considerable distance from the wired portion of the network, the router or access point, for example, without failure. The single requirement of this arrangement is that the extension points must overlap; a repeater can't repeat signals that it doesn't receive. Since wireless networking signals are essentially radio signals, repeaters take all the radio signals they receive on a specific frequency and use their power to amplify the signals and rebroadcast them. The signal is not degraded in this process, so it can be repeated as many time as required.

Theoretically, wireless repeaters could be placed in a line for several miles, extending the network out that far, and because these extension points don't need complicated computer technology to operate, they are much cheaper than routers or access points. Some companies combine repeaters and direction antennas to link to LANs that are several miles apart. This is a cheaper method than worrying about connecting over the Internet or installing their own underground lines. In the future, repeater technology could create wireless networks that cover entire cities.

As a consumer, you are currently limited to getting your repeater from large manufacturing firms such as Linksys and D-Link. These companies call their repeaters by different names, including Linksys' Range Expander and D-Link's Range Extender. There are several issues to consider when buying a wireless extension point. The most important is to make sure that it is compatible with the equipment you have. Because there is no standard for wireless extension points, you're better off staying with the same company that makes the rest of your equipment or at least investigate whether any new equipment will work with your system. You should also find out whether an extension point has any Ethernet ports. While it isn't necessary that this is included, it is useful if you want to connect the extension to a wired network. This issue arises basically if you want to connect two LANs in a wireless manner.

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