One of the most common problems with wireless networking is the lack of range provided by many access points. Manufacturers are continuing to innovate in this area, but it's something that often can't be helped.
And that's where this new product from Linksys is designed to help you out. It connects into any conventional 802.11g wireless network in order to improve its range. It does this by simply boosting the signal that it's fed.
You might see other products on the market that are called repeaters, which effectively do the same job. Because it's designed to boost signals where wireless coverage is patchy, it's not something you should put near your access point - there would be no point. You'll need to think about where you decide to position it.
If your access point is on the ground floor of your house, you might want to extend its reach into the garden, for example. In that case, why not place the Range Expander next to a window that's overlooking the garden. You might also want to place it on the first floor to extend the range of your network up to the top of your house.
Basically speaking, if you've got a small flat, you're not going to need this kit since it doesn't help with boosting wireless at close quarters. Likewise, it's not going to boost the bandwidth you can get out of your access point, simply the distance at which your wireless can operate (of course, you can get better throughput at a further distance with the device).
However, if you own a house with 17th century two-foot thick walls, it'll help you no end. Likewise, you could use the WRE54G to get your wireless signal round an obstacle, such as a meeting room in the centre of an office floor. In any situation, it may well be that you'll need to experiment with it in several positions before you find the one that improves your signal the most.
And it works rather well. Linksys suggests that it will improve the signal of mixed 802.11b networks, and it certainly boosted into areas that we didn't expect it to reach. It's always difficult to estimate improvements of wireless coverage, but we reckon that it gave us around a 40 per cent boost in an open space, which is really quite impressive. This isn't likely to be the case if you're using it to boost the signal in a thickly-walled building, of course.
The WRE54G won't look out of place in your digital home, either. Linksys has thankfully dumped its grotesque bright blue livery for all new home networking products, and the Range Expander is decked out in a nice shiny silver that'll blend in nicely with the rest of your kit.
Setup is easy if you haven't got any security enabled on your network, since there's an Auto Configuration button that you just hold down to get the device working - it auto-senses your wireless network and sets itself up automatically. Clever it may be, but you should really have security enabled on your network.
If you have, then you have to enter into the Setup Wizard on the included CD and set up the encryption settings for your network. It only works with WEP though, not the more sophisticated WPA.
However, the WRE54G isn't cheap. And as such you'll have to have a serious problem with your network to warrant its purchase. However, if you do have disappointing signal, you'll probably have decided by now if it's something you need or not.