Netgear announces new tools for extending the range of your Wi-Fi network

Netgear Nighthawk EX7000

Netgear is one of the bigger players in the router market, but we won’t be seeing any new products from them in that space at this year’s CES. That’s not to say Netgear hasn’t been busy, just that they’ve been working on other products of late, including several new Wi-Fi range extenders, power-line network adapters, NAS boxes, firmware updates for existing products, and more. I’ll cover the first two two products here.

Netgear took the wraps off three new Wi-Fi range extenders today: The entry-level AC750 Essentials Edition (model number EX3700), the mid-range AC1200 (model number EX6150), and the top-of-the-line Nighthawk AC1900 (model number EX7000).

Netgear range extenders

This abstract illustration from Netgear shows how wireless range extenders operate. 

Netgear senior product-line manager Damir Skripic told me in an embargoed briefing last month that the market for Wi-Fi range extenders is hot because 80 percent of consumers find dead spots in their home. “When you have a lot of Wi-Fi devices in the home,” Skripic said, “the devices move around a lot more.” And that exposes dead spots.

The best place to locate a router is high up in the center of your home, but that ideal is usually impossible to achieve because it’s so inconvenient. Home builders just don’t put phone or cable TV jacks high up the wall in the middle of the house; and for aesthetic reasons, you probably wouldn’t want to put a router there even if they did. So you stick the router in a closet somewhere and suffer with dead spots.

Range extenders

Range extenders can resolve that problem by picking up your router’s signal and repeating it so that nearby clients see a stronger signal. The range extenders then send data from those clients back to the distant router using radios and antennas that are more.powerful than what's in the clients themselves.

Netgear FastLane technology

Better wireless range extenders dedicate one radio to transmitting and a second to receiving. This preserves the full link rate for each radio.

But some range extenders use the same radio to send data back to the router that they use to receive data from it, so their throughput is effectively cut in half. All three of Netgear’s new extenders are dual-band models that use the company’s FastLane technology: The full link rate of one radio is used to transmit, while the full link rate of the other is used to transmit.

Netgear EX7000

Netgear's best wireless range extender: The Nighthawk AC1900 (aka the Netgear EX7000).

The $170 Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 (aka the Netgear EX7000) is Netgear’s most powerful range extender, but it can be difficult to hide: It’s housed in a large plastic enclosure with three external antennas. In fact, it looks just like some routers; it even has five gigabit ethernet ports on its back panel and can also operate as a wireless bridge.

The EX7000 delivers TCP throughput of up to 1300Mbps on the 5GHz frequency band and up to 600Mbps of throughput on the 2.4GHz band. It’s outfitted with a USB 3.0 port, so you can share USB storage or a USB printer on the network, and it has an onboard DLNA server for streaming media.

Netgear says the EX7000 can cover an area of 10000 square feet, but you can reduce its range if you live in a smaller home and want to limit the reach of your SSID.

Netgear EX6150

The Netgear EX1650 wireless range extender.

The $120 EX1650, meanwhile, plugs straight into an AC outlet. “People like wall-plug designs,” Skripic said, “because they blend into the environment better. But they have less real estate to include components, and there are thermal restrictions that restrict which chipsets you can use.”

The EX1650 is a dual-band model that can support clients with TCP throughput up to 900Mbps on the 5GHz frequency band, and up to 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency band. It’s outfitted with one gigabit Ethernet port and can be configured to operate as either a Wi-Fi access point or a range extender.

Netgear EX3700

The Netgear EX3700 wireless range extender.

Netgear markets the $80 EX3700 as its “Essentials Edition” range extender. It’s the least expensive and has the most compact design, but there’s a trade-off in terms of performance.

This range extender can deliver TCP throughput of up to 433Mpbs on the 5GHz band, and up to 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Like the EX1650, it has a single gigabit Ethernet port and can be configured to operate as either a range extender or a Wi-Fi access point.

Power-line network adapters

The new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is awesome, but there are some environments where no wireless technology will work effectively. Homes with masonry walls, multiple floors, or walls with aluminum studs can wreak havoc with wireless signals. In those situations, power-line networking can be a lifesaver.

The HomePlug Alliance recently finalized the HomePlug AV2 standard, which leverages MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology and beam forming. Where previous HomePlug AV devices carried data only on a pairing of the line and neutral wires of a power cable, HomePlug AV2 devices can make use of any pairing of the line, neutral, and ground wires.

Beamforming, meanwhile, tunes the signal so that data travels the most efficient route between point A and point B. Beamforming over power lines is essentially the same concept as beamforming with wireless devices. In older homes that don’t have ground wires, the technology automatically falls back to SISO (single input/single output) mode.

Netgearl PL1200

Netgear's PL1200 and PLP1200 power-line network adapters are virtually identical, apart from the latter's AC pass-through plug.

Today, Netgear announced two new HomePlug AV2 power-line adapters with claimed TCP throughput of up to 1.2Gbps. Both come in kits with two adapters, each of which has a single gigabit ethernet port. You connect one adapter to your router and the other to the device that you want to add to your network.

Netgear PL1200

The Netgear PL1200 HomePlug AV2 network adapter.

Netgear says the typical home can support up to 16 adapters. Netgear’s power-line adapters have a feature called “pick a plug” that helps you find the AC outlet that will enable the adapter to perform best: An LED lights up when you plug the adapter into the outlet that receives the strongest signal from the adapter at the other end.

Netgear PLP1200

The Netgear PLP1200 HomePlug AV2 network adapter. 

The $80 Powerline 1200 Adapter Kit (Netgear model number PL1200) and the $90 Powerline 1200 + Extra Outlet Adapter (Netgear model number PLP1200) are basically identical save for one feature: The PLP1200 has an AC pass-through, so you don’t lose an outlet when you plug it in. The PL1200 does not.

Both adapters should be available later this month.

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