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Up until recently, I had taken Wi-Fi for granted, just like electricity or radio reception, always available at the press of a button or flick of a switch. However, when I took my laptop or smart phone into one of my rooms, furthest from the router, I lost Wi-Fi connection and therefore could not use either for internet access whilst in that particular room. Most inconvenient but had to resign myself to the fact that the room was off limits where the internet was concerned.
Then a few weeks ago I discovered that there were devices that would overcome the problem of thick walls and, or weak Wi-Fi signals, naturally, I chose the cheapest and what promised to be the simplest to set up.. the Huawai Repeater, a device that when plugged into the mains and pared wirelessly to the router, would extend the signal... but it was not at all simple and eventually I gave up and sent it back, having found that others were also suffering the same problems with it as myself.
Rather than mess around and add to my list of failures, I visited my local computer store and sought their advice.
They introduced me to the TP-Link Extender systems of which there are several. I explained that I required a wireless set up that would not tax my brain to the limit of its ability. So into my life came the TP-Link AV200 Wireless N Powerline Extender Starter Kit... to give it its full name. Not to be confused with Powerline only, extender kits these require wired connections to a computer or laptop, as well as the router, via their Ethernet ports.
What was in the box?
The 300 Mbps AV200 Starter kit adapters TL-WPA281 and TL-PA211
2 x RJ-45 120cm length Ethernet cables
The Quick installation guide
A small resource CD.
At my local shop it cost me £78, but can be bought at Asda for around £67 and Amazon for a little less. It is worth shopping around if you are tech-savvy but if, like myself, you struggle with computers and the like when it comes to setting up, it may be worth your while buying it from your local computer dealers who can guide you through every step.
The two plastic adapters are slightly different in size. The smaller of the two, TL-PA211 to be connected to the router measures: Ht: 9cm, Width: 6cm, Depth: 3cm. The mains plug is at the top of the back of the unit, which has a glossy white top and front and black sides and base. On the front of this unit there are three icons lit by green LED bulbs when powered. On the base is the Ethernet port, a pair button and reset button.
The larger adapter TL-WPA281 measures Ht: 10cm, Width: 6cm Depth: 4cm.This plugs into the mains in the room where there is no Wi-Fi signal and the computing device is to be used. It looks the same as the smaller one, but has an extra icon/button on the front, the WiFi/WPS button
How does this kit work?
In some houses where the inner walls are solid or the room is too far away from the router, the Wi-Fi signal cannot reach the laptop or Smartphone therein and internet access is lost.
When set up, the TP-Link extenders, extends the internet access to every room in the house, wirelessly through the household mains circuit, where only the router is connected to one of the adapters with an Ethernet cable and the adapter is plugged into the mains. The second adapter is just plugged into the mains in the room you require to use your laptop etc. No Ethernet connection to this second adapter is necessary for the wireless set up.
It does not boost the Wi-Fi signal, but extends it through the mains circuit. Rather like opening a new path for the signal to travel along.
However, if there is no wireless router, the same extenders can be used in the same way except that both router and the laptop/net book, or computer will need to be connected to the respective adapters by Ethernet cables provided.
Hence, this starter kit is not only a Wireless Wi-Fi extender, but also a Powerline Wi-Fi extender. Compatible with Widows 7, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 8 although the set up procedures listed are for W7,WXP and WVista.
The wireless Frequency is 2.4Ghz which, incidentally is the same as a microwave.
The data transfer rates along a 985-feet line, for the wireless set up, is 300 Mbps and for the powerline set up, a slightly slower rate of 200 Mbps, so if a longer distance link is required then another single adapter can be installed to extend the Wi-Fi up to a further 985-feet.
According to the literature, the system "can be connected to all network compatible devices and gives a smooth, skip free multiple HD video streaming."
Wireless set up:
I was reliably informed that although the system came with a 128-bit encryption for data protection and network security. It was less secure than the router network security and it was suggested that for a more secure system, it would be better to use the same network security as the router; in other words change the encryption in the adapter to that of the one in the router.
Oer, I was beginning to think this was going to be more complicated than I first thought and seeing my hesitation, the sales person offered to set it up for me if I brought the router down to the shop. I am not one to pass up on such an offer and dutifully popped home to fetch my router.
However, let me assure you that the well-illustrated, step-by-step instructions that came with the kit makes the process easy to follow and complete. All it involved was connecting the adapter to the router via the Ethernet port , inserting the CD into the CD-ROM drive and clicking on an icon that appears at the bottom of the desktop then following the instructions inserting the router network key into the adapter.
The Powerline Set up looks much simpler. The small TL-PA211 adapter is connected to the router by the Ethernet cable. The larger TL-WPA281 unit is plugged into the mains in whichever room is to be used, and press the pair buttons on each of them in turn within 2 minutes of each other to link them up and open the Wi-Fi pathway.
If for whatever reason, my network was changed, then the adapters can be reset using the reset button on the base (using a pin or paper clip) and set up again in the new system.
It took about five minutes for the adapter to be encrypted with the same network security key as my router and about the same length of time to re-connect router to my computer.
I plugged the small, adapter into the mains and connected it with the Ethernet cable to my router. Plugged the other adapter into the distant room, switched on at the mains, pressed the front WiFi/WPS button and hey presto within a few seconds I had a Wi-Fi signal in the room for the first time ever. This was indicated by my smart phone, informing me it had connected.
I would advise any technophobes when purchasing this from their local computer stores, to ask if they will help with wireless the set up and changing the security of the adapter to that of your own router, if you take your router down. It does save a lot of time and effort, because sometimes when panic mode kicks in, mistakes are made.
I do not keep it switched on all the time, it seems pointless when I am not using that particular room, even though when not used it automatically switches to power-saving mode and energy consumption is reduced by up to 85%.
The Ethernet cables are just over a meter in length, so for me it was too far away from the mains supply to enable me to connect it to the router without using a short extension lead into which the adapter was plugged.
I mention this because the instructions have a couple of smileys, one of which is set into a frown on a diagram with the adapter plugged into an extension lead. I had a horrible feeling that it would not work if I used one, but that proved not to be the case. I suspect it is because that by adding more wire to the mains, lengthens the distance the Wi-Fi has to travel but for my system I had not added much length and the distance between one adapter and the next is still less than 985 feet.
Does it work? Yes, it does. Would I recommend this system? Most certainly if you have thick internal walls and areas in your home where you cannot receive Wi-Fi connections.