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Range Extender

In addition to being a traditional router, the Almond can also function as a Range Extender. In fact, judging from the Amazon reviews, many people purchase the Almond for this purpose alone. 

In this mode, the Almond connects wirelessly to another wireless router/AP and then repeats the signal, thus extending your wireless network.  You select the Range Extender from the first home screen on the touch UI.  In fact, you have to use the touch screen UI to change to the range extender mode – it doesn’t appear in the web UI.

If an Ethernet cable is plugged in, you are prompted to remove it.  The Almond then searches for nearby wireless networks and displays a list.  Each available network’s signal strength is shown with one, two or three bars.  You select the network that you want to extend.  Next, you enter the password (WPA PSK) for the selected network.   The Almond then saves the settings, attaches to the selected network and obtains an IP address.  After connecting, a status screen appears that shows that the device has internet connectivity, and lists the credentials needed to log in.

In my test, I selected an AP named "Puffin" that’s located in the lower level of my condo.  When the Range Extender setup completed, the status screen showed that the SSID of the Almond was "Puffin_almond".  The WPA password was the same one used for Puffin.  The main status screen also reflected that the Almond was in Range Extension mode, had internet connectivity, and displayed Puffin_almond and the password.  You couldn’t have asked for an easier setup.

Two features of the Almond's Range Extender function are worthy of note. First, it creates a different SSID than the network that it is extending. This is a very nice feature because it lets you select which device you are connecting to. Most range extenders broadcast the same SSID, so you can't choose where you connect to.

The other nice feature is that the extended network is also protected by WPA2/AES encryption. When you use WDS-based repeating, you can't get the different SSID and seldom get a connection secured by WPA2/AES.

For a quick functional check, I went to the lower level of my condo and positioned myself between Puffin and Puffin_almond. Using my iPad, I attached to Puffin_almond, and successfully streamed a Netflix TV episode. I connected an Ethernet cable between a notebook and one of the LAN ports to see if the Almond also worked as a bridge in the Range Extender mode. My notebook got an IP address from my network through the Almond, so I confirmed it works as a bridge.

I then ran a quick performance test. I positioned the Almond in the lower level of my condo - about halfway between Puffin and my office on the second floor.  I then measured the signal strength of both Puffin and Puffin_almond (the range extender) using inSSIDer.  The results are shown below.  Notice that Puffin, the AP, had a signal strength of -79dBm and Puffin_almond, the range extender, had a signal strength of -51dBm.  The range extender had a significantly (28 dB) stronger signal at my test location than the distant AP. (Each 3 dB represents a doubling of signal power.)

Wireless Site Survey for Range Extender Test

Wireless Site Survey for Range Extender Test

We're all conditioned to think that a stronger signal means that you'll get better performance.   That's often the case, but remember that if you're connected to a range extender, your throughput starts out reduced by half. This is because a single radio is receiving, then retransmitting the data.

To test the relative performance, I used Totusoft's LAN Speed Test to measure network throughput. (You can read more about LAN Speed Test here.)

First, I associated my computer to the range extender (Puffin_almond) and ran the read/write tests.  Note that my computer was reporting the maximum number of bars and excellent signal strength.  The image below shows the read/write performance using the range extender.

Lan Speed performance connected to the Almond configured as a range extender

Lan Speed performance connected to the Almond configured as a range extender

Next, while in the same location, I connected my computer directly to Puffin - the AP which the Almond used to extend.  Recall that Puffin had a 28 dBm weaker signal than Puffin_almond.  The image below shows the read/write performance results when connected directly to the weak AP.

Lan Speed performance connected to the weak AP named Puffin

Lan Speed performance connected to the weak AP named Puffin

I had expected fairly poor throughput when connected directly to the weak AP. But I was surprised that the throughput connected to the range extender wasn't much better.  The lesson here is that an extender might let you connect to your wireless network where you couldn't before. But it is never going to provide higher throughput because you always start out with a 50% throughput reduction.

AP Mode

It’s an unadvertised feature, but the Almond can also act as an access point (AP). Buried on the last home screen on the touch screen UI, you’ll find the AP icon. AP setup isn’t quite as smooth as the Range Extender's. For one thing, it doesn’t tell you which port (WAN or LAN) port to connect to your network.

When you select AP mode, the device reboots. Initially, I had plugged one of the LAN ports on the Almond into my network – it didn’t work. So I tried the WAN port, which worked. However, the status screen still indicated that the Almond was in Router mode, not AP. The SSID and password were displayed and it correctly showed the IP address received from my network.

Interestingly, it used the same SSID and password that it stored from my previous Range Extender test. Using the address on the status screen (on my network’s subnet), I was able to log into the Almond’s web UI. I also connected my notebook to one of the LAN ports and confirmed that the LAN ports were live and bridged in the AP mode.

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