In my continuing quest to upgrade our home network to 802.11n wireless and gigabit throughout, I purchased the TP-Link TL-WA801ND wireless access point.
My reason for selecting this device was three fold:
- Easily affordable and I could write off the price of it if it turned out to be a turkey.
- Single manufacturer of networking infrastructure in my home once all the upgrades are complete, making interoperability more likely.
The third reason requires a little more explanation. TP-Link sell two models of AP that I was interested in. The TL-WA801ND and that TL-WA901ND. Upon first inspection the difference is clear in that the 901 has three antenna for greater wireless client antenna diversity, however upon receiving the specifications, you can see that the extra Â£9 on the 901 isn’t worth it. Both devices feature a 100Mbps LAN connection RJ-45 port. This means that even if your wireless device is connected using a 40MHz channel width at 300Mbps, the most the AP can push out onto the wired network is 100Mbps, so why am I concerned therefore about antenna diversity? I’m quite happy if the wireless speed drops to 130Mbps because I enforceÂ a 20MHz channel width as that is still faster that the wired interface. Had the 901 features a gigabit Ethernet port then the choice would be obviously the 901. An oversight on TP-Links device design teams in my opinion but that’s just me of course.
The first thing I will say about this device is that I was sceptical. The access point, brand new and boxed from Dabs Online via eBay was only Â£33. I personally couldn’t understand how someone could make a 300Mbps N rated access point for this price so quite frankly, I was expecting a Meccano set to arrive but not to include any of the tools required and that it would be a DIY access point. Oh how wrong I was.
First impressions are that the device looks a bit cheap and plasticy and doesn’t look as solid and robust as some other products available, but I figure that for Â£33 it’s almost disposable. It’s supplied with a passive PoE (Power over Ethernet) adapter allowing you to use the AP somewhere in your house without a nearby power socket, up to 30 metres away from the source of the power injection. This is a nice touch as Cisco for example, will charge you extra for a separate line item to include a power injector for PoE. The AP is wall mountable by means of two slot on, slot off screw positions on the underside and the wireless antenna are screw on type allowing you to select different antenna types such as uni-directional our outdoor if you require. The supplied antenna can be rotated and angled at any direction you like for optimal positioning if you wall or ceiling mount it.
Configuration is simple using the web interface and once I have resolved my issues, performance is also good. Transferring a file from a 300Mbps wireless client to my Home Server was done at 10MB/s (Megabytes), effectively maxing out the 100Mbps LAN connection. Some of the features include support for multiple AP modes (AP, Client, Multi-SSID and WDS Bridge). I am using it in Multi-SSID mode, connected to a trunk port on the wired side and it works great. There is also support to use the AP as a DHCP server, configure firewall rules up to Layer 4 and also a builtin traffic analyser to allow you to monitor throughput and performance of the access point.
I did have one issue which TP-Link support helped me to resolve, but other than that, the experience has been perfect. My issue was that when transferring files or streaming media content, it would drop the transfer speed to about 10 bytes/sec and would struggle to exceed 2MB/s. This turned out to be because the access point has a problem with LAN switch ports hard set to a specific speed and duplex configuration. My Cisco 2950 which it was connected to at the time was set to 100/Full. Setting the switch port back to Auto/Auto caused the port to stop generating FCS input errors and allowed the AP to negotiate it’s own speed (100/Full as it happens but never mind) and the performance instantly went ‘through the roof’.
Great product for a great price. I may be looking to buy another in the future to extend my range/signal at the top level of my multi-story town house home.