Buffalo AirStation 54Mbps Wireless Compact Repeater Bridge-g

By Joseph Moran

March 02, 2004

This petite product pulls multiple duties, working extremely well as an access point but with only adequately when trying to extend range.

Model: WLA-G54C
Price: $199
Pros: Small, supports bridging and repeater functions
Cons: Poor range in repeater mode

As its name says, the Buffalo Technology's AirStation 54Mbps Wireless Compact Repeater Bridge-g (WLA-G54C) is a petite multifunction WLAN device that can act as an access point, repeater, or a wireless bridge.

Features

The WLA-G54C is housed in a much smaller package than Buffalos related router/AP. In fact, its in the same small vertical chassis as the companys USB WLAN adapter, so its compact enough to be unobtrusive almost anywhere. The unit includes a flat base for desktop operation as well as a wall-mounting bracket. Like all Buffalo products, the Broadcom-chipset WLA-654C uses an internal antenna system, and an MC-type connector is provided for use with external antennas.

The configuration interface of the WLA-G54C is the same as that of Buffalos other products, which is to say its not the most well-designed or intuitive layout, but its easy enough to master once you become familiar with its idiosyncrasies. (One example: features that arent available in the device, like packet filtering, still are presented in the menus.)

Other strangeness: When I plugged the unit in for the first time, both of the indicators (only twoEthernet and Wireless) were dark -- the unit takes about 5-10 seconds to come online and illuminate its lights.

When in AP mode, the WLA-G54C offers a full compliment of wireless features, including output power adjustable in 1mW increments (22 mW is the maximum), and wireless privacy separation, to prevent WLAN clients from accessing each other. In addition to WEP, both WPA (with either TKIP or AES encryption) and RADIUS authentication are supported.

AP Performance

As an access point, the performance of the WLA-G54C was quite good, particularly at shorter distances. Throughput was a robust 21.83 Mbps at 10 feet, and remained relatively high through most of the distance range18.33 Mbps at 25 feet, 17.04 at 50 feet, 15.48 at 75 feet, 6.32 at 100 feet and 3.43 at 125 feet.

Mixed mode performance at 10 feet was 11.64 Mbps, while turning on WPA encryption resulted in the typical penalty, reducing throughput at 10 feet from 21.83 to 15.25.

Repeater Performance

The WLA-G54C bridge and repeater functions operate using the standardized Wireless Distribution System (WDS) specification. As a repeater, the range of the WLA-G54C was somewhat of a disappointment, at least in the environments I tested the product in.

I set up the WLA-G54C to extend the range of a Buffalo WBR-G54 router, and positioned the unit at about the 125 foot mark, just shy of where the signal was lost by a client machine. But while the client was able to maintain a solid (albeit low-speed) connection to the router at that distance, the WLA-G54Cs own connection to the router was intermittent at best. My client was able to access the repeater from extended distances, but most of the time there was no connection between the repeater and the router. When there was, the latency rendered it essentially unusable.

Moving the repeater closer to the router (cutting the distance by roughly half) shored up the signal strength between the two considerably, but that in turn limited how far I could truly extend the network.

I tried a similar setup at home with a similar result; the WLA-G54C as repeater could only get about 50 feet away from the router before communication between the two would cease, even though a client could maintain a connection with the router at a greater distance.

Admittedly, both locations (which include copious amounts of metal and masonry block wall) are more challenging than a typical drywall environment. Still, I would have expected to get more air between the devices, especially when the purpose of a repeater is to extend range of the network as far as possible.

Bottom Line: External Antennas Needed

Buffalo attributed the reduced repeater range of the WLA-G54C to the overhead needed by WDS, and suggested that external antennas would produce better results. Thats almost certainly true, and it turns out that the WLA-G54C is in fact a recent replacement for a prior generation product which lacked the external antenna connection.

The fact that Buffalo redesigned the product to facilitate an external antenna speaks to its importance, but the added cost of one or more external antennas may make extending your network considerably more expensive than you planned.

For its part, Buffalo says it was selling such a high percentage of repeaters with its routers, that the company now offers the WLA-G54C along with the WBR-G54 router in a pre-configured bundle.

My guess is that a fair number of people who attempt to extend their network with the WLA-G54C will need to resort to external antennas. It performs well enough as an access point, but low power output and internal antennas seem to limit the devices usefulness as a repeater, at least in environments that are anything less than RF-friendly.



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