Configuring the bridge to join an existing 802.11g network is easy and takes about five minutes. Just attach the device via Ethernet to a computer or hub on your network, load the accompanying CD into your computer, and let the CD's installation wizard take over. Unfortunately, the initial configuration requires an Ethernet connection; you can't set up the bridge via a wireless connection. Most access points and wireless routers allow for wireless configuration.
The configuration wizard, which runs off the CD, opens a window that connects to the bridge's setup tool. Although the wizard missed our WET54G test unit on the first scan, a few seconds later, it found the bridge. After you've established a network connection between your computer and the bridge, enter the default password at the prompt and restart the bridge--you're ready to roll.
The WET54G's square plastic case shows a subtle departure from the company's typical, rounded corporate look. About a quarter of the size of the typical access point, this small, light bridge fits easily into a bookcase or behind a computer, but it's good-looking enough to blend into most rooms. The bridge doesn't require special software on the connected equipment; it's treated like a wireless length of Ethernet cable. You can even plug it into the Ethernet port on an access point to add an additional coverage area to your existing WLAN.
The WET54G's exterior elements are straightforward. Three LEDs on the front panel display power (on/off), Ethernet traffic, and wireless network activity. The back panel includes a 100Mbps Fast Ethernet port and an MDIX switch that lets you connect to an Ethernet hub or switch with a standard Ethernet cable. A recessed Reset button on the back panel returns the device to its default settings if problems arise. The removable antenna swivels 360 degrees and at a variety of angles to fine-tune the signal. Unscrew the antenna, and you will find an SMC connector, should you want to connect a high-gain antenna for increased range.
As versatile as the bridge is, at $180, the WET54G is priced higher than many four-port wireless routers. Considering that this is one of the first 802.11g bridges to hit the shelves, the high price is still fair. However, expect the price on 802.11g bridges to fall considerably by the end of the year. You can get the Linksys WET11 bridge for about $100, but you will have to settle for the reduced throughput of 802.11b. The Linksys Wireless-G Ethernet bridge's built-in Web server makes it easy to tweak security and network settings. Just point Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator (version 4.0 or higher) to the bridge's IP address, which you configured during installation, to bring up the wireless bridge's configuration screens. Although it's not documented, the bridge works just as well with the Opera 7.11 Web browser.
You can attach a more sensitive antenna to the WET54G to increase its range.
The device ran perfectly in our informal home-office tests with its default transmit-and-receive settings. If you need to optimize the bridge for situations where range and signal strength are less than ideal, you have access to a good variety of resources on the Advanced screen, from adjusting transmission rate and authentication type to threshold settings for RTS and fragmentation. The Status screen shows a summary of settings along with the number of packets coming and going.
The Wireless-G bridge can also clone the MAC address of another device on your network. This is useful if you want to connect the bridge to a router that is configured to allow access only to devices with specific MAC addresses.
With up to 128-bit WEP encryption, the WET54G's security is on a par with that of most wireless devices sold today (just remember that the unit comes with WEP disabled; you'll want to enable it or employ another security scheme right away). Before fall, Linksys will have a downloadable update to the bridge's firmware to encompass the now-ratified 802.11g specification, as well as to include Wi-Fi protected area (WPA) encryption, which enhances security by frequently changing the encryption keys. WPA is a significant improvement over WEP, and we expect it to become the security method of choice by year's end. In CNET Labs' tests, the Linksys WET54G was a long-distance runner rather than a sprinter. Although its bandwidth is rated at 54Mbps, the device's peak throughput of 14.8Mbps is less than what we have seen in 802.11g-based access points and routers. In mixed-mode testing, throughput dropped to 7.6Mbps, again slightly off the pace set by the best 802.11g devices. With a range of 200 feet, the Linksys bridge could cover about 100,000 square feet horizontally, and we were also able to connect to a floor above and below. Even at 100 feet, the point at which many access points we've tested lose contact, the WET54G was able to maintain a throughput rate of about 10Mbps, twice as fast as a good 802.11b connection at a range of 5 feet.
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software with Chariot 4.4 Endpoints as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at various distances from the access point and to automatically select the best transmit speed. All tests are run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol and are run in our CNET offices over channel 11. Our tests indicate the range you can expect in a typical office environment, but range in your own home or office may differ. You may be able to achieve better performance in situations where you can establish a clear line of sight. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
CNET Labs throughput tests (Distance in feet)
In addition to a print server, a switch, and a hub, the WET54G was able to connect to a variety of PC Ethernet adapters, some six years old, others factory fresh. It worked just as well with the Linksys WAP54G and WAP51AB access points as with a Netgear WAB102 dual-band access point. We also attached a new network segment with three computers to the Linksys Wireless-G bridge via a D-Link DSS-5+ five-port switch; it doled out a full-screen video stream to one computer while downloading software on another and pumping out Internet radio on a third. With a three-year warranty, the Linksys Wireless-G Ethernet bridge has a good service-and-support offering. It's short of Belkin's lifetime policy but on a par with that of most Netgear products. If you have problems, you can call the company's toll-free 24/7 support hotline. At the time this article posted, all that was available online specifically for the WET54G was its documentation. We hope that there will soon be WET54G content as useful as the rest of what we saw on Linksys's support Web pages, including a knowledge base, driver and software downloads, and FAQs. There's even a place to review your warranty information.