Expanding a wireless network can be a chore, but Buffalo's WLA-G54C wireless compact repeater bridge makes it easier. The repeater uses a technology called WDS (wireless distribution system) to relay data between other Buffalo access points and computers that would otherwise be outside your coverage area. Buffalo's repeater can also act as a wireless bridge between separate networks or add 802.11g connectivity to Ethernet-enabled devices, such as gaming consoles. We think this is one of the best repeater/bridge products available, but we were disappointed with the documentation and the help offered through Buffalo's administration tool. If you're new to networking but need a bridge, you may also want to consider the less powerful but easier-to-use Linksys WET54G. Installing the Buffalo WLA-G54C repeater bridge is surprisingly easy for such a specialized networking device. A printed, quick-setup guide walks you through the four-step process, and a CD with an electronic manual is also in the package for reference. You'll find all the hardware you need in the box, including a 7-foot Ethernet cable, an AC adapter, a power cord, and a mounting bracket. An antenna connector on the back of the repeater lets you add a Buffalo AirStation antenna.
You can choose to make your initial connection to the repeater with either a wireless or wired connection, and the quick-setup guide has decent instructions for both. In either case, you access the repeater through its Web-based configuration tool by typing its default IP address into the address bar of a browser on a connected computer. The Web-based tool's welcome page prominently lists security links for setting up WEP and MAC address filters but also lets you opt out of the security setup through an Advanced button. Having all of these options at the outset might confuse some. Fortunately, clicking through to the repeater's configuration settings is virtually foolproof; it's just not explained well in the guide.
Once you've arrived at the Web-based tool's settings pages, you must configure the repeater to join your network. Those who have never configured a network will need to dig around a little. The Web-based tool offers help on each of the repeater's features, but the descriptions are at times confusing and read like poor translations. In contrast, the electronic manual is well written but lacks step-by-step configuration sections. The Buffalo WLA-G54C repeater bridge has the richest feature set of any bridge we've seen. Excellent security features and WDS support set it apart from other bridges, such as the Linksys WET54G.
The repeater's WDS supports connections with up to six other Buffalo WDS-enabled AirStations such as the Buffalo AirStation router. With WDS enabled, the repeater also functions as an access point that can transmit data to standard Wi-Fi adapters, making it easy to expand your wireless network coverage into the areas you need it most. You can disable the repeater's WDS operation, which lets you use the device as a standard bridge, such as the Sony PCWA-DE30 or the Linksys WET54G.
The Buffalo repeater touts the latest in security options. In addition to the standard 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption, the repeater supports the newer WPA and 802.1x schemes. You can set the repeater to allow or deny connections to a specified list of MAC addresses, and a Privacy Separator can be enabled to deny direct connections between wireless computers.
The repeater lets you save its configuration to a file on a PC, making it easy to restore your settings in case of a meltdown. A handy reset button on the bottom of the device returns the repeater to its default settings should you forget your password and find yourself locked out of the device. As a bridge, the Buffalo WLA-G54C repeater bridge delivered the best performance we've seen to date. With WDS disabled, we clocked the device's maximum throughput at an impressive 23.5Mbps. It also did well when we added an 802.11b device into the mix, clocking in at 19Mbps in mixed mode. Better yet, the Buffalo repeater's range equaled that of the Linksys WET54G, which is impressive considering the device's diminutive size and small integrated antenna.
CNET Labs throughput tests (Throughput measured in Mbps)
Throughput will be cut in half when you enable WDS and use the device as a repeater among other Buffalo AirStations, because in this configuration, the radio must not only receive but also retransmit each individual data packet. Still, the repeater should have bandwidth enough to spare for most applications, even with WDS enabled.
For more information on how we test networking products, see the CNET Labs site. Buffalo has a respectable two-year warranty for its products, which is longer than Linksys offers on its WET54G but shorter than the three years that Netgear gives with its ME101. In addition, Buffalo includes 24/7, toll-free phone support, which is good for the life of the product. The Buffalo Web site contains firmware updates and documentation downloads but lacks self-help options, such as extensive, thorough, and product-specific FAQs or a searchable knowledge base.