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Anyone who has installed a wireless network in a home or office full of tech equipment is likely familiar with the frustration that comes from several competing radio frequency (RF) signals -- signals from your phone, the baby monitor, and even your neighbour's Wi-Fi setup can stomp all over your network. For gadget lovers who hit the interference wall, Netgear offers the WG302 ProSafe 802.11g access point. This wireless access point (WAP) supports Propagate Networks' AutoCell technology, a firmware solution designed to help Wi-Fi transmissions remain strong by sidestepping rival signals. AutoCell aside, the device is an excellent WAP in itself, featuring dual removable antennas, hardy WEP and WPA security, as well as bridge and repeater capabilities -- though AutoCell won't work when you're using the WG302 in the latter two capacities. At AU$539 for the WAP, taking full advantage of the WG302's capabilities is a costly proposition. But for home and business users who consider time spent and headaches suffered to be on a par with lost money, the WG302 could be a priceless investment.
The Netgear WG302 features a smart, sturdy design that should hold up over the long haul. Because the access point is made of metal, the device feels sturdier than most plastic units. The WG302's dual antennas are removable, and they screw into its back edge, allowing you to add higher-gain antennas for increased range. The WG302's antennas are conveniently adjustable, letting you position them for optimum signal strength.
Like most Wi-Fi products, the Netgear WG302 ships with documentation that's too technical for newbies, marginally excusable because this product targets technophiles. The WG302's installation guide and reference manual are clearer than most, taking you through a setup process that should be easy for experienced users to understand. Configuring the device involves accessing the typical browser-based tool included with nearly all Wi-Fi access points. The WG302's straightforward tool allows you to adjust its fairly extensive features, highlights of which include 64-bit, 128-bit, or 152-bit WEP encryption; WPA support through either PSK (preshared key) or a RADIUS server; MAC address filtering; plus bridge and repeater capabilities.
The Netgear WG302's configuration tool lets you manage the WAP's AutoCell technology. This feature allows the signals emitted by your Wi-Fi adapter to circumvent crowded RF channels already inhabited by other Wi-Fi adapters, mobile phones, microwaves, and the like. To take full advantage of the technology, you'll need to install an AutoCell-enabled PC Card, such as the Netgear WAG511, in each of your client computers, in addition to two or more WG302s. The clients will then automatically attempt to connect to the access point with the least amount of traffic. While we didn't conduct formal tests of the AutoCell solution, it does offer a well-organised way to manage load balancing on a noisy network. Environments with lots of interference can benefit from the WG302's enhancements, but it also includes some quirks. For example, you may experience momentary (and annoying) gaps in network access if your Wi-Fi device keeps switching back and forth between APs as new devices come and go. And because the client technology is currently available only in PC Card form, you'll have to spend even more to buy a PC Card-to-PCI adapter should you want to add a desktop to the mix.