There’s one thing all modern households have in common, and it can be the cause of many frustrations at home: Wi-Fi dead zones, those horrible areas where no internet signal seems to reach.
Even though you can invest in some seriously expensive gaming routers these days, there are some places even the most advanced Wi-Fi routers cannot reach. While you can optimise the range of your wireless network by repositioning the router, data fall-off will still cause slow connection speeds whenever walls and other obstructions are in the way. Setting up a mesh network is an option and it works remarkably well, but the hardware is still expensive, and you need at least two compatible devices to set up a Mesh network.
The most reliable and cost-effective way to extend the range of your wireless network is to use an access point – a device that connects to your network and creates its own “hotspot”. You’ll see a lot of these around shopping malls, little white boxes protruding from the wall or ceiling. The technology is surprisingly easy to install at home, and it’ll make a huge difference to your coverage footprint. These hotspots can have independent login credentials, or you can configure it to use the same network name and password. This will allow you to roam around your house without having to reconnect to the new wireless network.
Enter the Ruckus ZoneFlex R310 Indoor Access Point, an entry-level access point that was developed for small venues or households wanting to extend the reach of their wireless networks. Even though at first glance the Ruckus R310 screams “corporate stiff”, don’t let its boring exterior fool you, because there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a geek like me.
There are two ways to connect this access point to your network. If you have a power point close to where you’d like to install it, then a normal RJ-45 cable connected to your router or switch will suffice. If you’d like to place this access point somewhere more remote, you can use Power over Ethernet to run data and power using a single CAT5 or CAT6 cable. If you don’t have a PoE switch, a PoE converter is only a few hundred rand and well worth considering for certain installations. I also like the impressively secure mounting mechanism, which locks the Ruckus R310 in place when mounted on a screw. A special tool (supplied in the box) is then required to remove it. This is particularly handy for public installations, or when mounting on a ceiling.
Once mounted, installation takes only a few minutes thanks to its super-efficient, app-based installation process. You can still configure it via you PC or Mac, but I found that the app method is far quicker. When the access point boots up for the first time, it creates a temporary hotspot that you connect to via the app. From there you can configure it for use on your network. The recommended “Typical Install” option lets you automatically configure the unit, while other options allow you to dig deeper for a custom install. The configuration takes around three minutes, after which the access point is ready for use. The app can then be used to check stats and info about devices connected to it.
For most users, this’ll be more than enough and that’s where they can leave the installation. For the rest of us, the clean Ruckus Dashboard offers many tools to tinker with. There’s the usual array of bandwidth and client settings that allow you to prioritise data and give certain users higher priority over others.
What I’m most impressed with is this access point’s hotspot services feature. It allows you to run an advanced guest login system, and it’s even compatible with Clickatell’s SMS gateway – a Cape Town-based firm that’s made a big name for itself on the global communications stage. This allows businesses to set up an automated hotspot feature, whether it be a completely open or charged-for service.
Of course, you can also connect up to 100 of these access points together (the first one is set up as the master unit), which will unlock some other cool technologies that represent a kind of hive-mind mentality. The antennae patterns can adapt in real-time to produce the best overall coverage for your entire access point network.
If you’re still reading this, that means you want to read more about the specs, right? Well, the Wi-Fi standards supported are IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, and can push a maximum throughput of around 850Mbps, depending on your hardware. It’s certainly more than enough for any task you can throw at it. I used the Ruckus ZoneFlex R310 as my primary data connection for just over two weeks. My usage included gaming and 4K streaming from multiple devices, with no speed degradation or performance issues. Considering it took all of five minutes to install, I’m really happy with its performance. For a piece of kit that most people will merely glance over, there’s a lot you can do with it if you really want to jack-up your wireless network at home or the office.