Pretty tiny and discrete device, the smallest wall-plug range extender I have come across so far. The price vs quality is great as well deal extreme sells them for only $19,85 at this point in time of writing this article. I have seen them cheaper then this as well also under different model and brand names.
Interestingly enough if you order one from dx.com the device is called WS-WN523N2 from a company called win-star, if you look at the label of the device it says WL-1369 Rev.A from a company called Willink and finally if you look trough web GUI pages on the device itself it mentions a company called wavlink and I suspect that this company is the actual manufacturer. After testing I found that it works well as a access-point or a device to enable WiFi on a device that only has an Ethernet port.
A bit more in depth
The webGUI of this device is pretty easy to understand and even for the somewhat more advanced it offers some nice tweak-able settings as well. While testing this device it worked nicely as an access-point, meaning that I used a wired connection to may main router. It works also great to supply an Ethernet device with WiFi, thus connecting one device to the device and connecting it wirelessly to my home wifi network.
As a range extender it didn’t really live up to the task, it handled just 2 devices fine but connecting more to them was getting a little bit unstable (when downloading some files). But to be fair I didn’t suspect much of the range extender function in that regard. Simply because it uses a lot of RAM memory and most of this cheap devices really don’t have enough of it to support the range extender mode. (I’m also not a big of a fan building networks like this, because a range extender is a hack anyways and for proper working it requires at least two wifi radio’s).
Opening up the WS-WN523N2
Since it was such a wonderfully cheap device I liked to see what would lie beyond the exterior casing to look for potential to do some other nice things with it. Surprisingly the device was held together with screws instead of the sonic welding you see a lot of similar small gadgets and devices, this meant that I could simply take it apart and putting it back together again.
After taking the mini router apart I was surprised of design of the thing, at first glance the two internal antenna’s stood out they where not simply printed on the circuit board but are actually proper metal antenna’s. This is not that commonly seen on (cheap) devices like this.
The mains adapter that is also enclosed within the router is also surprisingly ok, it is well insulated by a piece of plastic from the actual router board. Some proper design went in to the power supply as well, not as haphazardly put together with some products (e.g. knock off apple chargers). However the RAM memory available is a bit on the low side only 16 Megabyte, although more then sufficient for an access point. The one thing that was slightly disappointing is that the flash chip is only 2MegaByte, this means that porting OpenWrt to the device isn’t possible. The minimum requirement is 4MB.
One thing that surprised me slightly as well, is that the board came with a full working ttl/uart test point on the board itself. But then again it would make testing the router while in production easier as well. To connect a ttl adapter to the board, simply connect the TX RX and the GND to the adapter and leave the 3.3V completely unconnected. After you connected your adapter simply set a telnet client to the correct Comport set the Baudrate to 38400 data bits to 8 stop bits to 1 and no parity and flow control.
Chips of interest
UART / TTL information
Data bits: 8
Stop bits: 1
flow control: none
only connect the GND TX and RX and leave the 3.3V unconnected.
Some good (cheap) ttl adapters from dx.com are: PL2303HX USB to TTL Converter Module and the PL2303HX to USB TTL Upload Download Wire for Arduino of course there are plenty of other adapters out there as well.
Boot log / rom dump
Great and cheap device to connect a single device to wifi or to be used as access point with a fairly decent range. As range extender there are better choices out there, but in my opinion range extenders aren’t the best choice to extend a WiFi network
Wouldn’t it be wonderful that you could have WiFi internet access in the world for free? Luckily Martin Varsavsky who founded Fon thought the same thing. The way it works is share a bit of your internet bandwidth and get it in return from other people that share their internet the same way.
Well this did sound really great (still does) but the sad thing is that Fon never took of on it’s own, it was the classic “the chicken or the egg” dilemma. For the network to have a huge coverage and usability you would need to have a huge user base with access points and to have the incentive for people to sign up you would need to have a great coverage. Of course there where early adopters, but some of theme where not that pleased with how thing progressed and left again.
If someone doesn’t share there internet trough a Fon router, there is the option to buy a Fon pass. The most common Fon Passes are for 25 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day and 5 days. Fon does have the option to share in the profits if someone buys such a pass via your device, but if you don’t live in a high traffic area the earnings wouldn’t be much or nothing at all. Thus also not being a good incentive in my opinion to get more people sharing there internet connection via such a router.
Last but not least there is the anxiety for some people to open up there home internet connection to total strangers. But how the Fonera router functions, the total strangers don’t get access to the local network and only to the internet and they do get logged that they have used the Fonera hotstpot with a time and date. I do hope they log visited websites as well but can’t say that for certain at this point in time.
Because not enough people where joining Fon, they had to come up with some other strategy and what they started partnering up with telco providers to increase the coverage of there Fon network and potentially attract more subscribers in the process as well. The partnerships with BT_group (formerly know as British Telecom) Belgacom and SFR (Société française de radiotéléphone) are really successful in my opinion, a testament to this is just simply the massively orange coloured countries (France Belgium and the United Kingdom) on the Fon coverage map they have on-line. In every country they have a partnership with a telco provider you still can buy a Fonera router from Fon and join the party and you don’t have to sign-up with the partnered telco, the only exception to this is the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands the partnership with KPN partnership will be huge as well and it is estimated to have best coverage yet on a per country bases. The only sad thing is that the Fonera routers aren’t for sale any more in the Netherlands and the partnership includes that it will be exclusively for KPN ISP members only. Not even daughter companies are going to offer Fon to there customers. This undermines what was Fon all about in my opinion, free wifi by the masses for the masses.
For people living in the Netherlands a solution would be to simply buy a fonera router trough ebay, preferably a new one because that way you are sure it is not currently linked against an existing Fon account and also still has the original firmware. The reason for the alternate firmware on second hand Fonera routers, is that it is a relatively cheap device and is great for usage in DIY electronics projects. After procuring such a router, just simply power it up and connect to the unsecured SSID: fon_free_internet . At this point you will be greeted by the Fon catch page, on this page you can either create or register a new Fon account. While registering the Fon account from Netherlands, make sure that you not choose the Dutch version of the website but the English one. Via this route it is still possible to register a Fon router from within the Netherlands.
Although I think Fon does still offer a great service, I do find it somewhat limiting that if you have one Fon router you can only connect to one other Fon router while on the road and only upto 3 devices (to the same fon access point). Because I do live in a household with more then one person, I bought 3 fon routers to just hook them up side by side to have 3 separate accounts. This way all family members can use there devices at the same time at different fon access points. So in total I could connect up to 9 devices (still 3 per hotspot though).
An other feature I’m currently missing is that they did have in the past, is the ability to download a POI list with all the active fonera routers. That list then could be loaded into most GPS applications/devices, of course Fon has Android and Iphone apps to locate Fonera hotspots. But the issue with those apps that they need to be on-line to retrieve the nearest access points. And mobile internet access comes for a premium when you are abroad and makes it thereby somewhat useless. If they come up with a app that also works offline with a cached list, I would be very happy 🙂 .
All in all, I’m quite happy with the service Fon delivers. But since I’m from the Netherlands, I’m not that thrilled with the KPN exclusive deal they did. But at least I can still use my Fon accounts when the KPN finally roll out there Fon network.
The TP-Link tl-wa850 and the wa750 are both very identical, the only differences I could find are that the wa750 only has one internal antenna and the wa850 has two of them. This translates into to that the wa750 can only do 150Mbps and the wa850 300Mbps and of course de ring with the coloured leds on the wa750 are orange and on the 850 they are blue. (I do like orange leds better). Also the wifi strength indication on the ring looks nice, but is slightly pointless in my opinion. Price wise between the devices is not much differences either, so I would go with the wa850 in any case.
A bit more in depth
Because this device is a range extender, it is a shame it doesn’t have two radios. The benefit of two radio’s would be that it can send and receive at the same time passing the extended wifi along happily. This basically means that if you retransmit your wifi trough the range extender, you cut the speed in half more or less. Although this is a bit of a drawback, I haven’t found any device in this price range with two radio’s. It would be amazing if a router company decided to make such a device 🙂
Feature wise the wa850 and wa750 is a bit crippled lacklustre but that is probably by design, the slightly more expensive routers and access points they offer the much needed missing things. The fun thing is though that in terms of hardware there are no difference between some access points tp-link offers and the range extenders. For example it is not possible to run a lead to the range extender from your existing router and eliminate the issue of the cut in half speed of the wifi, oh well who know maybe they add it in a future update. But I wouldn’t bet my money on it.
Configuring the thing is relatively easy, but it works terrible when attempted over wireless directly. I would recommend using the included Ethernet cable to set it all up, Also worth mentioning is that the connection over wifi back to the main router is sometimes flaky and cuts out completely from time to time, and requiring you to unplug and replug the device.
My conclusion for the firmware that is running on the wa850 and wa750, the intend is there but not not quite there yet. Also the flakiness is dependent on what router you have, in conjunction with other tp-link devices there wasn’t an issue worth mentioning.
Beyond the exterior casing
Because I had other plans for this need device and needed some custom firmware on it I cracked open the case. Getting into the device was really a hassle because the ultrasonic welded the thing together, I ended up putting the whole thing into a vise and tightening it until a cracking sound was heard. At least my warranty was void for sure at this point ;). How the device cracked open along side the seems, I was very pleased with that. At least I’m able to put/glue it back together again.
The pcb is double sided and rather thick, not flimsy as you see more and more common these days. This also means that the device can handle some abuse of dropping it for example, from experience I know that the exterior case can handle a lot of abuse as well.
One thing though I am missing is a heat sink on the SoC, but not really needed for it’s intended purpose as range extender. Oh well it can do probably without.
The design itself is put together properly, and is almost identical the the Atheros ap123 reference design. Why change a good design anyway 🙂 For the tinkerers under us, the ring of leds can potentially be used for signal in and outputs.
More bang for your bug
Because the lacklustre firmware that the device came with and I needed to do run some other funky software on it. I ported it to OpenWrt. Currently the wa750 and wa850 are only supported under the trunk (beta) release of OpenWrt, this also means that there is by default no user interface. But my custom OpenWrt firmware comes with a webgui installed by default.
If you like to install OpenWrt stable (Attitude Adjustment), I backported the wa850 and wa750 to it as well, only downside to my backported devices is that it does come without a webgui, but it can be installed afterwards.
To install the OpenWrt firmware simply download the correct image that ends with factory in the name, and you are good to go :). You can simply flash it trough the tp-link web interface
More bang for your bug the simple way
Of course I understand that OpenWrt is not your cup of tea and you don’t want to keep tinkering with it and get frustrated when it doesn’t work. The solution for you is GarGoyle , it does run on OpenWrt Attitude Adjustment (stable). But in this case the added value is that the firmware isn’t harder then your avarage firmware a router comes with, but it does have a complete range of amazing features you have always been missing without the hassle of learning OpenWrt.
Because the range extender is fairly recently supported under OpenWrt, I made some custom gargoyle images available to flash them on to your range extender 🙂 . Just download the correct firmware with factory in the name and you are good to go, you can simply flash it trough the tp-link web interface.
The why on the custom firmware
While the original firmware on the Tp-link TL-wa850re and the wa750 works more or less, the custom firmware can really get everything out of the device. And if you flash the GarGoyle firmware you can have the same functionality again as the original firmware (extending your network). But have a lot more stuff and options in the process.
Also an other potential benefit would be that you now also have a fully fledged router.
Although the original firmware on both the wa850 and wa750 leave a lot desired, putting custom firmware on it makes it an amazing device and router.