Last year I reviewed the Netgear ME101 Wireless Ethernet Bridge and decided that it was a great little product. A wireless bridge gives you the option of connecting a device with a standard wired Ethernet port to your wireless network, and the ME101 proved to be easy to setup and simple to use. However, the problem with the ME101 was that it used the older 802.11b WiFi standard, which meant a limited bandwidth of 11Mbits/sec. However, I now have before me the Netgear WGE101 Wireless Ethernet Bridge, and this little beauty conforms to the 802.11g standard, with 54Mbits/sec bandwidth.
So, what is a wireless bridge and why do you need one? A wireless bridge acts like, well, a bridge between wired and wireless networks. And the reason that you need one, is that it’s a lot more aesthetically friendly than having CAT5 cable running all through your house.
Of course you’re only going to need a wireless bridge if you already have a wireless network set up in your house. If you don’t have a wireless network in your home, you should install one, because the flexibility that it will give you is really quite liberating. Having a wireless network will allow you to stay connected to the Internet (and your other PCs) anywhere in and around your house. Considering that the majority of notebook computers now ship with integrated WiFi adapters, you’ll be able to work out in the garden on a sunny day, or just flop in front of the TV in the living room while you’re checking your emails.
The only problem with a wireless network is that there are some devices that have network capability, but no wireless functionality. Now, obviously with any kind of computer getting around this is simple, just install a wireless adapter. But what about devices that don’t run an operating system, and just have basic Ethernet functionality? You can’t just plug a wireless adapter into your PlayStation2 or Xbox, or even into a KiSS DVD player, because you won’t be able to load the necessary drivers.
This is where a wireless bridge comes in. With a wireless bridge you can connect any Ethernet enabled device to wireless network without the need for driver support. Once configured and connected to a device, a wireless bridge will become completely transparent, so that the wireless access point you’re connecting to will see the physical MAC address of the Ethernet enabled device, rather than the bridge. This basically means that if you connect your Xbox to the WGE101, your wireless access point will only see the physical address of your Xbox, and as far as the access point is concerned, your Xbox has a wireless adapter built into it.
The WGE101 is a fair bit larger than the ME101 with dimensions of 178 x 118 x 28mm (WxDxH), but it has to be said that it’s a much better looking unit. Netgear obviously felt the need to instil some coherence into its range, and WGE101 looks like a miniature version of the Netgear wireless routers. It may have a larger footprint than the ME101, but the WGE101 is definitely flatter, making it far more unobtrusive when wall mounted. Finished in matt silver and clear plastic, the WGE101 does look good – there’s an embossed Netgear logo on the top, and a blue Netgear logo on the front fascia. Also on the front fascia are three indicator lights for power, Ethernet and wireless.
At the rear you’ll find the power socket, an Ethernet port for connecting your networked device and an antenna connector. The supplied antenna is a fully adjustable affair, and can rotate to almost any angle. The antenna needs to be adjustable, because besides laying flat, or being wall mounted, the WGE101 can also be positioned on its side, using the supplied stand. When used in conjunction with the stand, the WGE101 becomes very unobtrusive, and can quite happily sit on a shelf without spoiling your décor.
Setting the bridge up is pretty simple - you just need to connect it to a PC via Ethernet and load the supplied software. Once inside the configuration utility, you can configure the WiFi channel, IP address and pretty much everything else. It’s best to set the bridge to dynamically grab an IP address, although most of the time it will be connected to another device, so its own IP will be transparent anyway.