Product Warning – Linksys Wireless-G Range Expander is a product catastrophe

I apologize for not responding to your emails and comments during the past few days. I have been offline trying to debug a botched Linksys product offering.

Wre54g_1The product team at Linksys has managed to take a brilliant product concept and turn it into a frustrating customer experience and a support nightmare. This is not a simple mistake. This is the work of inspired dunderheads! The Linksys Wireless-G Range Expander – WRE54G should have been a slam-dunk success, but a group of designers and marketing execs managed to make this product one of the worst new product releases since the Jugo.

My take on it is that the product team pushed this abortion out the door in a hurry so they could meet a deadline and get their bonuses. This was not the work of one person. This catastrophe required a lot of people to turn a blind eye to the effect this would create on a typical customer. In my opinion, Linksys owes their customers an apology.

UPDATE 03/04/06: 229 Linksys customers reviewed this product on Amazon.com and the vast majority of them could not install it because of the botched product release. Does anyone at Linksys keep track of what customers are saying?

The concept of a range expander for your wireless network is right
on the money because the first problem you run into with your new
wireless network is that it doesn’t reach all of the locations where
you need connectivity. You have your wireless router in the basement,
for example, but you want to use your laptop out on your deck where
reception is spotty, at best.

The Linksys expander would seem to be the answer to this because you
only have to plug it in and you will have a relay point which send
signals to the furthermost parts of your network. As I said, the
product concept was brilliant!

Let’s see how this works out in practice.

I purchased the expander from the same store where I purchased a
Linksys wireless router a few days before. This expander and wireless
router can be found in thousands of stores across the country. The
router had gone in without a hitch and worked perfectly except where I
was using a laptop in a room 75 feet away from the router. I expected
the expander to give me the same predictable results. WRONG!!

The expander would not recognize the router although they had been
sold next to each other on the shelf at the store. I read the
directions again and went through the installation procedure several
times. The upper indicator remained obstinately red, indicating the the
expander could not recognize the wireless router.

I returned the expander for credit, and since there were no more in
stock, I went to Office Max and bought another WRE54G  there. I took it
home, set it up and had the same dismal result. The expander would not
recognize the wireless router.

Upon investigating, I found a note tucked in the box that said the
expander would work with the wireless router only if the router
firmware was level 2.02.2 or higher. The brand new router firmware was
level 1.06. I thought that was pretty poor product coordination, but I
would fix that by going to the Linksys website and downloading the
required firmware.

WRONG AGAIN!! The download page on the Linksys website had no such firmware.

So I called Linksys customer support to find where they were hiding
the required firmware. I spent ten minutes talking to a charming lady
in India who kept trying to get the name of my ISP and my operating
system. It took a while to get her to understand that I wanted a
particular piece of firmware, because I could only understand one word
in four. She was unfailingly polite, but her rapid fire delivery made
it very hard to understand her. Finally she said she would connect me
with a technician. She did this very professionally because she made
sure that the technician actually picked up the line.

I asked the technician where I could get the required firmware. She
said it would be on the Linksys download page. I pointed out that fact
that the page contained no such firmware. After a little research, she
came back and told me that the problem had been solved with a firmware
upgrade for the expander.

I thought this was a great solution until I downloaded the firmware
upgrade and found that I couldn’t transmit the expander upgrade to the
expander because it wasn’t recognizing the router in the first place!
How clueless could I be? How can I transmit an upgrade to a device that
isn’t receiving signals!

So, I decided I would go back to plan A where I would find the
secret cache where Linksys technicians hid all the good bits they use
to make bad products work. I called customer service again and spoke to
a friendly technician in some far off land. I was able to understand
most of what he said and he directed me to an ftp site which had all
sorts of useful downloads. I downloaded the firmware I needed for the
wireless router in several different formats, because by now I was
expecting the worst.

One of the downloads was an executable file which supposedly would
handle the upgrade automatically. It started off swimmingly by finding
the wireless router, but hung up shortly thereafter with a cryptic
message about scrambled code. I crossed that solution off the list and
continued by proceeding to reinstall the wireless router all over again
from the beginning.

By this time I had spent two days working on the problem and still
had no joy after about three hours working in a cold workshop. When the
wireless router decided that it could no longer connect with the
Internet, I decided to call it a day. My network was down and I needed
time to think of a new approach.

My conclusion is that this is almost a completely botched product
release. The product team spent all the time necessary to ensure that
the distribution channels were properly provisioned, but never took the
time to ensure that the product would work with the products in the
field. The expander product requires changes in the products it
supports, but the changes are not available, even to their customer
service people.

I have bought many Linksys routers, switches, etc. but this
experience has wiped out my trust in Linksys products. If I buy Linksys
equipment again, it will be only after someone else tests it.

Linksys needs to recall this product and replace it with a product
version that works. This release has no place in the lineup of
well-designed Linksys products. The entire product team needs to be
retrained.

If someone from Linksy  cares to enlighten me as to how this is
actually a good thing for customers, I will be happy to provide room
for a rebuttal. If I have found the only two bad units out of millions
in the field, I will be happy to acknowledge that I have drawn
unwarranted conclusions from a very small sample.

I think that many more customers have had the same experience and
wondered why the top indicator on the expander stayed red. Incidently,
the product instructions cleverly omit any information on what the
indicator colors mean. Both indicators must be blue in order for
correct operation. Many people may have installed these devices and
never noticed that they didn’t do the job they were supposed to do.

I have decided to return this second range expander and will find a
common-sense solution that does not require buying any more Linksys
products at this time. I will probably do better by moving my wireless
router where the signal carries to all spots where I need wireless
reception.

What do you think?

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