Networking

DIY: Extend your wireless range on the cheap with a second wireless access point

If your business needs to extend its wireless range but doesn't have the budget for a complex setup, Jack Wallen has the solution for you.

Wireless range is limited. If it's your only option, it's very frustrating when you strain the limits of your wireless routers' reach. You could buy repeaters, more expensive routers with longer ranges, or even hardware from Ruckus for this specific purpose. But if your budget is stretched to the max, and you need just a little more reach for your wireless network, you can deploy this tried-and-true method, which only requires a second wireless router and a length of ethernet (Cat5) cable.

The wireless routers don't have to be the same; however, you do have to be able to configure these routers. And because every wireless router has a different firmware (i.e., the operating system running the hardware), I'm going to keep this as general as possible -- it will be so simple that even a third grader could manage to get this working.

Hardware setup

I assume you have a working wireless router setup. So, the first step is to make sure you have the name of the current working router. This is the SSID of the router. Unfortunately, many people don't bother changing this from the default, so a lot of them wind up being the router's brand name such as Linksys. I highly recommend you log in to your router's admin page and change the name of your router. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure your computer is connected to the wireless network.
  2. Open your browser.
  3. Point your browser to the IP address of the router (most likely this will be either 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.1.254).
  4. When prompted, enter the administrator credentials for the router (see note below).
  5. Go to the section of your router's administration page where you can change the name (SSID) of the router. Give this router a name unique to your location.
  6. Save this configuration. After this saves, you'll have to reconnect to the wireless connection under the new name.

Note: Most router models have a default username/password set up for the administrator; you should change it if you haven't yet. Check your router's documentation for the default credentials, or do a Google search for "ROUTER BRAND MODEL default admin password" (ROUTER BRAND is the brand name of the router and MODEL is the model number).

Please make sure your router has a security password associated with the SSID. If you can log in to the wireless without a password, that must change. Make sure you use WPA2 as the encryption type. If your router doesn't have a password, this will be set up in the same administration console in which the SSID was configured (the password will vary, depending upon which router you have).

The final step on your first router is to make sure that DHCP is turned On. DHCP is the service that hands out IP addresses to the devices that connect. By default, this will be On.

Once you have your original router set up, and you know the SSID and the security password, it's time to hook up the second router. Before you connect the two routers, you need to log in to the second router and configure it. To do this, connect the second router to your computer via Cat5 ethernet cable and log in to the administration console the same way you logged into the first one. Once you're there, this is what you need to do:

  1. Set the SSID to the exact same as used for the first router.
  2. Set the wireless password to match that of the first router.
  3. Turn Off DHCP on the second router.

You're ready to connect the routers. To do this, take that long Cat5 cable (you can pick up 50 and 100 foot Cat5 cables on Monoprice for less than $15.00). Here's how the connection will work:

  • First router: Connect the Internet (or WAN) port to your modem.
  • Second router: Connect one of the other ports (not Internet or WAN) to the same port on the back of the first router. If your ports on your routers are WAN, 1, 2, 3, 4, then connect the first and second router together in port 1.

With the routers connected via the ethernet cable, you should be able to connect to either one of them using the same SSID and password. If you're using a laptop and you move around a lot, there may be dead space where you are dropped and have to reconnect.

Conclusion

This is not an ideal setup, but it will give you wireless connectivity at both ends of the Cat5 cable. It's an inexpensive solution for anyone who needs to extend their wireless range and doesn't have the know-how or the budget for more complex setups.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

2 comments
cylonics
cylonics

I found latency was bad in areas where the identical SSID's overlapped; devices were trying to use both broadcasts, ended up switching back and forth between them, really slowing the connection. This made high bandwidth usage like netflix streaming way too choppy. I ended up just changing the name of the second SSID and using whichever is stronger.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

I have found that houses built (especially 20+ years ago) from clay brick tend to cause much sharper dropoff on signal strength and have never seen this problem. In fact I have installed 2-step wireless relays (APs in wireless repeater mode - there was no route to run a cable and maintain the aesthetics of a very upmarket house) with little of the problem you describe - I fitted hi-gain (+7 dB) antennas on the APs, and have never had a moment's problem from them. Granted, there is only ever a maximum of 2 users on the network, but it does its job.

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