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Home network with IP phone, wifi, multiple hard-line access points
March 28, 2007 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Wifi: Can I have 1 wireless router & 1 non-wireless router in the same location? Or 2 wifi routers?

I have a very specific home office. I have an IP phone and require hi-speed access everywhere. I am moving to a new house (it's actually an old house, so no modern wiring for ethernet), and am trying to figure our a way to:
- have a strong wireless signal on both floors and on back porch
- have a location in office (on 2nd floor) *and* on 1st floor where I can plug the IP phone into an ethernet jack, so I can work from upstairs or downstairs

I am fine for buying new hardware if I must. Currently, all I have is the crap wireless router (Westell 327W) the folks at Verizon DSL gave me. I'm thinking I could plug that into a phone jack on the 2nd floor office, and get a strong wireless router to put on the 1st floor - and I could plug my IP phone into either depending on where I'm working for the day. If I have to buy a new component, I'd rather it be wireless - if possible - just to have a strong signal all over the house.

- Can I have 2 wireless routers in the same location? Are there any pitfalls to such a setup?
- Can I have a wireless router in 1 part of the house, and a non-wireless router in another (for plugging in the phone)?

Any router reccs would be welcome as well. I'm working on a Mac PowerBook G4, but my wife has a WindowsXP laptop - so we need something that works with both systems.
posted by cg1 to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The key to using multiple routers is to setup the 2nd/3rd ones differently:

1) Disable DHCP server functions.
2) Connect it to the main router via the normal ports, not via the Uplink/WAN port.

This basically turns it into a switch, so if you were buying new and only needed wired, I'd buy a switch. Wireless are almost always routers though.

The "main" router is the one connected to the outside world.
posted by smackfu at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2007

I have a situation similar to yours. Old house, no ethernet wiring, and in my case, walls full of sawdust so installing them is a no-go.

I have a crappy Netgear $30 wireless router/gateway/AP set up at the cable modem, doing its normal functions (including being a DHCP server). This provides wireless service to pretty much the entire house.

Then, I have a second router -- a good one, a WRT54GL running DD-WRT -- in "bridge" mode, in my office. This gives me 5 Ethernet ports to plug wired network devices into, without those devices ever knowing that they're on a wireless LAN. They get their IPs from the Netgear, so there's no second layer of NAT: all devices can talk to each other transparently.

The trick is that most crummy home routers won't work in bridge mode, so you'll need to get one that does. I recommend getting something that you can load DD-WRT onto, because it's so flexible, but you could probably get away with a dedicated wireless bridge (I think these are typically called 'Game Adapters' because they're used to attach wired consoles to a wireless LAN), although these are $80 a piece and usually only give you 1 Ethernet port.

You can essentially repeat the trick of using a router-as-bridge for as many locations as you need wired Ethernet ports in (and as you can afford), until you saturate the wireless bandwidth.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:29 AM on March 28, 2007

Thanks for the feedback. Some of this (DD-WRT, etc) reads like greek to me, but from what I do understand, adding a 2nd wireless router adds a layer of complication that I don't know enough to work with.

Assuming I do this...
- have the one *main* wifi router (my current one, Westell 327W, that provides a solid signal to most of the house - and has 4 ethernet outputs) in the office
- buy a second *something* (switch, router or bridge) to go downstairs
...can I just plug both into the phone jacks in their respective rooms (it's DSL), and run ethernet cords out of them, and it work? Is it that simple?

If it is, what do you recc I buy?
- WRT54GL running DD-WRT in "bridge" mode
- a switch
- something else?

Whatever's cheaper would be preferred, since the second unit will *only* act as a hard-wired device.
posted by cg1 at 11:21 AM on March 28, 2007

You can't plug two DSL modems in at the same time. The easiest thing to do in your situation is get a wireless bridge (or one of those devices that you would use to get an Xbox on wireless that plug into an ethernet port).

If I were you, I'd probably get the WRT54GL (or Buffalo WHR-G54S, or a WHR-HP-G54 if your signal is weak where you want to put the new AP, but those are a little harder to wedge DD-WRT onto) just so I'd have a backup for the Westell should it ever crap out. With the WRT54GL, it's just a matter of downloading the correct firmware from the DD-WRT site and using the firmware upgrade page on the Linksys. That part's very easy. Using the configuration to turn off DHCP and configure the wireless is also easy.

A switch won't do you any good unless you can run a wire upstairs.

There is one alternative, but it's usually crappy, in my experience, and that's a set of power line networking gadgets that you plug into a wall socket and they extend Ethernet over the power line to another location. If they work well, they're useful, but in my experience most locations have too much noise on the line for them to work very well.

Alternatively, you could get a WiFi IP phone, like this, or most Nokia Eseries cell phones that have WiFi and use that instead of the wired model when you're out of the office.
posted by wierdo at 11:47 AM on March 28, 2007

As weirdo mentioned, you can't just plug two DSL modems into two different phone outlets. It just doesn't work that way -- the DSL line is a shared medium within the house; the two modems would just confuse each other and in all probability neither would work.

You have a few options.

Option 1: Wired with switch
You could take your one router that you have now, and run Ethernet (Cat-5 or Cat-6) from one of its LAN ports to a switch, which would give you more wired ports. Advantages of this are that it's cheap (switches are under $20) and easy to set up. Disadvantage is that it requires you to run Ethernet cable. Also, if the Ethernet ports on the back of your old router are only 10BT, you will create a substantial bottleneck. (You'll create a bottleneck with 100BT as well, but it'll be so much faster than your internet connection that it probably won't matter.)

Option 2: Wireless with bridge
Rather than using a piece of cable to connect your remote location to the "main" one (where your DSL modem and the cheap router live), you get a router that's capable of working as a bridge. Enter the WRT54GL and the aftermarket DD-WRT firmware. (There are other routers that you can install DD-WRT on, also, but I'm not familiar with any of them.) You set up the "main" router as normal, but you configure the 54GL (running DD-WRT), to act as a wireless client, instead of as an accesspoint, and take the signals it gets at its wired ports, and send them out the wireless interface, and vice versa. Advantages here are that you don't have to run any wire for the point-to-point connection between the two routers; it's all wireless. Plus when you're done, you have a very versatile piece of networking equipment, and not just a single-purpose switch. Disadvantage is cost (about $70 for the router) and setup time (might take you a few hours to read up on DD-WRT and install it, because it's not something you want to do ignorantly).

There are other options, like powerline Ethernet repeaters, which might be worth checking out, but I've no experience with them.

FWIW, once I got it set up, my 54GL-as-bridge setup, with encrypted WLAN (WPA-PSK), works beautifully.

You might want to do a little Wikipedia reading just so you know the difference between an Ethernet switch, a router, and a bridge, and if you can stand it, some of the basics of the OSI model, since it can all be very confusing if you're not familiar with it first.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:45 PM on March 28, 2007

An alternative, as used successfully chez nous for two years now: replace the IP phone with a hardware VoIP adapter (or a combo-that-and-wireless-router-and-DSL-modem, which do exist).

Then plug a cordless phone into its VoIP port and carry it upstairs with you.

(I normally vote for the simplest network config possible. Read the above accordingly.)
posted by genghis at 5:02 PM on March 28, 2007

A (probably) slightly more expensive option may be a HomePlug.

Basically you plug one into the wall, then connect it to the modem via Cat5. Then in whatever other room (or rooms) you want internet, just plug in another homeplug and connect that one to whatever device via cat5.

On re-read, what I linked to is the "powerline Ethernet repeater" that Kadin2048 mentioned. We learned about them in class this week, so I *may* be able answer questions about it.
posted by Zarya at 5:51 PM on March 28, 2007

Regarding the "wired with switch option, Kadin2048 writes:
"if the Ethernet ports on the back of your old router are only 10BT, you will create a substantial bottleneck"

Will using the wireless 54GL bridge not create the same bottleneck? Will the speed coming through that wireless connection be enough to run the phone? And if my other (shitty Westell) router were to ever crap out, this box could be setup to work as my primary wireless router, correct? (this is the option i'm leaning toward; $70 is really a pretty nominal amount to pay, given how much I'd use it)

Also, I would consider running ethernet wire all over the house as an investment in the re-sale value of the home, but with Cat5 last year and Cat6 this year, will such wiring not be almost instantly obsolete? And with wireless technology coming along as it is, won't wired systems soon become antiquated? Would the time spent wiring really be worth the required labor?

Thanks to all of you for all of your help! I find networks *so* confusing. The vernacular is unbelievable if you didn't study it in school!
posted by cg1 at 7:47 AM on March 29, 2007

Cat 5e is sufficient for Gigabit ethernet, which is faster than any equipment you have now. Cat 6 is a bit more future-proof and not a lot more $, but not needed.

It will only go obsolete in the sense that people won't want to use wired ports at all.
posted by smackfu at 7:55 AM on March 29, 2007

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