Wire(less) me up, Scotty!
April 16, 2009 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Wireless Filter: Internet is free in my apartment complex but our connection is crap. Help!

Quick facts:

-13 unit (old) complex
-we are on the third floor
-the wireless router is on the first floor of the back apartments, so we get spotty internet only in the back part of our apartment, and absolutely nothing on the front end.
-landlord says it is a Gateway 2Wire either 100 ft or 150 ft.
-service is from SBC, which the landlord pays.
-the wireless is WEP protected and all tenants have the password.
-(i don't know if this matters but) I have a PC and my roommate has a mac.

He said he'll do whatever it takes to get us better service. So what does it take? Just a stronger router that goes the distance? I think he is illegally distributing the wireless among all of the apartments, and is unwilling to call SBC but he says if we find a solution, he'd see to it that it gets purchased / installed.

Please, oh techie mefites with great and powerful knowledge, help us!!!!
posted by cachondeo45 to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A wireless repeater or five.
Get your landlord to match equipment with the same brand for the best results.
Also, ask him if he can place the router in a central location.
posted by Lucubrator at 6:33 PM on April 16, 2009

A strong repeater or two would probably be enough. Many standard wireless routers can be adapted for this use. Just put them around the building where they can reach all apartments.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 7:23 PM on April 16, 2009

Best answer: The Right Way to provide net access to all apartments in a building is by putting an Ethernet switch near the router and running Cat 5e cable to an outlet in each apartment. But assuming that adding wiring will mysteriously fail to fit in the "whatever it takes" category, and your landlord is determined to cheap out and try to do it all with wireless, there are some low-cost improvements you can make.

Getting better antennas might do you a world of good. Your present router probably has the stock 2dBi antenna that all these things seem to come with. Switching to something like this 9dBi one will effectively boost the router's power and sensitivity by about 5x.

Putting a decent WAP capable of operating in client mode in your apartment, sticking a nice antenna on that as well for a total 25x power and sensitivity improvement, and connecting your computers to it with Ethernet cable will get you better throughput than using a repeater. This is only worth considering if your Internet connection speed is high enough to be comparable with the throughput your wireless LAN is actually achieving.

Antenna orientation is another factor. I'm betting that the router antenna is currently sticking straight up, which is fine for distributing a signal in all directions in a horizontal plane, but sucky for going floor-to-floor. Tip all the antennas over so they're parallel with the shortest wall in the apartment block's outline and see if that gives you better reach to the upper floors.

If you go the grunty WAP plus good antennas route, kick WEP in the head and have everybody use WPA-PSK instead. The last thing you need if you're sharing a single Internet connection among 13 apartments is leeches on the outside.
posted by flabdablet at 9:28 PM on April 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Agreeing that the RIGHT thing to do would be to run plenum-rated cat-5. Chances are also excellent that this would be 'Right out' as the saying goes.

If your wireless repeaters have a hard time seeing each other, try using parabolic antennas on one antenna of each to see if you can get them to develop good bandwidth between each other.

Also, a walk around with a laptop running NetStumbler will help you in trying to figure out what you are/aren't covering and which channels you aught to be using - Try to maintain three or four channels distance from other overlapping spots. The fancy term for this is a 'site survey'.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:37 PM on April 16, 2009

I'm not sure if this is enough, but it could be a cheap option:

Pick up an old Linksys WRT54G wireless router and hack it so it runs off the DD-WRT firmware.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 9:48 PM on April 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all, I appreciate it greatly! Here's hoping it works!!!
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:34 AM on April 17, 2009

Run cable between wireless repeaters, one per floor. (And WAP not WEP.)

But 13 units, some with more than one person? That is quite a lot of sharing.
posted by Idcoytco at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2009

You don't, by the way, need an old Linksys -- you can buy one brand new. Just make sure it's a WRT54GL. The L means it runs Linux, and it will be tremendously better right out of the box, in addition to supporting the aftermarket firmware builds, Tomato and DD-WRT.

Most folks are just fine with the L unit as it ships. You, on the other hand, will probably be interested in one aftermarket firmware feature: the ability to boost the antenna output from the default 22mw. It'll go over 100, but it's my understanding that 65mw is about the highest you can go safely. Past that, it runs too hot in the non-ventilated case. This will probably improve your connectivity significantly. Don't boost it unless you need to, though -- you'll shorten the life of the unit if you do.

The regular G and GS can usually also run a replacement firmware, but they have a lot less RAM and flash memory, and the default firmware sucks pretty bad. They're usually all you'll find at retail -- you almost always have to buy the L online. It's worth it. Amazon has it for $60.

As flabdablet says, don't run WEP. That can be cracked in less than a minute these days. Use WPA2 with AES encryption. And make sure that a very good password gets chosen -- each person will usually only have to type it once per client, so it can be long and complex. There are dictionary attacks now against WPA, so you want a good long passphrase.

Good luck!
posted by Malor at 10:34 AM on April 17, 2009

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