Consensual internet hijackery.
July 21, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Wireless network question! This one's pretty specific to my living circumstances, since what I want to do is share the network in a house across a courtyard from mine.

I'm moving into a new place, and want to share the wireless network that my boyfriend and his roommate have set up in their apartment. We live in an area that's mostly rowhouses, but my building is a detached two-story house that essentially sits in his backyard, except instead of a yard it's just concrete and some potted plants. I'd estimate the distance between our houses to be less than 50 feet. The construction of his house appears to be brick, and mine is (guessing) wood frame with siding. My computer is set up on the 2nd floor, and his modem and router are on the 2nd floor of his house as well.

Currently, my wireless card is picking up a bunch of other network signals, but not really his. It's confusing to me because the other houses around aren't much closer, if at all. As a fairly new Windows 7 user, I'm not sure how to fiddle with the settings to get as many networks to show up on the list as possible. When I search for networks, there's an initial list that pops up for a split second, and his network is on that list -- but then it disappears when the list condenses.

So I guess my questions are...

1) Is the ephemeral appearance of his network on my availables list most likely due to a weak signal, or something else?

2) How likely is it that simply investing in a wireless N router will bump up the range enough to give me access across two domicile barriers? I am aware of the existence of repeaters and access points, but don't fully understand their usage.

3) Do you have any other suggestions for achieving this goal...?

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by dorothy humbird to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
a hundred-foot ethernet cable.
posted by GuyZero at 10:28 AM on July 21, 2011

1. Weak signal.
2-3. What you need is a high-gain antenna his access point, and another one on a repeater in your house. Unless wireless technology has changed a lot in the six years since I was doing this, which is definitely possible.
posted by KathrynT at 10:37 AM on July 21, 2011

There are multiple channels for Wifi. They start overlapping pretty badly. I think you can use 1, 6, and 11 safely or something like that. You may get them to try different channels and maybe you'll find one that works better for you.

50 feet doesn't seem that far.

You should be able to directly connect to his Wifi even if it isn't in the list. I don't have Windows 7 available, but there may be something for unadvertised networks or named networks where you can just type stuff in.

If you're really serious, you can get point to point wifi routers. Mikrotik is a good brand.
posted by cmm at 10:44 AM on July 21, 2011

Depending on the make of his router, hi-gain antennas may be available for it, which work by compressing some of the radiated energy usually allowed to go in off-axis directions, into a narrower beam that will seem more powerful in your location. If your wireless card has an external antenna, you can further improved things on your end, by replacing your antenna with a hi-gain version, too, or better yet, by replacing it with a higher gain, remote mounted antenna & stand, thus getting your WiFi antenna away from your computer, which is probably a source of some interfering electromagnetic radiation, as well as boosting your return signal to his router, and your sensitivity to his signal.

It might also be useful for him to try various rotations of his router, to make sure that his antennas, if his router has two or more, are creating cancellation shadows toward your premises.
posted by paulsc at 10:56 AM on July 21, 2011

Connecting the two with ethernet cable. The maximum length of Cat5 cable is 100m so you're well within range.
posted by alby at 11:04 AM on July 21, 2011

Is it a house with another house behind it? or a bunch of houses all in rows and you just happen to be in one behind his?

If #1 then just string up a cable. If #2 then you'll need to put in some work with new hardware.

Do you know for a fact that their router is broadcasting the network name (SSID)? if it's not you may just be able to type the name in and presto!

The brick construction could also have something to do with the crappy reception. I live in a stucco house, and I can be two rooms away from my router and get very little signal.
posted by zombieApoc at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2011

To maximize the signal: Put his router's antenna in a window facing you. Put your wifi adapter in a window facing him.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2011

For lighting safety and electrical grounding reasons, it's not a great idea to run ordinary Ethernet Cat 5 or 6 cable outdoors, between buildings. Ethernet ports are supposed to be transformer coupled to the physical wire media, by spec. But it's asking a lot for these tiny transformers to stop lightning, or ground fault level AC power from another building. And it's not good to fish Ethernet through metal pipes between buildings either, or to bury it, unprotected and unregistered with local utility "Call Before You Dig" registries.
posted by paulsc at 11:28 AM on July 21, 2011

How likely is it that simply investing in a wireless N router will bump up the range enough to give me access across two domicile barriers?

Since you say you're 'not really' getting a signal - I'm guessing you see his network but it's slow or shows a poor connection. So I'll say an N router is pretty likely to get you a usable signal. Without getting technical, wireless N uses a less-congested wireless frequency and is better able to deal with interference.
posted by anti social order at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2011

Just set up high-gain directional antennae on each end. It will work great if it's possible, but it's really not a good idea to do a 20m ethernet run outdoors.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:43 PM on July 21, 2011

I'm doing this currently. I live in a trailer park and share my internet with my neighbor next door. It's ~35 feet between our houses. If you're willing to spend some money, pick up a wireless router and a repeater, as others have suggested.

What we ended up doing was getting a decent but not great router, and putting it in the window with the antenna directly pointing at our house. That seems to have worked the best out of the myriad of things we've tried.
posted by zug at 12:50 PM on July 21, 2011

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