How to extend WiFi to another building?
June 3, 2013 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a way to extend home WiFi into an adjoining building, where laying cable is not an option and packaging/LOS is a concern. I'd also like to reduce equipment cost, while not compromising endpoint throughput. Specific details inside.

I've currently got a Cisco Linksys E3000 running DD-WRT, and I'd like to share my 802.11n WiFi link with my neighbors (on the same lot). My link is fast and we've got a lot of extra capacity, so it makes sense. The E3000 doesn't have external antennae and I can't mount it up high, so getting LOS to the other building is hard. We're separated by a privacy fence, too, so the path is blocked by wood. The buildings are about 60' apart, but their house extends another 50' or so, and I'd like good signal to cover their entire house.

Is there a good solution here? Ideally I could hand them a box and say "here, this replaces your cable modem/wifi box", and it would Just Work, with good speeds and coverage while still providing them with options for locating the equipment and also allowing a twisted-pair PHY if they need it. I have some admin chops, so technically involved solutions are okay, but I'd like not to spend much money on specialized equipment. What are my options?
posted by TheNewWazoo to Technology (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your best bet would be loading up another router with DD-WRT and setting up a wireless bridge between the two.

Both of the routers should be in facing windows between the buildings. You're running really close to the physical limit of the 802.11n signal. There would be no problem with wiring an Ethernet client into the second router.

Keep in mind if you set this up, you're going to be the one responsible for fixing it when it breaks.
posted by dobi at 10:33 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ha, I was thinking of posting a similar question. I don't know if this fits your needs, but I've been thinking about getting a repeater station for a while - so I can surf in the park next door - and had this one bookmarked on Amazon. I'm not sure if you can chain them, but if so maybe you could have one unit at your place for the nearest possible LOS connection to your neighbour, and a second at their place to broadcast inside the house.
posted by carter at 10:34 AM on June 3, 2013

I'm using three of these Ubiquiti NanoStation M5 boxes, mounted outside and powered via their Ethernet cables, to do a point-to-multipoint link with two neighbours. They run on 5GHz, they're cheap and they work very well. We all have 2.4GHz 802.11n WAPs inside our houses rather than trying to use the same devices for wireless distribution and general wireless access.
posted by flabdablet at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Securifi Almond linked above by carter is a nice piece of gear, and very easy to set up. I'd try that first to see if it meets your needs. It only takes about five minutes to set it up.
posted by spilon at 11:02 AM on June 3, 2013

Do they have a router they are running on their end? If so, and if it has external / detachable antennas, they could dump their current ones off and install something like this.
posted by deezil at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2013

What I'd probably do is get two NanoStation LOCO M5s, wire one to a LAN port on your router, and the other to a LAN port on their router, put them somewhere with a minimum of obstruction between them, and go from there. That way you can optimize the link between the two buildings separately from optimizing client connections.

Actually, I'd probably go a little further and use *WRT on both routers and set up subnets and routing to isolate your LAN and theirs, but that can come later.
posted by Good Brain at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2013

I think Ubiquiti's units are the standard cheap solution for this. I agree with flabdablet on the desirability of separating your wireless bridge from your regular wifi traffic, it'll help you to avoid saturating the link when you're on the local wifi with your laptop and they're trying do several things at once over the bridge. Two NanoStations attached to the wired network at each house (which in the remote house might just be the existing router/WAP) with directional antennas aimed at each other with as few trees and walls in between as possible.

Also, dobi is wise to point out that by making this offer you are volunteering to be their first line of tech support at all hours of the day and night. Be really clear with them about what level of service and responsiveness you're willing to commit to, and expect them to get demanding and frustrated anyway.
posted by contraption at 11:26 AM on June 3, 2013

so getting LOS to the other building is hard. We're separated by a privacy fence, too, so the path is blocked by wood.

Very broadly speaking, Fresnel Zone will interfere with the signal. I think you will be unable to meet your need of good no-compromise coverage over the entire other building without an external antenna on at least one end if not both, plus antenna placement that allows a clear window to window shot with no foliage within the Fresnel Zone.
posted by zippy at 11:48 AM on June 3, 2013

... anything within the Fresnel zone, I meant to write.
posted by zippy at 12:47 PM on June 3, 2013

As a modification to dobi's idea above, I'd suggest getting a wireless router (see below), installing DD-WRT, and setting up Repeater Bridge mode. The repeater bridge article mentions that standard client bridge mode only allows WIRED connections to the client router. Repeater bridge will effectively extend your current wifi network allowing wireless connections in your new building. You only need one DD-WRT router (as the client) to pull it off.

For a DD-WRT router, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Netgear WNR3500L. It's cheap, beefy on specs, and the "L" means that it is specifically designed for you to slap 3rd-party firmware like DD-WRT on it. It even has its own official website set up to guide you through your DD-WRT installation and problems. It can take the biggest, most feature-filled version of DD-WRT.

I've personally set up three or four of these routers with DD-WRT and it's quite easy and rock solid. One of them runs our 30-person office at work and others I have at various houses. The router hardware has good range, too. If repeater bridge doesn't work (I personally have not used that feature), try client bridge as was suggested above. If that works, connect a wireless switch to your bridging router to get your wireless back in the new building. In lieu of a wireless switch, you can take any wireless router and turn it into a wireless switch. Google "turn router into switch." I have done that before and it works great.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 1:08 PM on June 3, 2013

I'm technically inclined but very lazy. I bought the Belkin Range Extender because it's easy to setup (which is surprisingly not well rated). It requires you to setup a separate SSID network that hooks into the one you're extending. But it's worked fine for me, both for my TV that uses internet but not wifi, and to connect to the detached back yard cottage where my tenant lives. Everything connects just like you would expect, both with wifi and with an ethernet cord.
posted by ethidda at 2:08 PM on June 3, 2013

You definitely want to bridge your network to their house, and then have them set up their own AP. Remember, their devices have to be able to talk back to your router too, and they are probably going to have connection and battery issues trying to broadcast across a yard to use your router as their access point.

The fresnel zone thing shouldn't be an issue since wireless routinely deals with people, desks and walls scattered all about.

Something like this. If you can find dedicated repeaters, great. Otherwise a couple of routers that are capable of being set to bridge mode is fine. Directional / yagi antennas if possible. If you can mount them outdoors and out of the weather, even better. But line of sight would be best.

If you can, set your router to wireless channel 1, theirs to channel 11 and have the repeaters work on channel 6. You can either set their router to work in AP mode, and then their clients will get their DHCP info from your router. Or their router can be set in standard mode and their clients will be on the same network as yours.

If your router has a DMZ option, you might want to plug their side into it- if you don't want them to have access to your side of the network.
posted by gjc at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2013

Seconding Ubiquiti products, specifically the Ubiquiti airMax line.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:36 PM on June 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions - I'm going to spend some time looking through them, as there's a lot of info!
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2013

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