How to best share an internet connection between two apartments?
January 28, 2014 6:34 PM   Subscribe

So my parents, through some amusing twist of fate, ended up renting two apartments on different floors of the same building. One apartment is on the 1st floor, and one is on the 4th. They're almost perfectly parallel with each other vertically. Both of them and myself agree it would be stupid to pay for two internet connections. What do?

My first thought was power line networking, but both places have different meters and are on completely separate circuits so that seems to be out(potentially? Does anyone have experience with connecting that way between houses next-door on the same pole, or apartments in the same building? i feel like i've heard of that working)

I also thought of some sort of wireless networking solution, but i feel like you'd need high gain, directional antennas facing the ceiling in the lower apartment and the floor in the upper one for that to work, and even then it likely wouldn't work that well. It seemed like i'd be buying a bunch of moderately expensive hardware(extra wireless routers on both ends, likely with DD-WRT so i could set one up as a "client" and plug things into it, high gain antennas, etc) just to test out something that might not even work.

The absolute last resort is running a 100ft+ ethernet cable out the windows, or drilling tiny holes in the wall and filling them with silicone after the cable is poked through and just running it down the exterior of the building. But that one is tentatively nixed because it's a fairly upscale building and the management would likely flip(although it on a non-visible from the street "back" side of the building) and the fact that the place is getting new siding in the next couple months, which would likely involve them just ripping the cable off.

I can't even really express how dumb i think getting two cable internet accounts for people who essentially watch netflix and hulu and do nothing else is, and screw the fact that's what the ISP would want them to do. I'm determined to come up with a workable permanent solution here. The throughput of one line is more than enough for two streams(or more) of video streaming with some headroom on top of that, i've already tested it, so that's not a concern. One of my only concerns with the "huge wireless antennas at both ends" type of setup is that i've done that sort of thing before from the basement to the top floor of a fairly large house, and also horizontally in a fairly long flat ranch style house. And while the connection was stable the throughput was poop.

Note: Experience in network engineering and deploying/managing commercial networks. Any silly or complicated solution is fine as long as it isn't prohibitively expensive(max budget say... $100, less is obviously better)

So yea, thoughts?
posted by emptythought to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just run a cable. If they rip it out then run another.
posted by Jairus at 6:43 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Free air lasers
posted by Sophont at 6:58 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Exactly in budget: a Super Antenna

I have used these in a variety of situations. Rental homes in a "courtyard square" setup as well as a vacation "villa" that had our extended family spread out amongst several cottages.
(Drawback is that it is USB so if you need to get wifi to specific devices that arent laptops or desktops you will need a different solution)

But, to be honest, you may not even need that. 3 stories difference isn't more than 75 feet. Set up the 4th floor with the internet service and a strong wifi router as close to the window/balcony and set up another cheap repeater on your window/balcony (I recommend DDWRT) or you may even have a newer router with a repeater or AP function built-in.
posted by emjay at 7:00 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. You might be able to hid a wireless router as a repeater between the two floors (in a hallway?) (similar to emjay above)

2. You might be able to drop a cable between the walls from the higher floor to the lower floor. Walls are often hollow.
posted by jander03 at 7:02 PM on January 28, 2014

I am not a nework engineer, but I feel like I have tried enough odd things to at least get an honorary degree.

Powerline: I just installed these in my parents' home. I had my doubts that they would work, but was pleasantly surprised at how well it ended up working. I bought the 200Mbps version from TP-Link off Amazon. Now, this was all within the same house with one circuit breaker box. I imagine each apartment has its own breaker box, so that may break things up. But why not try it and see? Or see if there is a common outlet hiding in a hallway that you could try? You could always return them if they don't work?

Wireless: On the other hand, why not just try installing the most powerful wireless router you can install? Then, use one of those wifi explorer apps to look at the spectrum in the building and pick a channel that seems to offer the least interference. Then, move that router in a place in the lower apartment that would seem to offer the least resistance (not by plumbing, for example) -- perhaps in a living room near a window. Then, put a repeater directly above it (also, hopefully near the window). I subletted an apartment for a few months in NYC in an old masonry building -- I had a friend that lived in the same building and it just happened to be four floors down. I was able to use his wireless signal fairly often, but it seemed to go out whenever an elevator passed (since it was probably aided by the elevator shaft that was about halfway between our apartments. I could also pick up lots of other signals when I was near the window that I knew were on lower floors (many people named their SSIDs with their apartment numbers for some reason, so I could kinda figure that out). I was using a linksys WRT54GS when I was doing that, so I imagine some newer 5ghz or other fancy router could do even better.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2014

I'm on the 4th floor of my apartment building and have managed to make a wifi connection to the work center in the basement. It's not great, but it worked. If you buy a decent wifi bridge in one apartment, and manage to find the right spot, you should be able to make it work, even three floors apart.
posted by empath at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2014

If you're doing a wifi bridge, I'd lock it to 802.11b, which has better range, and is probably still faster than your net connection (presuming you're not transferring data between the flats).
posted by pompomtom at 7:48 PM on January 28, 2014

I am fairly sure that b isn't even better than g, let alone N, which is better than both. You can always experiment and see which works better, though.
posted by empath at 8:06 PM on January 28, 2014

If you don't need landline phone service and you have access to the building's phone wiring, you could bridge the two circuits and use Ethernet over VDSL bridges.
posted by zsazsa at 8:06 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have access to the buildings phone wiring, you can just do straight up ethernet, as long as they're within 300 feet of each other, and you have enough pairs, you don't need to mess with vdsl.
posted by empath at 8:10 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could plug 2 MoCA modems into the building's cable TV system. It basically does ethernet over cable TV coax, and you can set your own encryption code for communication between the two devices.
posted by w0mbat at 8:27 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a variety of 'homemade wireless directional antenna' how-to pages to be found via searching. Most seem to involve using metal to concentrate the signal from one direction and block signals from other directions. Materials range from tin cans, to kitchen utensils, and even just aluminum foil.

You could try some some variation of this for your wireless router solution; it would involve minimal cost, and you would quickly learn whether it would work for their location.
posted by 1367 at 8:55 PM on January 28, 2014

If the apartments are both on the back of the building, could you mount two antennae off the window sills with only 40 feet of air between?
posted by nicwolff at 4:45 AM on January 29, 2014

How about Ethernet over Powerline? Pick one up at BestBuy and give it a try. You can always return it if it doesn't work for you.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:53 AM on January 29, 2014

I shared an internet connection over wifi with three other apartments in my building. It worked fine for Netflix and Hulu. These were small apartments in a wood-frame building, so YMMV, but I'd just give a decent wifi router a try before going crazy with other solutions.
posted by mskyle at 6:49 AM on January 29, 2014

I think plain ethernet might be easy here - get some decent Cat 5e/6 cable and run it out the window from the 4th floor down to the 1st. Why not?

If that works well, you might consider a more long-term solution like drilling a hole in each window frame for the cable, or using an exhaust fan vent, or something like that. But this would be cheap and easy to test.

Alternatively, 3 floors is not that hard for a decent WiFi router to cover, especially if there's not a lot of other WiFi signals crowding the ether. Try that before doing anything fancy with directional antennas.
posted by RedOrGreen at 4:26 PM on January 29, 2014

As an update on this, it turns out i was beanplating tough. The building is like 10 years old at most, and apparently new buildings are made out of cardboard or something. Just with the crappy ISP supplied modem+wireless router combo in the downstairs apartment, the signal easily reaches the upstairs apartment, even on a smartphone.

Placing the roku upstairs on the window sill took it from a medium to a strong signal, so it's just staying there.

If i have any issues with this i'll just be going the "most powerful wireless router" route, since clearly it's easily possible to just ram a signal straight through the building.

and now some grumbling about how my over 100 year old apartment blocks wireless signals so well that i get one bar of cell reception, and flaky wifi in my bedroom 20 feet away from the router...
posted by emptythought at 4:45 PM on February 17, 2014

Ok, to follow up on that... it ended up being unreliable.

If anyone else is having this problem, the easiest/cheapest solution i found since i couldn't swap out the router/modem since it's a VOIP unit as well was this. I got it for a lot cheaper than that too, which you can if you hunt around.

Basically, any external-antenna equipped repeater or re-purposed DD-WRT router would work. I plugged the roku directly into the rj-45 jack on the repeater, and i'd do the same if i had used a router.

That unit can rebroadcast a wifi network and connect to multiple wired devices at the same time. It was surprisingly difficult to find units that weren't either-or with that, in that they could only bridge or be a repeater and not both.

I also got the smaller, 1000-series wireless only version of that which is the size of a wall wart to test out on another network and was similarly happy with it. The only caveat with either of those is that they glitch out randomly if you assign them to have the same SSID as the network they're repeating, which is how most people would want to use them.
posted by emptythought at 3:41 PM on July 29, 2014

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