WiFi Setup With Two Access Points
May 5, 2014 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to a new house, and it is wired with cat 5e. I'd like to set up a wifi network with one wifi access point on one side of the house, and one wifi access point on the other side of the house. What hardware would you recommend and how do I do it?

Ideally, I would use something with good hardware/firmware (maybe an Airport) or something I can flash to have something reasonable (Tomato, DD-WRT). I'm pretty technical, so I would be willing to do something like flash firmware, but I'm not looking to do anything super complicated or expensive like some enterprise setup.
posted by pbh to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
i've played around with this, and i'd recommend getting two of the SAME cheaper router and flashing both. the AP and wired repeater being mixed brands or models always seemed to induce flakiness.

This is obviously not always true, but if you can eliminate some variables without it being a big deal and you're starting from scratch then... why not?

Something in the asus n66 or surrounding series' is what i'd pick. They're widely regarded as pretty much the best, not too expensive(even cheaper if you ebay them and deals abound on slickdeals type sites, they've been out for a while), and support custom firmwares the way thinkpads support linux.

If you get some somewhat more basic models(especially if you don't care about wireless AC, or absolute monstrous feature lists) you could probably pick up two of them for the price of an airport as well.

Oh, and speaking from experience with airports, they don't really have anything in their configuration options as feature-dense as most other routers to help you set up a repeater. DD-WRT has like an entire page dedicated to it both on the AP and repeater sides, and stuff dedicated to having two APs on the same network that are interlinking wired like that, not just repeating a wireless signal(and the airport has NO stuff for this)

As a side note though, have you considered just getting one monster router and some gigantic high gain antennas? One of the sharehouses i lived in did this, and it worked better than any multi-ap setup i've ever seen. Like something in the 12-20dbi range. Performance may suffer very close to the router from signal saturation/overload, but if you put it in an attic/crawlspace/basement you'll likely just get awesome coverage from the whole house. The only thing i would have changed was easier access to the router power to reboot it once in a blue moon.(And note, this was in the dd-wrt flashed wrt54g days...)
posted by emptythought at 2:48 PM on May 5, 2014

I have my default AT&T router on one side of my house and an Apple Airport on the other side. I set up the Airport to not do DHCP but just act as an AP and it works fine. I manually set the Airport to the same SSID and WPA2 password as my old router and all devices see both routers just fine. No firmware flashing, just stock setups on both sides. You'd have to buy a really terrible router to not be able to handle this situation.

A word of warning: consumer-grade devices do handoff terribly. Phones tend to hang on to a poor connection too long and are always reluctant to switch APs. Devices that don't move are fine but you may find yourself turning wifi off and on manually. This will happen regardless of whether the APs have the same SSIDs or not. The only real fix is buying commercial grade routers that coordinate handoffs. Or re-write the networking stacks for Android and iOS.

A really new router with a massive antenna array may be an equally good solution and will avoid the handoff issue.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on May 5, 2014

I run the Ubiquiti Unifi APs on my home network for access in my house and my shop, because one AP doesn't quite cover the whole yard. Roaming between the APs isn't quite seamless, but it's pretty amazing. The only weirdness is that you have to run their admin tool on a server; I believe that if you aren't trying to do anything dramatic on the network (ie: not using the guest network features or fancier authentication) you can just use that to configure the APs and then turn off that computer.

But the only thing weird about Ubiquiti hardware is that the Enterprise grade sysadmins complain that their Power-Over-Ethernet injectors are non-standard. If you view them as a $70 high end AP that just works, it's a great scalable way to build a wider coverage network.
posted by straw at 3:26 PM on May 5, 2014

I have done this. You could get a couple of Wireless Access Points but even a couple of cheap wireless routers will do. Turn off DHCP in each of the routers, set each up with their own SSID, place them where needed, string the CAT5 to the router which will control the network and VOILA!
posted by brownrd at 3:34 PM on May 5, 2014

I'm doing this, and I've tried a ton of different configurations. If it worked well, it would have been more convenient to use just one SSID (because then I wouldn't have to type in the same password more than once) but I eventually decided rather have it work well than work poorly but conveniently. What was happening was the devices would pick the wrong network, or stay on the wrong network when they should switch. When that happened it was very difficult to diagnose or correct.

So now I have two APs on my LAN, with two SSIDs (e.g., pbh-east, pbh-west), with the same encryption settings. Only one of them is a DHCP server. The two APs are on different channels.

I'll be watching this thread to see if anyone knows how to make this work better with one SSID.
posted by aubilenon at 3:50 PM on May 5, 2014

I do this. I use a pair of Buffalo WZR-HP-AG300H access points, flashed with OpenWRT. I have dhcp disabled, and am running a dhcpd on a different server. I have identical SSIDs on both of them, on different channels. On each access point, i have both radios (2.4ghz and 5ghz) and the network uplink all bridged together, so its all just a flat network. no nat or anything. It works great, we get 4 or 5 (out of 5) bars everywhere in the house, never have to do anything manually, and i have a raspberry pi out in a detached garage that has a decent connection too.

If you go this route, be aware that none of the AC routers are currently supported by OpenWRT (even the linksys that specifically lies and says it is supported. it is supported - but the wifi radios aren't. so it'll boot, but you can't use the radios.) I would recommend tp-link or buffalo. message me if you have any questions.
posted by duckstab at 7:36 PM on May 5, 2014

The current crop of Asus routers are excellent, and the stock firmware is very good. They support being put into AP mode (DHCP server off, routing disabled, etc.) out of the box. If you want custom firmware, there's a great enhanced version of the Asus firmware called AsusWRT-Merlin. The Asus routers also support DD-WRT and Tomato, but you'll get better performance from Merlin. DD-WRT is getting really long in the tooth these days, and tracking down stable versions requires lots of tedious forum reading. Tomato is better on that front at least.
posted by zsazsa at 8:57 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It sounds like the consensus is that I should probably just use two different access points on two different channels with two different SSIDs.

It also sounds like I should probably go with an ASUS, though the line seems super complex. What should I consider getting if I just want something that will literally just forward the traffic back-and-forth from Ethernet? It looks like there's the RT-N56U, the RT-N66U, the RT-A66U, the RT-A68U... What's the difference?
posted by pbh at 11:00 AM on May 6, 2014

That's why I suggested the Ubiquiti solution: Two different channels, same SSID. Short hiccup as devices switch between APs, but I can walk from the shop to the house and back and it's just a little bit of garbled voice with WiFi calling.

(The roaming may only be in the beta firmware, but that's what I've been running for a while).

And the APs don't cost any more than the lesser solutions. And you can SSH into them.
posted by straw at 4:33 PM on May 6, 2014

Response by poster: Also, what's the minimal configuration that you have straw? I can't quite figure out which parts are required and non-required for a Ubiquiti setup. Do I just need the APs? Do I need some PoE devices? Do I need to have specifically Ubiquiti switches?
posted by pbh at 5:27 PM on May 6, 2014

Best answer: You'd need two UniFi APs (about $70 each, though they sell a $200 for 3 pack) and a box to run the management software on. The AP comes with their POE injector as a power supply. Plug them into whatever switch.

The management software is a Java web server app, I run it on Ubuntu Linux, it'd be easy to run on Windows or whatever, and if you aren't using any of the fancy stuff (guest networks, weird access rules, etc) you don't need it running all the time; you can use it just to configure.
posted by straw at 8:01 PM on May 6, 2014

Response by poster: For future readers of this thread, I ended up going with the UniFi solution. I just set it up tonight, so I can't really evaluate stability or anything like that. It seems reasonable so far though. Thanks straw!
posted by pbh at 9:05 PM on May 9, 2014

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