I'd like a wifi booster/relay so that I can sit in the park and work
May 26, 2014 6:38 AM   Subscribe

I have an Mac airport express base station next to the cable modem downstairs. I'd like to sit in my local park and work on my Macbook. Where I sit is about 100 metres away, with a direct line-of-sight to the upstairs of the house, give or take the odd tree branch and squirrel. What I think I need, therefore, is a basic booster station in an upstairs window, that overlooks this park. What options do I have? Any advice appreciated!

Currently, the signal from the ground floor has to go through several masonry walls to get to the park, and is spotty. I'm just confused as to the options. What I probably don't want (I think) is to do is suck signals into the laptop in a better way, as this would involve a dongle for the laptop, and I'd rather keep the hardware in the house. Many thanks!
posted by carter to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You need a directional antenna, which can be done cheaply by making a Cantenna. The homeade ones work as well as the commercial ones.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:00 AM on May 26, 2014

Thanks, mcstayinskool! I'm really though looking not to improve the antenna on the laptop, but to boost the signal out of the house. Apologies if this is not clear in the question. I'd like a unit that would sit on my upstairs window. It would receive wifi from downstairs, and push the same signal out to the local park.
posted by carter at 7:13 AM on May 26, 2014

I think what you're asking for is to install a second wireless access point in your upstairs window. The best way to do this is to have an ethernet cable between the downstairs router and the upstairs window. Then plug a wireless access point into that cable and have it share out your WiFi. If it's physically impossible to run that cable you can also try a wireless repeater, which is probably more like the "booster" you have in mind: wifi in, wifi out. For technical reasons a repeater works significantly less well than a true access point, but it will work. You can buy a variety of consumer access points and repeaters from any computer store, or if you have an old router lying around you no longer use it may be possible to turn it into one.

However, that 100 metre distance is going to be awkward, particularly if you're in a wifi-dense neighborhood. That's where the directional antenna mcstayinskool comes into play.

Truthfully, what you're asking to do is complicated. A whole different option is to buy a cellular modem / mobile access point and a cellular data subscription. This will be easy to get working but you'll have to pay for the cell data.
posted by Nelson at 7:29 AM on May 26, 2014

I don't know if this will get you the range you're looking for, but have you tried just setting up another Airport Express in your upstairs window? Not sure what the range is but it would be super easy to set up + if you got one and it didn't work you could always return it.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:19 AM on May 26, 2014

Nelson lays things out pretty well. I will add though that while a directional antenna in your window may help, you'll probably also need a directional antenna on the other end, with your laptop. Probably the simplest, lowest power, thing would be a USB WiFi adapter that with an external antenna connection.
posted by Good Brain at 8:29 AM on May 26, 2014

> It would receive wifi from downstairs, and push the same signal out to the local park.

This can be done without an ethernet cable using a wifi range extender.
posted by Poldo at 2:19 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Many thanks, everyone! I'm going to explore further the Airport Express and range extender options first.
posted by carter at 5:46 PM on May 26, 2014

carter: give the cantenna a look, too. I think it will do what you want. Just point it at where you'll be sitting. It'll go in your window.
posted by sporknado at 12:54 AM on May 27, 2014

I find routers at thrift stores and use them as access points. I've gotten newer ones with N speeds for under 8 dollars. It makes experimenting affordable.
posted by werkzeuger at 5:15 AM on May 27, 2014

Aha, good point, sporknado (and thanks, mcstayinskool).
posted by carter at 9:33 AM on May 27, 2014

Carter, a couple of points of clarification.

I think you've figured this out already, but the cantenna recommendation would be for the wifi router/access point, not for your laptop.

Second, the recommendation of the directional antenna (DIY cantenna or commercial) was specifically because of your particular use case, and in my opinion will work much better than a traditional wifi booster for what you want to do.

Lastly, rather than buying a second wifi transmitter ("booster") for your upstairs, have you considered instead getting a long cable for between the cable modem and airport express and then putting the airport express on the 2nd floor? If you do that, you will probably also greatly improve wifi performance at your house too, as wifi tends to cascade through a house better the higher it is physically located.

If I were you, I would first get the airport express to the 2nd floor and see if the signal carries to where you want it to outside. Then I'd rig up the cantenna to the airport express and point it at the spot you're interested in transmitting signal to.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:45 AM on May 27, 2014

There are at least three issues here.

First, the best way to establish connectivity from the house to the park. Given the range involved, this is going to involve at least a directional antenna at the house with a line of sight to the park, it may also require a directional antenna on the laptop.

The directional antenna at the house will have to be connected to something. That something will be a second router / access-point.

Finally, there is the question of how to connect that second device to the downstairs router and on to the Internet. A wired ethernet connection would be "best," but for the fact that running the cable is often a non-trivial project. A wireless bridge / range extender would work adequately, and could possibly be the same device as the device attatched to the directional antenna, but only if it actually has two antennas.

An Airport Express isn't really well suited for the job, because it doesn't have any external antennas. Sure, you can hack one to support an external antenna, but really, that is a project of its own.
posted by Good Brain at 3:41 PM on May 27, 2014

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