I have an extra wi-fi router now. Can I put it to use?
November 4, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I recently bought a new router (Archer AC1750) to fix my crappy home wi-fi. It helped, but the second floor of the house still had some issues. Then my cable company (Time Warner) sent me a new cable modem with built-in wi-fi, rendering my new router superfluous. The new modem is also good, not quite as good as the Archer, and my second floor still has poor signal. I'm wondering, can the Archer be used somehow to improve the second floor signal, in some kind of unholy alliance between it and the Time Warner modem/router?
posted by malhouse to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the capabilities of the routers, but it's often possible to extend the range of a wireless network by using a second router as a repeater. There are lots of guides online explaining how to do this.
posted by pipeski at 10:17 AM on November 4, 2014

The most straightforward and effective option is to run an ethernet cable from the Time Warner router on the first floor to the Archer router on the second floor.
posted by smackfu at 10:19 AM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I feel like a broken record saying this, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE exhaust all options of running a hard wire (preferably ethernet, but even powerline is better than nothing) from the router to your second access point before trying to do any kind of "repeater" or "range extender" setup. The performance and reliability will be infinitely better. Only if it is literally impossible to get a wired connection between them should you even begin to think about a wireless extender configuration.
posted by primethyme at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks - is there a guide to doing the hardwire option? Like, should both routers use the same network name and password or should they be different? If I'm on the upstairs router, will I be able to print off a printer that's on the downstairs router?
posted by malhouse at 11:11 AM on November 4, 2014

Here's how my house is set up with two wifi routers in it:

Wireless router 1: is connected to the internet directly, named "secure_name", channel 5, with secure password, has DHCP enabled, is in basement office.

Wireless router 2: name "guest_wifi", channel 11, password is simple but not too simple, DHCP is disabled, NAT is disabled, is in living room, connected by Ethernet cable run from basement through airducts to router in the living room.

What you don't want is the two wireless routers conflicting, because there's likely some signal overlap between the two. Technically I believe you can have the same names, but it's better to not, to avoid confusing your computer's 'remembered networks'.

Set them on different radio channels, because if they're both on channel 11, even outside of what you'd consider normal range, the two signals are going to interfere, degrading both.

DHCP is a protocol so that devices can get an IP address, figure out their gateway and netmask and DNS servers, without having a human configure them. When you have two DHCP servers on the same network, they might give the same address to two different machines, they might have different subnets so that machines on the same "network" won't be able to talk to each other. Most routers let you turn off DHCP on it, so that the other router will handle all requests.

NAT is Network Address Translation -- it's why you can have hundreds of devices all sharing one network connection. The wireless router that's wired to your other wireless router doesn't need to do any "translating" -- they should be on the same network, especially if the main wireless router is handling all the DHCP.

If your router has a simple configuration to set it as a "wireless access point", use that -- it generally disables DHCP and NAT for you. Aside from that, run your network cable, don't bend it around too tight of any corners, don't stretch it, and you'll be fine.

Edit: Yes, if you let one router handle all the DHCP and NAT, you will be able to print to a printer on the other network. If you let both routers do their own thing, then you might break your network, but if the router that's hooked up to the internet is also handing out IP addresses to computers on both wireless networks, they'll all be able to talk fine. Worst case scenario is you have to change the ip address ranges of both wireless routers, but that's getting pretty complicated.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:28 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you don't want is the two wireless routers conflicting, because there's likely some signal overlap between the two. Technically I believe you can have the same names, but it's better to not, to avoid confusing your computer's 'remembered networks'.

I actually disagree with this. In most cases, I prefer to use the same SSID (network name) for all of my access points, because it's much easier from a user standpoint. Just join the "foobar" network and your device will connect to it via whichever access point is better given the current location in the building. Now, there can be problems with connections switching between APs as you move about the house, but using different SSIDs doesn't really solve that -- it just forces you to manually make the switch. I currently have three APs in my house set up this way, and it works well.

In the past I experimented with using different SSIDs for every AP, but I ended up with a lot of situations where it caused problems. For example, when you wake/boot a Mac, it will try to connect to the last network it associated with. If you were using your computer on the network "Downstairs" last night, then put it to sleep and brought it upstairs, it's liable to connect to the "Downstairs" network if there's even a sliver of signal available, even though the "Upstairs" network is much stronger. If I want to switch, I have to do it manually, which is annoying. If they're all the same network, it should (it won't always, but it should) use the strongest AP, relieving me of the need to think about it at all.

I do agree with the rest of AzraelBrown's instructions. Make sure your second router is in bridge mode (no DHCP server, no NAT, etc.) and make sure you're using different, non-overlapping channels. And if you do choose to use the same network name, make sure the password and security settings are exactly the same on both APs as well.
posted by primethyme at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

We just set my mom up with an AWESOME whole-house setup. Here's what we used:

Powerline Ethernet Adapter - you can use as many of these as you want, but it sounds like this starter kit will work for you. Plug one unit into the wall by the modem. Plug the modem into that one. Plug the other unit into an electrical outlet somewhere central upstairs. Plug your extra router into that one.

Congratulations -- you know have a super-strong upstairs network! The disadvantage to this is that, if you walk upstairs with a phone or tablet, you'll have to change networks, but how often does that happen? (In my mom's case, not often.)

(Edit: just read the solutions above. This one is similar, except you don't have to run ethernet cable throughout your house. As to naming the network -- I've never tried using the same name on two routers, so listen to those people, who sound much more knowledgeable than I on that topic.)
posted by nosila at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2014

I use a dual router set up at home and it has been incredibly reliable (for about 6 years so far). Even though it is technically slower, the performance here is still limited by my outside network connection unless you do a lot of large internal transfers, which I don't. Here is how I have mine set up, the quality of what you get depends on your router drivers. In my case I use the same SSID and password across my network, it's just one big network (and works great seamlessly, for example carrying my phone up the stairs).
posted by anaelith at 7:06 PM on November 4, 2014

Yeah, powerline ethernet is a good first thing to try. Relatively cheap and if it it works well with your wiring, it's super easy. (For us, it worked great 99% of the time and dropped the connection 1% of the time, so we ended up not using it.)
posted by smackfu at 5:35 AM on November 5, 2014

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