Can I have a private wireless network with a shared internet connection?
August 9, 2015 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I share an internet connection with the other tenants in my small apartment building. My neighbors are nice folks, but I'd like a little more technological distance between us. I'd like to keep my computers on a private wireless network and have the router for that network connect to the shared router for internet access. Is this possible?

Mr Star. Stuff asks: It's a new apartment building and the landlord includes internet access with the rent. That access comes through a shared router in the basement. I'd like to keep as much of my stuff on my own network as I can. Some of that is that is my own sense of privacy, but some of it is neighborliness. We stream movies from our home server to an ipad in another room. We don't need internet access for that, an we don't want to hog bandwidth on the shared router. The connection is already getting a little overloaded.

I'm aiming for a setup like this EXCEPT that the network on the right-hand side is wireless, not wired. My understanding is that client bridges can't be set up that way, but this is new territory for me. Just before I gave up googling, it looked like setting my router up as a repeater would work, except that it would make a significantly slower connection, and I'm unclear on whether the computers that connect to my repeater would be accessible to the other my neighbors' computers that connect to the shared router. There's no harm in trying things out, but I'm not sure I'm even going in the right direction.

Here are some constraints:
1) My router, a Netgear WNR3500Lv2, is not DD-WRT compatible. Tomato should work, but I haven't used it before.
2) Pretend that I don't have physical or administrative access to shared router. My landlord manages the router and internet access, and I'd rather not bother him if I can help it.
posted by Made of Star Stuff to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. All devices behind your router are on your private network. Plug your router into the wire coming from the buildings router and everything that connects to your router is on your private network. No bridge, no repeater necessary.
posted by LoveHam at 7:02 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

LoveHam is correct. A few details.

1) Make sure you connect the buildings router to the WAN port on your router.
2) Make sure the firewall & NAT are turned on for your router.
3) Pick a wireless channel which is not used by other wireless routers in the building.
4) Life will be easier if you if you pick a subnet for your private network that is different from the others in the house. For example use 192.168.10.X on the LAN side. All of the machines on your network will have IP addresses in this range.
posted by NoDef at 7:37 PM on August 9, 2015

Thanks LoveHam. That sounds ideal, except that I'd need physical access to the shared router. I may end up going with that solution in the end, but I'd like to avoid it if I can. Are there any alternatives that don't require physical or administrative access?
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:36 PM on August 9, 2015

To clarify: you're saying you don't have a wall jack that leads to the router in the basement, but instead need to connect to it wirelessly? For that I'd get an AirPort Express and set it up thusly, then plug the LAN port of the Express into the WAN port of your own router as LoveHam suggests.
posted by contraption at 9:56 PM on August 9, 2015

Okay, one last clarification from me and I'll step back. There's a wall jack that connects to the router in the basement. I could connect my router to the shared router, just as LoveHam suggests, if I get the okay from my landlord. That's a little dicey. The internet connection has been unreliable recently. If I plug anything into the shared router, there's a good chance that any continuing problems will wrongly be chalked up to my tinkering, and nothing more will be done. I'll take that risk if the alternatives are too expensive or unworkable, but I'd like to see what they are first.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:47 PM on August 9, 2015

First off, it's absolutely possible for you to have your own private WiFi network that bridges to the shared one. This will typically take the form contraption suggests, where you have a device acting as a wireless bridge that connects to the shared WiFi network and provides an ethernet port, which you then connect to the personal router providing the private WiFi network via its WAN port. I don't know off-hand of single devices that have the capability to both act as a wireless bridge and provide their own private network, but I wouldn't be surprised if they exist, or if the scenario can be enabled by third-party firmware. My suspicion is that there might be a WiFi extender that is capable of behaving this way, but I wasn't able to come up with anything conclusive.

Second, I would try the direct connection to the shared router (via the wall jack) before investing in a more complicated WiFi bridge setup. Especially if you go with the two-device setup above, you'd still need to buy a router, so I'd personally just get the router first and then try the direct connection. It's very likely that it will be more stable, assuming the wiring isn't somehow faulty, as you don't have to deal with a bunch of devices all trying to connect to the same shared WiFi bandwidth, which can very quickly bog down. If it turns out that this doesn't work, you can buy a separate wireless bridge, connect it to the router already purchased, and away you go.

One final note: make sure that whatever solution you pick for the private network is capable of operating in the 5 GHz band, and try to get as many of your wireless devices to use that band to connect as well. At minimum, be sure your private WiFi network uses a different channel from the shared network. It will help keep your network from interfering with the shared network, bringing the speed of both down. (From the sound of things, I'm willing to bet that the shared WiFi already has too many devices connecting to it, and that's why things are flaky. Most landlords aren't good network engineers.)
posted by Aleyn at 12:02 AM on August 10, 2015

Nthing everyone that said just plug it in(to the WAN port on your router). Barring any sort of weird registration stuff you may need to do (and which you would probably remember doing if you had any), the router just sees another computer. You don't necessarily need to install a third-party firmware or anything like that either (though it's nice because sometimes [usually] the first-party ones are buggy).

You do need to make sure your router's handing out different network addresses than the building's router. Basically, before you hook your router in, you need to check what your current IP address is (Windows 7 with a dropdown for the other versions, Mac OS X) and then just choose something different for your network. Your current address will either be in the format of 192.168.x.y, 10.x.x.y, or 172.16.x.y-172.31.x.y, in roughly that order; just use something other than the one you have, with the Xs being any number between 0 and 254, and the Ys being the number that your router will assign automatically. (So, if your IP is, it'd be safe to tell your router to assign 10.15.190.y.) There'll be a bit in the setup for the router that will allow you to choose this, and it may even do it automatically. For example, U-Verse routers use the 192.168.1.x network by default, so I set my internal network to use 10.0.43.x. I can (to an extent) see everything that happens on the U-verse side of things and can use the Internet as whole just fine but the U-verse/Internet side of things can't get to my stuff (except where I've explicitly allowed access, which you probably won't need to do - I need to get into my computer remotely and have set things up accordingly for that).
posted by mrg at 10:20 AM on August 10, 2015

The landlord is being silly if they want everybody to use wifi when wires exist, that's definitely going to cause the network to work poorly when a whole building full of people are competing for use of what sounds like a single antenna. That said, sometimes you just have to go along with silly people in positions of power.

There are devices that will let you set up "wifi as WAN" and then also distribute the connection via wifi, but in my opinion they won't make sense for you, since they're either 1) specialized industrial units that require special setup and cost a lot or 2) cheesy "repeater" type units that use a single antenna for the connection to the WAN and to client devices, which immediately cuts your bandwidth in half since each packet has to be received and then retransmitted from the same piece of hardware.

Using a separate device as a dedicated bridge will give you the benefits of the specialized gear without the price premium, and will allow you to play around with the positioning of your antennas (AirPort Express as close to the basement as you can get it for a solid WAN connection, main router more centralized for good coverage of the apartment.)
posted by contraption at 10:24 AM on August 10, 2015

Plugging a router in your apartment into the basement router (via your wall jack) is the solution, though it's going to take some configuring on your router. It's not going to break anything.

One other thing to keep in mind is that having a private router in no way protects your Internet traffic from the building's router. Depending on the type of device and other people's access to it, all of your non-SSL Internet traffic is potentially open to anyone with the ability and desire to look at it. Even SSL traffic will show what server you connected to.
posted by cnc at 12:54 PM on August 10, 2015

One more thought if you're concerned about your landlord blaming you for messing up the internet: most wifi router/access points will allow you to set up your network not to broadcast a name, so that people looking at available networks won't see it in the list. This will vary a bit depending on the router manufacturer but might be called "hide ssid," "do not broadcast ssid," "suppress ssid," something along those lines. This way you can connect your devices manually (most will have a "connect to another network" option that will let you type in the name) but a casual observer won't notice that a new network has appeared in the building. Do make sure you put your network on a different channel from the existing one (valid 2.4GHz channels to use are 1, 6 and 11 only, all others are not far enough from those three to avoid interference. If the landlord's router is on something funky like 3 or 7 you should be using 11 or 1 respectively.)
posted by contraption at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2015

Thanks folks. I won't be able to plug into the shared router after all. The dedicated bridge looks like the way to go.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:09 AM on August 11, 2015

If you're not averse to getting your hands a little dirty a Ubiquiti NanoStation would likely outperform an AirPort Express at the cost of a little more bulk and setup complexity. It's got a directional antenna you can point toward the basement and is designed to mount to a mast (but you can just zip-tie it to a dowel or piece of PVC pipe if you don't want to get fancy.) Definitely use the 2.4GHz version as you'll need to connect to the landlord's existing 2.4 network, and that wavelength will penetrate the building better anyway.
posted by contraption at 4:51 PM on August 11, 2015

Avoid apartment 14.
posted by chisel at 6:57 PM on August 11, 2015

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