My building has wifi internet, but I already have a wifi network. Help!
September 3, 2016 4:20 PM   Subscribe

My building set up free wifi internet, and I'd like to use it, but I'm already using my own wifi network to connect my Mac/iPhone/iPad/etc to devices like a Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, Apple TV, airplay speakers, etc. How use my building's wifi internet while also using my wifi network? If I switch to my building's wifi internet, I lose my network and my other devices. If I switch to my wifi network, I lose my building's wifi internet. I'm really shocked by how difficult this is. With cable internet, I plug the cable modem into my router's WAN port & bam, I'm done. How do I accomplish the same thing with a wifi internet provider? Is there such a thing as a wifi modem I can connect to my Airport Extreme router so I can serve internet to my devices on my wifi network? I have an old Airport Express router I'm not using. Is it possible to tell the Airport Express to pick up my building's wifi & then connect it to my Airport Extreme by ethernet so it can serve internet to the devices on my wifi network? If so, how?
posted by 2oh1 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You want to set the AirPort Extreme as a repeater. I'm not 100% sure it will preserve the segmentation you need (I think so, but...), but there's a lot of Googles out there for "airport extreme repeater."
posted by rhizome at 4:45 PM on September 3, 2016

Yes, you should be able to use your airport express for that, provided it's the newer 802.11n model. Instructions.
posted by kickingtheground at 4:46 PM on September 3, 2016

@rhizome: If I set my Airport Extreme as a repeater, I'd lose my own wireless network, on which I have multiple devices.

@kickingtheground: Sadly, my Airport Express is the original b/g model, but I'm willing to buy a new one if I have to.

The instructions say: "Choose the Wi-Fi network name from the Wireless Network Name menu that you wish to join and click next." Does that mean I'll be able to select my building's wifi network, and then by connecting the Airport Extress to my Airport Extreme's WAN ethernet port, my Airport Extreme will serve the building's wifi internet across my local wifi network?
posted by 2oh1 at 5:01 PM on September 3, 2016

You've understood the concept correctly - the airport express in client mode connects to your building wifi, and then is connected over ethernet to your airport extreme, just as though it were a modem. The actual term the industry uses for this functionality is 'wireless bridge.'

You can buy a newer generation airport express (it's been out long enough I'd bet there are cheap refurbs available), or there are various other options. Often bridge mode is a secondary operating mode for devices primarily marketed as repeaters, extenders, or even routers - but 'bridge' is the word you're looking for in the more detailed specs.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2016

This kind of setup, while rare, is not entirely uncommon. You want a router that can do "wifi as WAN" and treat a wifi connection as the link to the outside world. This site has a selection of WiFi as WAN routers.

Alternatively, you could use another drive in bridge mode, and hook it to the WAN port of your existing router as the people above have suggested.
posted by zsazsa at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2016

Indeed, you want a router with a WiFi bridge mode, which is basically creating your own little network inside the larger building network, all over WiFi. Plenty of manufacturers make these (I've had good luck with Asus for this function).

It might be possible to do what you want with your two Airports, so worth a try, but you probably won't know until you do.
posted by ssg at 5:24 PM on September 3, 2016

Travel Routers are good for this. Most of them are designed for exactly this situation: hooking up to a "foreign" wifi while maintaining a constant, standard wifi network for your gear.

I use one for traveling: even when I'm in, say, a hotel, my stuff (like my Chromecast) still think they are on my home network (same SSID and credentials)

I use a WL-330NUL, which is really compact, but has crappy broadcast range. You could probably find a similar model that worked better for your purposes.
posted by kaszeta at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2016

OK! I bought a current generation Airport Express. I found one used for $39, shipped. Not bad.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:23 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

From a security perspective, sharing a WiFi network with others can be dangerous. I suggest reading up on how to secure all your devices.
posted by mantecol at 4:19 PM on September 4, 2016

Bridge/repeater mode on a single router/AP is not what you want, as it will expose all of your devices to everyone else in the building. It will be OK if you use your existing router to plug into a new router that is configured in bridge mode so that the new device acts essentially like a cable modem as far as your current router is concerned, though.

The other option is what I do with a simultaneous dual band router loaded with DD-WRT, which allows you to set up one radio to act as the WAN port and the other to be on the LAN side. It's nice having a single-box solution, but it's quite fiddly to get set up initially and it's hard to find routers that have two dual band WiFi interfaces. Most have one that does 2.4 or 5GHz and another that is either 2.4 only or 5GHz only. Worse still, that often differs between hardware revisions of the same model! (For example, revision 1 and 2 of the Netgear WNDR3400 has one dual band interface and 1 5GHz interface, one of rev. 3 or 4 has two dual band interfaces and the other has one dual band and one 2.4GHz, and later versions are back to one dual band and one 5GHz. All with the same model number!) It's a lot easier to just have two boxes.

And do be aware that it is highly likely that the performance will be absolutely terrible at peak times unless your complex is using really high end gear. Anybody that is using an older device that only supports 802.11g or has a bad signal will trash the performance for everyone. You'll likely be better off with Uverse or cable. Worse, it'll make your wifi network slow also unless they put it all on a single channel that you happen to not be using. You may find it necessary to switch to 5GHz to get decent performance. (There are 20+ non-overlapping WiFi channels available on the 5GHz band and only 3 on 2.4)

These issues can be mitigated on high-end gear, especially when they provide the CPE, but very few apartment/condo systems use it (who can blame them when it costs several thousand dollars per access point!) and almost none provide you with an in-unit box.
posted by wierdo at 8:56 PM on September 4, 2016

I should have made my previous comment more clear. I'm taking the advice of kickingtheground above, by using two routers. And Airport Extreme will serve my wifi, locked down. And the Airport Express, in client mode, will connect to my building's wifi internet, and it'll be connected by ethernet to my Airport Extreme.

I'll test it for a few weeks to make sure it works well, and to make sure using my building's wifi is at least as good as Comcast. Testing so far seems to be the same. Comcast is a little faster on downloads, but barely. My building's wifi is a bit faster than Comcast for uploads. I live alone & my internet speed needs are low. I basically just need it to be fast enough for Netflix. For years, I subscribed to Comcast's cheap 6 megs down / 1 up, and that was fine. With my building's wifi, I'm getting nearly triple that.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:40 PM on September 5, 2016

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