be my network admin for a day
June 18, 2019 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to make a local network with a hotspot from a phone, or that free-flowing xfinity wifi? Without adding another service?

I have a studio space I work in frequently. I appreciate that I don't have internet service there; I can focus on work better and it's one less bill to pay.

Between making my phone into a hotspot and those xfinity wifi hotspots, I have just enough internet to do the emailing and basic uploading and downloading I need to.

BUT! We've been doing more admin/office work things in this space, and it would be very helpful to have things like a printer or a shared NAS. It's a wonder of the future that we can have these things and connect wirelessly through a local network.

Is it possible to get some kind of router that will connect to these little networks I have and do this for me? Ideally not something I need to set up each time I want to use it, I would like to configure it once and be done (I feel like this is the tricky part). Can you tell me which one? Is there a very obvious answer and I'm just a busy smallbusinessperson and missed the solution easily findable with the right search terms, which I haven't found yet?
posted by jeweled accumulation to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ting is doing a pilot unlimited plan (usu you pay by mins/txts/MBs) and they also have free tethering, all for $45/mo...apparently using this as your main data connection is frowned upon in the TOS but I've been taking (up to about 10GB) advantage of it far haven't had any problems with printing wirelessly...don't know about NAS. All the other providers charge a ton for tethered it might be worth looking into even if it's just a pilot plan...but I've had it for about 6 months now so it looks like they might be keeping it (though they may or may not add throttling after a certain amount of data)
posted by sexyrobot at 12:23 PM on June 18, 2019

Oh, and using it/setting it up is dead easy. The phone acts as the router...just switch the hotspot to on and put the network name (usu the phone model #) and password into your devices. My laptop and printer auto-connect when I switch it on. I've also used it with a PS4.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2019

Response by poster: I guess my question is actually about making a LAN, I don't really need more internet than I have, is what I'm saying. I included the information about the internet services i have because I'm getting a lot of unclear information on how to set this up without dedicated "outside" internet service.

I have found this which may actually be the answer?
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:34 PM on June 18, 2019

Yes, that's what you want to do. You should be able to do this with any inexpensive wifi router. The only wrinkle I can foresee is that the setup process is (naturally) going to assume that you want to connect it to the internet. You'll want to be able to skip that (forever) without getting stuck. Once devices on your network start getting IP addresses from the router, they should all be able to see each other. You'll be good to go.
posted by jquinby at 12:37 PM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, any wifi router will do -- turn it on, configure it with your preferred Wifi Access Point Name and password, and you'll have wireless LAN only.

Make sure the router's DHCP service -- the service that issues IP addresses to devices that connect to it -- is enabled-- sometimes one might disable it so that it doesn't conflict with other DHCP servers on the network, but in your case, there won't be any.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:13 PM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: One wrinkle: do you want to be able to access the internet via your hotspot at the same time as the devices on your wireless LAN? There are ways to do this, but the wireless router suggestions above will require you to switch between your LAN WiFi and your hotspot WiFi on any device you want to use both unless you do something like configure your wireless router to bridge a connection to your hotspot WiFi.
posted by Aleyn at 1:40 PM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: Mikrotik sells several routers that will do what you want. Essentially, you're asking for an AP that can use another wireless LAN as its internet connection as necessary, but is otherwise disconnected from other networks.

In fact, I watched a YouTube video a couple of days ago how to do this with the really cheap ones that only have one radio. It's much easier with the models that have two since your WLAN and the Internet connection are completely independent, but if budget is such a concern that $40 makes a big difference, the extra hassle may be worth it, and can be avoided by doing any configuration/connecting to other networks from a wired device.

People will tell you they are complicated devices because they have lots of options, but some of the things it can do are inherently complicated. This is something you can set up entirely with the quick configuration wizard and a couple of buttons on the wireless page to scan for and join a network if your upstream networks aren't using encryption, which xfinitywifi hotspots certainly don't.

A hAP AC² is $80 or less and would be pretty much ideal, if not a bit of overkill.
posted by wierdo at 2:17 PM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

This should be trivial to set up. They sell travel routers to do this exact thing. Here is one (as an example, I've not used it before but some of the reviews are concerning).

They are used to make LANs on hotel WIFI for traveling business people that have their own printers, etc.
posted by dozo at 2:44 PM on June 18, 2019

You can flash many routers with third-party firmware such as DD-WRT that will let you configure the router's WiFi in client-access mode so that it connects to another wireless network as its internet source, instead of the wired port. Once you get that set up and connected, the rest of the router works normally and can be used to connect other wired devices into a private network hidden behind the one IP address issued by the hotspot to its radio.

This means it will not be able to transmit its own wireless network since the radio is essentially running in reverse, but there is nothing to stop you plugging a second router's internet port into a LAN port on the first one and setting up a new wireless network sharing it - making sure not to use the same private IP range on both, or, ideally configuring the second one in bridge mode without DHCP, so that its wireless clients appear on the same network as the first, and they can all talk to each other without the second one trying to protect its clients from "the internet" provided by the first one.

You'd need to check with the website for the firmware to see which routers are compatible before buying one.
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 3:04 PM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: Looking over the product list again the hAP AC lite is under $50 and still has two radios. If you want something with built-in LTE and two WiFi radios, you're looking at $130ish, but there's not much point since you can have the hAP use your phone's hotspot for Internet when you need to use LTE instead of WiFi.
posted by wierdo at 3:21 PM on June 18, 2019

Be aware that using your phone as a hotspot is literal...every phone I’ve done this with heats up the phone quite a bit, and heat can mean shortened life for the device.
posted by lhauser at 6:57 PM on June 18, 2019

Response by poster: Ah! Yes! So the hAP one will allow me to connect to a local network as well as the other ones? That’s actually the ideal, although I can deal with switching if I have to.

Budget isn’t a HUGE concern; the $140 one is fine. I think I looked into Comcast and because the building isn’t residential, i need commercial internet, and it’s just a little more expensive than I’d like each month for high speed internet. And it’s nice to have a space in life with limited internet.

Thanks so much. Marking that one as best answer and hoping it works!
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: This Pepwave Surf SOHO router (a little more expensive, but high quality for sure) will take any wireless signal (e.g. your phone's hotspot) and rebroadcast it as a new wireless area network. If it doesn't have an internet signal, it will create a network anyway. I think this would do it! We used it in a motorhome so that when we pulled into a new place, we just connected the router to the best wireless network, and we had our own secure network that all our devices remembered. Bam!
posted by nosila at 8:04 AM on June 19, 2019

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