Stretching wifi to cabin office
August 7, 2022 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Our family just moved into a great new house and one of the advantages is that it has a little out building about 65 feet from the main house that my partner and I are planning to use as our office for remote work. But so far, we can't get our wireless to reach at a strength that makes work possible. We suspect that the only answer is to run additional cable but wanted to query you all first.

My partner who is the more tech savvy of the two of us explains it as follows:

The main house has Comcast 100 Mbps cable service. It comes up from the basement in a coax cable that’s connected to a Motorola MB7621 modem, which is in connected to a TP-Link Deco X20 mesh wifi system. We have the modem and main Wifi router situated on the middle of our first floor.

The garden office is about 65 feet away from the primary router. When we set it up, we set up 5 Deco routers (three downstairs in the house, one upstairs, and one in the garden office). We are finding that the transfer of signal from the main house to the garden office loses a significant amount of strength, and that we can’t stream or do video calls in the garden office.

Based on some preliminary internet sleuthing, the solutions that seem to be out there include (1) splitting the coax cable in the basement and running a separate coax to the garden office, (2) running an Ethernet cable plugged into the modem from the house to the garden office, or (3) using an outdoor point-to-point wifi bridge.

If we can do something wireless that will be a lot easier since running cables requires significantly more physical work, which we’re likely to need to hire someone to do. Is there a good wireless approach that we're not thinking of? Or at least one that doesn’t involve running a new cable from the main house to the cabin, which would need to go under stone walls, brick pathways and be run both out of the main house and into the garden office? If we are stuck running a cable, any thoughts on whether we’re better off running an Ethernet cable or splitting the coax would be welcome.

Thanks in advance for any ideas!
posted by jeszac to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
As a network engineer by trade I would suggest running a cable. For a number of reasons wifi is always a bit dodgy, but it's also really convenient because you don't have run cables and mostly it works for user-type things. In this case you only need to run the cable once and it should be good for years. I'd probably run coax and two Cat6 cables, might as well extend the cable while you're at it and if needed that can be used as a network cable too. But now I'm thinking you need some kind of conduit to protect the cable and that's got me thinking maybe this is kind of a PITA. I'd probably still look into it but...

The search term you want for wifi is "point to point". Rather than a general wifi system you want something with two APs that talk specifically to each other to bridge the networks at each end together.
posted by Awfki at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I just looked into wifi extenders since we weren't getting useful service out on our porch. I selected a relatively modest one and plugged it in at the farthest point of the house near the porch. During the installation, I got a warning saying basically, no that's way too close (about 50 ft); you can put it farther away and get even wider coverage. So I would guess covering the 60ft is no big deal.

The extender does have disadvantage that it uses a different wifi name. Your devices may od may not change automatically depending on the relative signal strengths of all the wifi sources nearby.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:48 AM on August 7, 2022

Best answer: If you're doing this for remote work (meaning it will be used all day every day, you need it to be reliable, and you'll be doing heavier-bandwidth stuff like video conferencing), and you own the house and plan to be there for a long time, I strongly recommend biting the bullet and having some cable run. Yes, you may be able to get by with wifi extenders, but in general those are miserable devices that cause more problems than they solve (congratulations to anyone who uses one successfully and reliably). There are more professional-grade point-to-point wireless devices, but they'll be more expensive and also likely not have the friendly UI you might be used to. Also if the property is heavily-wooded, sending a point-to-point signal through trees can be a problem (though this is not an incredibly long distance).
posted by primethyme at 8:53 AM on August 7, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If running a line is prohibitive in cost or effort, for such a short distance I’d be tempted to try a point to point 60 GHz link like the Mikrotik Wireless Wire.
posted by zamboni at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dad lives across the street from my sister... in 2014 we set up a Wireless Bridge:

EnGenius N-ENH500 Kit Business-Class, Long Range 5GHz Wireless Bridge/AP (2 x ENH500)
(link to the current version)

Set-up was a little tricky for us amateurs but now it usually works great. The far end is input for an old router configured as a switch. Occasionally my Dad's iPad would try to talk across the street its self until we blocked it. Mystery troubles are cleared by rebooting the bridge and switch (last time was maybe 6 months to a year ago).
posted by tinker at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the out building has power run from the house you may want took at ethernet-over-power. It would save you running a cable.

An Ethernet cable would be much better though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:58 AM on August 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I don't have personal experience with this, but this Building to Building Bridge from Ubiquiti seems like it would work.
posted by sriracha at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2022

According to consumer tests you should be able to get 90 ft out of the antennas. I would run a test with devices outside of the house and shed. If it works then get ABS plastic weather proof boxes (NOT UV-resistant) and mount them on outside walls.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:24 AM on August 7, 2022

Best answer: Agree that digging a trench, laying some conduit, and running ethernet will be the most reliable option, and probably worth the time/hassle if you plan to be in this place for more than a year or two. A point-to-point RF link like sriracha and zamboni suggest is probably the second-best option. Wifi extenders and etc are going to frustrate the heck out of you.
posted by Alterscape at 9:32 AM on August 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

If the outbuilding has a separate electrical meter you may want to investigate a fiber optic extender to avoid ground loops.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:37 AM on August 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ubiquti gear can go WAY further than that, but running the cable is probably easier/cheaper.

Linus Tech Tips: How are we going to do that?
(6km Wifi bridge to cabin)
posted by tiamat at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2022

Best answer: We use the Ubiquiti bridge to connect two offices across a similar distance and it's been fast and reliable.
posted by kaefer at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2022

Running a cable should be relatively easy depending on if you have solid ground or just lawn. Probably best way is to dig a ditch, bury a PVC pipe, and feed a cable through. Wireless bridge would be easier, but usually requires a rigid mount on both sides to make sure the two are directly aimed at each other and stay that way. And cost more. On the other hand, the wireless bridge can go quite a bit further.

Regular wifi can sometimes be boosted with a better antenna, and/or a directional reflector. But those are a bit iffy and requires a bit of experimentation. And a lot of routers, such as the mesh routers, don't even have external antennas any more. So changing antennas may not even be possible nowadays.
posted by kschang at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2022

Best answer: You might also want to upgrade to gig service. 100 mbps seems awfully slow for 2 office computers.
posted by CathyG at 8:08 PM on August 7, 2022

Best answer: Probably best way is to dig a ditch, bury a PVC pipe,

PEX, single length, no joins like PVC tubing would have. Also you or the handyperson putting it in would be able to make gentle curves and even 90deg bends if the radius is kept to a foot or more.

And fiber for the network connection would be more costly but prevents ground loops and vastly reduces the effects of a nearby lightning strike.
posted by Stoneshop at 2:00 AM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You've marked this as answered but for our exact same situation we get 100 ft ethernet cable from monoprice ($46 currently) and laid it on the ground, curved over/user as needed. It's obviously not permanent but it's cheap, quick, and efficient. And it's so easy to replace or remove.
posted by anadem at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

If the out building has power run from the house you may want took at ethernet-over-power.

If you choose to go that way, you may find that the outbuilding and the socket the EoP-converter sits in inside the house are on different phases, causing things not to work, or only very badly. Either find a socket on the same phase or get a phase coupler installed.

You will also incur the eternal wrath of any nearby radio ham.
posted by Stoneshop at 5:28 AM on August 9, 2022

Ubiquiti wireless bridges are great this is your least effort easiest option. Do not run copper between the buildings. If you are going to go with a physical connection run fiber.
posted by jmsta at 11:21 AM on August 12, 2022

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