How to add wireless to a non-wireless router?
August 15, 2007 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a wireless adapter. Something I can just plug into an Ethernet port/cord and that will add wireless functionality to a non wired router?

Is this possible? It seems that I remember seeing something like this. My parents have a non-wireless router that we paid good money for and that is doing a fine job. But, they want to use the wireless internet on the laptop. Is there any kind of an adapter to add wireless to an existing router? I'd really like something that would just plug into an Ethernet cord and broadcast the internet. This way, my parents could take wireless with them on the road to places that have Ethernet access, but not wireless access.
posted by peripatew to Technology (13 answers total)
Sure; standalone access points exist/existed. Strictly speaking, they are routers - just ones without any wired ports, wireless only. But a couple of minutes hunting on Amazon and Newegg didn't find me many - this seems to be one. I think it's a matter of prices coming down; especially with the explosion of home networking in the wireless age, I doubt there's much of a market for a widget that has to do all the work of a router and happens to lack wired ports. If anything, those with fewer ports are often specifically-portable gadgets like the Apple Airport Express, that are expressly (hah! pun!) intended to be easily portable, to turn wired-only access into wireless - but they're more expensive than a cheap wired/wireless router with an external antenna and power brick.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:43 AM on August 15, 2007

If they'll only ever be connecting one device to it wirelessly, you could get what's called a wireless bridge. This is not necessarily your best option, though.

The fact is that wireless routers, which normally include about 4 ethernet ports as well, are dirt-cheap these days. You can probably find one at Costco for about $30. I did a casual Amazon search and found that wifi routers were actually cheaper than bridges (even though a bridge is a much more limited device). Now, you could get a wifi router and hook it up to your existing wireline router, but that would actually be slightly slower (two layers of address translation), plus the added clutter of two boxes, two power bricks, extra cables, extra administration. Or you could use a wifi router in bridge mode, but you've still got all the superfluous hardware.

I say buy a new wifi access point, get it running, and put the old wireline router on craigslist. The old one may be perfectly good, but the march of technology has made it perfectly redundant.
posted by adamrice at 8:50 AM on August 15, 2007

The generic term for these is "wireless access point (WAP)" which simply lacks the routing functions of true wireless router. The Linksys WAP54G is one, for example. But they're less common these days, and you could probably get off cheaper just getting a wireless router.
posted by tyllwin at 8:53 AM on August 15, 2007

On wasn't-paying-attention postview, Apple's Airport Express would be the do-all compact wifi AP, but is kind of spendy. This looks like a viable cheaper option—also includes downstream wireline connections.
posted by adamrice at 8:57 AM on August 15, 2007

D-Link and Asus each make devices designed for the traveler, that can do exactly this (or act as a more traditional router, or as a wireless client).

They're both quite small and flexible enough to work as an access point (what you want for this scenario), or as a router, or as a wireless repeater or as a client of an existing WiFi network.
posted by toxic at 9:15 AM on August 15, 2007

If you're ok with 802.11b, the Linksys WAP11 does this very well and can be had quite cheaply. Doing it this way avoids having two conflicting routers on the same segment, which can get hairy quickly.
posted by djb at 9:59 AM on August 15, 2007

I picked up 2 of these wireless access points the other day for $30 at frys. They have 3 functions: access point, wireless bridge (to bridge together 2 wired subnets) or they can function as a wireless network card for a computer with only a regular ethernet card.

A big difference between a WAP and a wireless router is that
* you can use them in multiple modes, generally not true with the routers
* they are usually configured to bridge packets between the wiress and ethernet ports, not true on (most) routers. This means they can be used in situations where you need to be able to send broadcast traffic over your wireless to wired network (in my case, I needed to be able to boot from the network from a wireless device)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:59 AM on August 15, 2007

You want a wireless access point. Or a wireless router working like an access point. Whichever is cheaper I suppose, but the wireless access point (WAP) should be pretty easy to use. I imagine that both of these options will be 40-60 dollars new and your parents router is worth much less than that. I'd just toss the router and buy a wireless router. Less headaches with just one device. It'll also make your life easier when they have a technical problem and you need to help them.

This way, my parents could take wireless with them on the road to places that have Ethernet access, but not wireless access.

What are these places? A hotel will not let you run a wifi module off their network. You wont be able to authorize the mac. Friends may not want them messing with their internet stuff either. No IT depratment will let someone hang a wireless AP off its network either. Toxic links to something like this that is very portable, but there are other issues to consider.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:51 AM on August 15, 2007

A hotel will not let you run a wifi module off their network.

Well... not knowingly, but most hotel networks aren't sophisticated enough to determine what's behind the NAT that you just plugged into their network.

I use the ASUS device I liked to above (in router mode) to do this all the time. I plug the device into the ethernet and power near the desk/phone, and can then use my wireless laptop across the room. This is actually the primary user scenario that the box is designed to solve.
posted by toxic at 12:10 PM on August 15, 2007

Really? So the laptop gets the radius login screen transparently through the WAP? Or is this only at places without authentication?
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:57 PM on August 15, 2007

Sure... it's just bits.

Most hotel networks don't have the guest directly interacting with a RADIUS server -- they may have a capture screen, that the user will land on the first time he attempts to browse the web (all other traffic is blocked at that point). If the user accepts the user agreement (or whatever), he is then authorized to use the network (usually by MAC address).

If you plug in to the ethernet with your device in access point mode, then your Wireless card's MAC address will be the one authorized (in effect, you're putting your Wireless card onto the ethernet segment -- because an Access Point attempts to be as transparent as possible to the wired network it's on).

If, instead, you plug in in Router/NAT mode, then the router's ethernet MAC address is the one that gets authorized, and every machine on the other side of the NAT will be able to use the internet. (And, it's trivial to change the router's MAC address -- so if you need to clone it from a machine that is authorized, you can do that, too.)

Either way... the first web page you try to view is going to be a capture/splash screen, and from there you should be fine. I've never met an ethernet port that didn't work, and I've never needed to log into anything more complicated than a hotel's internal web page.
posted by toxic at 4:56 PM on August 15, 2007

I have a zyxel p330w which does what you want (in addition to being a router). I got it for practically free after rebate; don't know if you'll be so lucky. Requires some setup.
posted by alexei at 11:52 PM on August 15, 2007

This way, my parents could take wireless with them on the road to places that have Ethernet access, but not wireless access.

Apple sells exactly this - they call it an "Airport Express".

There are other companies that have Portable wireless routers as well.
posted by filmgeek at 6:39 AM on August 16, 2007

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