I’ve always had spotty wifi reception in my living room because my router had to go through concrete floors from the den. I had an extra wifi router kicking around, and for a while I had considered converting it into a repeater with DD-WRT. However, the complexity of the procedure, the possibility of bricking the router, and halving my bandwidth through the repeater made me hesitate.
And then I switched over to Bell IPTV (TV via the internet, otherwise known as FibeTV). The installation guys promptly converted my in-wall cable to a wired HPNA network, with each cable box performing as a network device. In addition, each cable box had an ethernet jack on the back making a node to my home network at each TV location. This was good. They also replaced my high powered wifi router with their weak-assed ISP router. This was bad. I went from spotty reception in my living room to none at all.
Luckily I now had an ethernet node in my living room, but I didn’t want an unsightly and clumsy wired connection to my laptop. So my next project was to use my spare router and set up a new wifi node in my living room. The problem was that you just can’t plug in a wifi router into your LAN because it tries to create a sub-network and you can’t talk to any other devices or machines outside your new subnetwork. Google was my friend and I found a number of websites that described how to do a router-router configuration, but all of them seemed to leave out important details. After a day of googling and trial and error, here is the procedure. This will work with any ISP, the only thing that will change is the info that you get in step 2.
1) Your ISP router (we will call this router A) should already be set up. Plug in your other router (router B) into your wired home network, it could be directly in one of the ethernet ports of router A, or the back of the Bell cable boxes, or any other network node. Use one of the regular ethernet ports on router B, not the internet/WAN port. The internet/WAN port on router B will henceforth never be used.
2) Identify the IP addresses of both routers. The Bell Cellpipe 7130 (router A) has an IP address of http://192.168.2.1/, you will need to consult the owners manual of your other router (router B) to get its IP address. Using this address from your web browser will bring you to the configuration page of your router. Go to the configuration page of router A and find out the range of DHCP addresses that it allocates. The 7130 allocates from 192.168.2.10 to 192.168.2.254. We won’t be changing anything in router A, and this is all the info we will need.
3) Using a wired ethernet connection from your computer to router B, go to the configuration page of router B. All further configuration changes will be with router B. After step 8, you will no longer need this hard line and you will be able to talk to router B from anywhere in your network. If you haven’t got a laptop or a long enough ethernet cable, you can do all the configuration at your desktop and move router B to its desired location later.
4) Give router B a unique name. If you are setting up multiple wifi nodes in your home, it’s not useful for them to have all the same name and you can’t tell which is which.
5) Optional: set up your router security. Use WPA, not WEP. You don’t have to do this, but I want to remind everyone because there are a lot of hackers out there and I am paranoid. Set up a MAC filter too while you’re at it.
6) Set up your internet/WAN connection type to ‘Static IP’. Set your internet IP address as 0.0.0.0, or if your router does not allow that, then any garbage address outside the subnet range of router A. I used 192.168.111.2. Also set up your default gateway to a garbage address, I used 192.168.111.1. We won’t be using the WAN connection.
7) Disable DHCP server. We will be relying on your router A to issue IP addresses, router B will be passive in this respect.
8) Set your router IP address to something within router A’s subnet (192.168.2.xxx), but outside its DHCP range (discovered in step 2), and not equal to any other routers on your network. I used 192.168.2.5. Note that after this step, you will need to go to this new IP address to get to the configuration page of router B. So once you save this setting, your router will look like it is not responding, but really you just have to go to this new address. If you screw up this step and can’t get back to your router config page, then you will have to find the reset button on the back of router B and start over from step 3.
9) Read this entire step before you do anything. Set your router subnet mask to 255.255.255.255 if you can. I found that this number will work, but it will also forever prevent you from getting back to your router’s config page, and then you are resetting router B and starting over from step 3. I then tried a lower number like 255.255.255.128, but found that when router A allocated a DHCP address above 192.168.2.128, that device would not connect. So set that last number as high as you can without causing the router any grief (I used 255.255.255.224), and you can lower the DHCP range of router A to match.
And that’s it, do a wireless or wired connect to router B. Repeat as need for as many wireless nodes you want around the home, just make sure you use a unique router IP address in step 8, and a unique name in step 4. This also works with wired routers, they don’t have to be wireless.
An interesting application is to do a wired connection of your PS3 to this new ethernet node in your living room. The PS3 wifi uses one of the ancient wifi standards and is super slow. The wired connection to your network means that you can now stream high bitrate video directly from your desktop computer in your den to the TV in your living room. Yeah.
Your Mileage May Vary
Every wireless router is different, and not all routers were designed to be converted into wireless access points or switches or repeaters or whatever. So you may find that some features work better than others (or not at all). Here are some additional notes on my observations of the two routers I converted to wireless access points, the D-Link DIR-615 and the Linksys WRT160N V2.
- There was a recent IPTV protocol change which caused stability issues. Whenever there was any IPTV traffic (any TV in the network was on, or the DVR was recording something), the DIR-615 would become unstable and become unresponsive or hang, and the WRT160N would not work at all (though they would both still be listed as “connected” on the attached computers). Once IPTV traffic ceased, the WRT160N would magically come back to life. I resolved the the problem with the DIR-615 by enabling the QoS engine. I have not yet found a resolution for the WRT160N.
- The mac filter does not work on the DIR-615 when not in router mode. It hangs when you try to enable it.
- The inbound filter does not work on the DIR-615 when not in router mode. I was attempting to filter out all the IPTV trafic to improve the available wireless bandwidth. No effect when I tried inputting the IP address of the current channel I was watching, and all the IPTV traffic still gets transmitted. Remember that if you don’t have enough wireless bandwidth, this can completely saturate it.
- There is no inbound filter on the WRT160N, otherwise I would have tried using it to solve the IPTV traffic problem.
- The WRT160N cannot list its wireless connections when not in router mode.
- The logging function on the WRT160N does not work when not in router mode.
- The WRT160N keeps no packet statistics at all. This would be extremely useful in diagnosing collisions and other connection problems.
Once you’ve got a working configuration, save it. You’ll need it if you decide to mess around with the settings as you will be resetting and rebooting the router quite often.
[Update 08-2012] Was getting connection stability issues with the DIR-615 and android devices, so decided to upgrade to a D-Link DIR-857. It’s dual band, and a gigabit router, so much faster. Here are my comments about the new router:
- The v1.00 firmware out of the box is no good. Extreme slowness and connection stability problems when there is IPTV traffic (works perfectly when the TV is off). Luckily, v1.02 was posted last week, and it works perfectly.
- The MAC filter and inbound filters still don’t work when configured as a WAP.
- There was one incident while recording “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” from the Comedy Network, and it got into an unusable mode where connections kept on dropping, it was really slow, and IPTV traffic was being transmitted over the air (only that channel, and only for those shows, even if other channels are being watched or recorded), similar to the v1.00 problem. It happened consistently when those shows on that channel were being watched or recorded. The solution: record those shows on CTVHD instead. Have not seen the problem since.
- Overall, very stable and fast with v1.02