Thursday, October 11, 2012

Extend Your WiFi Network!

In the process of getting settled into the girlfriend's apartment here in Shanghai it became painfully obvious that while the "premium" Huawei router included in the internet package may be good at reporting my internet activity to Chinese officials, it does a terrible job of getting WiFi through the ridiculously thick concrete interior walls.

I can take care of the former issue with a good VPN subscription that encrypts and then routes all of my internet traffic through California.  The latter issue wasn't a problem while sitting on the couch in the living room, three feet from the router, but when we decided to set up an office in one of the spare bedrooms on the other end of the apartment, the lack of a reliable internet connection became problematic.

Luckily, I brought along my old Linksys WRT54GL wireless router when I came to China, so I hoped that I could bridge the two routers onto the same network and therefore have a strong network connection in the office.  After a bit of searching, it turns out that I had my jargon wrong, and that by connecting one router to another with a cable to extend the range of the network, I was actually cascading the routers, and this is incredibly easy to set up.  Best of all, you don't have to mess with the original, primary router, which is good, because it's all in Chinese and I don't know the admin password.

All you need to do is follow the instructions on this Cisco Knowledge Base article, but here's the basic rundown with my commentary:

  • Disconnect your computer from your existing network.  
  • Plug the secondary (new) router into your computer via one of the LAN connections (not the WAN, we're not going to use that one).  
  • Connect to the secondary router by typing its address into your web browser (probably 192.168.1.1).  
  • Change fourth octet of the router's own IP address to something different than the existing router's, because it is probably 192.168.1.1 also, and that will cause a conflict.  I chose 192.168.1.250, but you can use anything between 1 and 253.  
  • Disable DHCP so the new router doesn't try to assign IP addresses to the devices that are connecting to it.  The original router will still do that and they will just get passed through.  
  • Make sure the SSID (name of the wireless network) and the wireless security settings are exactly the same as the original router.  This way your laptop / phone / etc will pass from one router to the other totally seamlessly.  
  • Optionally (not noted in the Cisco post, but mentioned in a couple other post I read), change the default broadcast channel so there's no overlap between the two routers.  I have no idea if this is actually needed or helpful, but the original one seemed to be set to channel 5, so I changed the new one to channel 11.  If you, like me, can't access the original router, you can use something like WiFi Analyzer on your Android phone to check it out.  
  • Make sure you save everything at each step, or else you're going to have to redo it all.  
  • Disconnect your computer from the new router and unplug the power from it, too.  
  • Get a really long ethernet cable, plug one end of it into one of the available LAN ports on the original router, and dangerously string it from one end of your house to the other.  Or run it in some less exciting way, like under the carpet or through the walls, but in this rented apartment with concrete walls and wood floors, I'm going to stick it to the wall with 3M Command hooks and call it good.  (Those things are great, btw.)  
  • Move the new router to its new home and plug in the power cable and plug the ethernet cable into one of its LAN ports (again, not the WAN, the original router is still taking care of that).  
That's it!  It's actually easier than my lengthy commentary makes it look.  You now have two routers broadcasting the same wireless network that you can move between without issue.  Setting it up this way also allows you to keep sharing network resources (drives, printers, etc), because your still on the same segment of the network (third octet of the IP address).  At some point in time you should also have changed the default password to access your router from "admin" to something a little harder to guess.

Now, to actually bridge two wireless networks together (no cable in between the routers), you need different equipment than I have.

If you're having this problem, too, I hope this helps!  One of these days I'll follow up with pictures of the office and its awesome view.

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