Extend your wireless network and eliminate dead spots

Wireless networking technology has come a long way since the days of 802.11g and 54Mbits/sec transfer speeds, but no matter how much you spend on your router, there will likely be a few spots around the house where the wireless just won’t reach.

Extend your wireless network and eliminate dead spots

Using a variety of different methods, however, it’s possible to eliminate black spots without having to replace your router, or shell out a fortune.

Re-use and recycle

Your old wireless router may not have been up to the job of spreading wireless around the whole house, but you might be able to use it to give your new one a helping hand.

What you’ll need

Here’s what you’ll need for this project:
– an old router that supports wireless repeating or DD-WRT firmware
and
-a lot of patience or a spare £20 to £40

Many routers can be transformed into wireless repeaters. A repeater logs into your existing wireless network just like any other device, creating a secondary wireless network, thus increasing the area of your current network. Have a dig around in the web settings pages of your router, and look for the “bridge” or “wireless repeating” section – you’ll need to configure the router to log in to your existing wireless network before it can talk to the base station router.

There are two types of wireless repeating, or “bridging”, methods available. With universal repeating, simply connect your repeater router to the existing network wirelessly. You’ll then have two wireless networks you can connect to, effectively doubling its overall range.
The wireless distribution system (WDS) method is more complicated to set up. It needs a tighter bonding between the two routers, requiring setup on both the base station (your current router) and the old router you’re using as an extender.

Since WDS isn’t a part of the 802.11 set of wireless standards, incompatibilities are common. Confusingly, the terms are often used interchangeably on router settings pages, so you may have to experiment to get things to work.

If your router doesn’t have a wireless repeating function, or you just can’t get it to work, there is another alternative. Many routers are compatible with the open-source DD-WRT firmware, which supports both types of repeating, and is easier to set up. To find out if your router is compatible with DD-WRT, go to the router database page on the DD-WRT website and type your router’s model name into the search field.

Once you’ve done that, download the firmware file for your router, log on to your router and update the firmware using the DD-WRT firmware file. This should take only a minute or two.

Your next step will be to log on to your router, put the router into Repeater Bridge mode (under the Wireless Basic Settings tab), and get everything set up. For full instructions on how to set it up, visit the DD-WRT wiki.

It’s a touch fiddly and may take some time, but that’s part of the joy of this project. Persevere and you’ll have a bigger, better wireless network – and without having to spend a penny.

Alternatively, if you really can’t face spending an hour or two wrangling with wireless network settings and updating firmware, a dedicated wireless repeater such as the Edimax EW-7238RPD N300+ does the same job, and is far easier to set up. You can buy one for £38 on Amazon.

Get bigger antennae

If you don’t have £40 to spare, a cheaper and even simpler way of boosting your wireless network coverage is simply to replace the antennae on the rear of your router with bigger ones.

However, this obviously won’t work with modern devices that have internal antennae. Some other routers have external aerials whose attachments don’t allow them to be removed; some Buffalo routers have such captive antennae.

However, if you own a router with threaded fitments on the rear (called SMA connections), you’ll be able to buy more powerful, high-gain replacements. The Edimax BR-6478AC router (web ID: 383056) comes with a pair of 3dBi antennae in the box; you can upgrade to 9dBi for around £7 to £10 per antennae.

This method isn’t as effective as using a repeater or extender, but if all you need is to push your Wi-Fi limit out a few metres further, it’s cheap, quick and requires no technical knowledge or expertise.

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