Wireless Bridging - Repeat that again?

to a little more advanced issue that I believe will be more and more prevalent now that home users are more dependant on networking and more small businesses operate out of the home. Specifically I am referring to the need to expand wireless access to parts of the home/office that the signal does not reach.

 

There are several range extenders available from Linksys, D-Link and I'm sure others, that will take your wireless signal and repeat it just as if the router was in that location. Let's say you have a wireless connection in your home office and it works fine to the Living Room, but does not reach to the Kitchen table where you like to read the morning paper, oops sorry, morning news on-line. You could place a Range Booster (Repeater) in the Living Room and it will extend the distance of the signal on to your Kitchen.

I ran across a recent problem with a client where the husband and wife both had home offices, however one was in the basement and the other was in the third floor, where the DSL and Router resided. To add to the problem they really needed wired access between computers in the basement and only needed internet access through the 3rd floor router. Finally compounding the problem, wireless access in the basement was unacceptable on some of the computers due to ventilation pipes disrupting the signal.

There are a couple of options to solving this problem and they are listed below in order of preference. before we begin, let's summarize our problem:

  • Connect to the internet from the basement level to the router on the 3rd floor.
  • Allow wired connections in the basement level office so that file transfers and office software will operate at speeds up to 100MB
  • Provide more reliable connections to internet than has currently been the experience due to distance from existing router and most likely physical obstructions (ventilation system piping).
  • Keep costs within a home/office budget and use readily available equipment.

Options in order of preference

  • Hard Wire Second floor to garage.
    While this is the best speed and reliability option, there may be cost and/or physical (how will wires be run in pre-existing structure) reasons why this may not be practical. If it was practical, buying either a 4/8 port switch or another wireless router with additional ethernet ports would be the best option for wired and wireless connectivity.
  • Wireless Router/Bridge/Repeater using Buffalo equipment (http://www.buffalotech.com/) available at Best Buy and other outlets.
    Comparison of models - http://www.buffalotech.com/comparison-charts/wireless/wireless-n-nfiniti/

    From my review of options available at the local stores, as well as what was readily available through Internet based stores, Buffalo has the best options for performing the tasks mentioned above using a wireless connection. I called tech support to double check whether their wireless bridge/repeater solution allowed the wireless signal to be available/repeated from the remote router and also have the ethernet ports bridged to the network on the 3rd floor. The person I spoke with was very knowledgeable and provided great information on the process as well as confirming that yes all functions were available including freeing up the WAN port on the remote router so it could be used as a regular ethernet port giving five ports available rather than the usual four.

    • Depending on the brand of the existing router, the Buffalo equipment may be able to connect to it for bridging/repeating. The original router must support Wireless Distribution System (WDS) in order to make the connection. If it doesn't, the best option is to purchase two routers from Buffalo.
    • According to Buffalo, most of their wireless routers provide bridging and repeating connectivity. I've read their documentation on several of their models and it is relatively easy to setup. At the time of this writing, there are at least four levels of routers available each with prices ranging from $49-$285 each, with the local store carrying models of $49, $69 and $99. Another article will have to cover the differences of each router and methodology, but for now increasing price equals increasing speed and distance.
    • I recommended replacing the current router upstairs and buying 2 of the $99 routers for a total of about $200. If price is an issue, I would suggest 2 of the $69 routers for a total of about $140, but connectivity and speed could be reduced. I would not suggest the $49 models due to the distance between floors and the lower rated distance covered or the $285 since they are priced high due to their recent release and probably not cost effective.
  • Wireless Bridge/Repeater using Linksys equipment (http://www.linksys.com/)
    • The current router on the third floor, may provide the necessary connectivity to Linksys, it may not. Most likely it does not support the WDS technology needed to connect.
    • According to Linksys, the only way to provide wired and wireless connectivity to the garage level from the second floor is using three pieces of equipment - two router/access points and one wireless bridge. One router would be the primary internet connection and the other router would serve as a wireless access point to the first and allow the wired ports to be active. With Linksys, the wireless bridge disables the second unit from using it's wireless as a repeater, so the bridge is necessary (and takes up a port on the second router) to broadcast the wireless signal at the second router. A little Kludgy to say the least.

      You might be wondering what is the normal function of the Linksys bridge. It is typically used to provide wireless access to a device that has an ethernet port such as a game console.  

      There may be other options that provide more speed at higher costs, this is simply the lowest cost option they offer
      (2) WRT54GS Est. $89 each and (1) WET54GS Est. $89 total about $270 and not as fast as the $200 option Buffalo offers.

Terms used

  • Router - routes connections from one network over a new network. this is typically a WAN (Wide Area Network such as Internet) to a LAN (Local Area Network such as your office). The WAN might have an address such as 71.53.116.62 and the LAN might be 192.168.2.1. You might also route one LAN 192.168.2.1 to another 192.168.2.1
  • Repeater - ability to take pick up a signal (such as wireless networks) and repeat it thereby extending the distance. Typical repeater only devices have no additional wired ports and simply boost the signal.
  • Bridging - a device that connects to an existing network to make it look like it is transparent to the user. It may also have repeating capability.
  • Access Point - a device that typically is wired to another network and provides an access point (no routing) to the existing network. Similar to a bridge.
  • WDS - A Wireless Distribution System is a system that enables the interconnection of access points wirelessly. As described in IEEE 802.11, it allows a wireless network to be expanded using multiple access points without the need for a wired backbone to link them, as is traditionally required.

I hope that gives you some ideas on how this might be used in your home or small office and a couple of ways to solve the problem. Any questions, post them below!

Harry Patterson
Owner/Consultant
Vision Technology Management