Setup a WiFi Extender Using an Old Router

With devices such as the Amazon echo speaker, Philips hue light bulbs, and nest thermostats, the home is becoming ever smarter.  As the number of these smart devices grow, it is important that a home WiFi network be able to cover an entire house/apartment/ wherever you live. There are many technologies out there that help to solve this issue, such as mesh routers that have multiple nodes or routers around your living area to provide the maximum coverage possible.  But for many people, mesh routers are just not a viable option, mainly due to the high price that comes with this type of setup. Net-gear’s “Orbi” and “Google WiFi” both are highly rated mesh systems that can cover a large home with wireless goodness, but each cost around 300$. This can be a hard pill to swallow for someone just looking to get a slightly better wireless signal in a dead spot of their home.  

With a little technical know how, and an old wireless router laying around, this can be achieved at little to no cost.

If you would prefer to watch a video tutorial, you can watch by following this link.

DD-WRT

DD-WRT is a third party router firmware that can be installed on a wide variety of wireless routers.  It adds features that most stock firmware does not, including VPN integration, and more importantly for our purposes, wireless repeater functionality.  DD-WRT offers a “wireless repeater bridge” mode that allows a wireless router to connect to another wireless access point and re-broadcast the signal.  Not only that, but you can also connect a device to the router with an Ethernet cable, ensuring devices have multiple paths of connectivity.  

The high-level layout of this is simple.  Connect a secondary wireless access point to the primary WAP/Router via a wireless link.  Once connected, the secondary Wireless Access Point (WAP) is able to re-transmit the primary router’s network.

Installing the firmware

  1. Install DD-WRT
    1. The first thing you will want to do is to determine the make and model of your primary WAP.  In my example, I will be using an older Linksys E3000.  
    2. After you have your model number, open a web browser and navigate to https://www.dd-wrt.com/site/support/router-database.  Enter your WAP model and, if available, your model will show up and you will click the link
    3. Once here, stop and read.  You will want to take a look at the different firmware versions and then possibly go to the wiki article associated with your model.  With my E3000, I had to install 3 separate firmware versions in order to get to the one I wanted.  This is due to multiple updates to the DD-wrt firmware.  So make sure you are taking the proper upgrade path
    4. Now you will want to do a reset on your device.  Typically, you will find the pin hole on the back of the router and click it in and hold for 30 seconds, but you may want to look up the proper procedure for your model.
    5. Once your firmware file is downloaded to your computer, Connect to the router with an Ethernet cable from your computer into one of the LAN ports.  Do not connect to the internet port.  
    6. Open your router settings page.  This is typically accessed by opening a web browser and navigating to the router’s IP address (Most routers default to 192.168.1.1, some use 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.254) This website has a good list of default passwords per brand. http://192-168-1-1ip.mobi/default-router-ip-address-list/
    7. Go to your firmware update page, typically located under the “administration” tab
    8. Browse to the firmware file you previously downloaded and upload this to the router. This will take a few minutes to install, be patient.
    9. Once finished, your router will reboot and once it’s back up it will be running the latest firmware
  2. Configure the wireless router
    1. Access the dd-WRT router at 192.168.1.1 in your web browser. Create your username and password, and navigate to the Wireless: Basic settings page.
    2. Wireless: Basic Settings
      1. Wireless Mode: Repeater (If you have a dual band router, make the 5ghz band a “repeater bridge” and the 2.4ghz band a “repeater”)
      2. Wireless Network Mode: Match your primary router
        1. Most more recent routers are wireless N, check your primary router settings if unsure
      3. Wireless Network Name SSID: This needs to be set to the exact same as your primary routers.
      4. Wireless Channel: You can leave this at auto unless you know the exact channel your primary router uses
      5. Sensitivity Range: This can be left at default
      6. Click “save” to save your settings.  Do not click “apply” yet
    3. Wireless: Wireless Security
      1. Ensure these settings match up with the primary router
      2. If you would like to create a new wireless band, such as “upstairs” or “room 2” you can add a virtual interface and name it as you see fit.  Just ensure you have the same wireless security settings as your primary router.
      3. Click “Save”
    4. Setup: Basic Setup
      1. Connection Type: Disabled
      2. Give your secondary router a name of your choice
      3. Router IP
        1. Local IP address: This will need to be something different from your primary router, and be something that is not used by any of the devices in your network. For mine, I chose (192.168.1.2)
        2. Subnet Mask is typically 255.255.255.0
        3. Gateway: This will be the ip address of the primary router.  Typically this is “192.168.1.1” (Mine is 192.168.1.254)
        4. Local DNS: will be the address of the primary router as well.
      4. Check mark “Assign WAN Port to Switch”
      5. Time Settings: Ensure your time zone is set correctly (Central time is UTC – 05:00)
      6. Click “Save”
      7. Click “Apply settings”
      8. After this, it may take a few moments for the router to receive these settings so be patient
    5. Status: Wireless
      1. Choose the interface (Dual band routers will be both “wl0” and “wl1”
      2. Click “site Survey”
      3. Choose your primary wireless SSID, and click “join” on the far right
  3. Setup complete
    1. Your new wireless extender is now complete.  Note that if your WAP/router is a dual band router, you have the ability to use the 5Ghz band as a repeater bridge, which establishes a strong connection to the primary router, and re-broadcasts this signal out through the 2.4 Ghz band. This also allows you to use the Ethernet ports on the device.