NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2011
Wireless Range Expansion
By Sandy Shapiro,
Member-At-Large, UCHUG (Under the Computer Hood UG), CA
June 2011 issue, Drive LIGHT
Sanford.shapiro (at) gmail.com (click to email author)

At our last meeting we discussed how to expand the range of a wireless router. We talked about bridges and repeaters, but we didn't discuss expanders.

My wireless router sits on the second floor of my house in a back room. My office is in a small building behind my house, where the wireless signal is very low – only one bar is lit. Some of my patients are on the east coast and meet with me via Skype. The poor connection has been a major frustration.

After our meeting I did some research and found something called a Wireless-G Range Expander made by Linksys. Because I already have a Linksys wireless-G router, I thought it would be worth a try. I bought a refurbished model from Amazon.com for $23.99. I don't see why it shouldn't also work with other brands of Wireless routers.

The setup was complicated, but once accomplished, my connection went from “very low” to “excellent” and all bars were now lit. Here is how I set up the expander:
First, I plugged the power cord into an outlet, and two lights went on
I plugged a cat5 cable from the expander directly to my router
I opened a browser and looked up:
I left the user name blank and typed “admin” for the password
I went to the Help menu and opened the utility for changing the firmware. I had already downloaded the new firmware from the Linksys web site. After changing the firmware from V. 3.01.01 to V. 3.04.01and rebooting the expander, I performed the following steps: I set Gateway to, the address of my router.
I left Mode as mixed, and I changed the SSID to match the one in my router.
I selected Wireless Security Enable. A pop up window opened and I changed security from WEP to WPA Personal. I entered the pass phrase I used in my router settings and clicked on Save Settings.
After a reboot, I rechecked all the settings, unplugged the expander, removed the Cat 5 cable, and took the expander out to my office.
There I plugged it into a wall plug and turned on my computer.
Connection strength was now excellent and all bars were lit.

The only problem was that I now lacked “connectivity.” No matter how I configured the system, I could not access the internet – even though all the bars were lit. I disabled security and was finally able to get a network connection, but the Skype connection was all but impossible to use.

I sent the expander back for a refund.

Tomato Firmware http://www.polarcloud.com/tomato

One advantage of the Linux program is that I could increase the power of the wireless signal, which I did from 42 mW to 70 mW. That allowed for a somewhat better connection in my office, but it was still very low.

Another advantage of this firmware is that you can use your router as an Ethernet Bridge or as an Ethernet Client, in addition to the normal use as an Access Point. It only cost $55.94 to get another Linksys WRT54GL – about the same as some of the other repeaters on the market.

I found an excellent tutorial on using Tomato to set the firmware for Wireless Client Modes. http://bit.ly/ik2BPw

I first tried to use the Ethernet Bridge mode where the router is placed half way between the access point and the laptop out in the office. I couldn't get it to work. I then used the Wireless Client Mode where the router is in my office and connects to my laptop via a cat 5 cable. At first I had trouble, but then I realized I had to disable the wireless radio in the laptop, and everything worked fine. To the computer, it looks like a hard wired, or cabled connection.

The steps to set it up are as follows:

I checked the IP address of the extender router and saw that it was the same as that on the access point, I then changed the client router to as per the instructions. DHCP server was enabled. I then made sure the SSID and the channel were the same on both units. I disabled security on both routers for testing. When I saw good internet connections and excellent Skype connections, I tried re-enabling security. I had been using WPA2 with TKIP – it didn't work. I then tried WEP and AES and, bingo, I was in business.

I have now successfully extended my internet connection, and I have a spare router should the first one ever burn out.

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