Abusing a range extender as wireless link to modem?

Elledan

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Due to circumstances and a rushed fiber internet installation at my (rented) apartment, the freshly installed fiber modem ended up in the basement, with a highly inconvenient way to route Cat-6 between the ground floor apartment and the fiber modem (lots of drilling & running cable through public areas). Currently I have an old Netgear (~2007 vintage) router on the fiber modem, with a TP-Link RE550 range extender in the apartment to pass the wireless link to the wired network in the apartment.

Obviously using a router that's capable of only wireless b/g (and 2.4 GHz, hi microwaves) is less than ideal on a half-Gbps internet connection, so I'm looking for a way to upgrade the current wireless link.

One hare-brained idea I had was to get another RE550 and use it next to the fiber modem, activating its DHCP server so that it could be used with the existing RE, which would then be connected to the actual router (with NAT enabled) in the apartment. This however feels like a totally inappropriate use case for a RE :)

Is the right approach here to e.g. use a router in bridge mode or similar?
 
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GotNoRice

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I would not use a 2nd RE550 the way you are suggesting. Doing that would just turn it into a budget low-end WiFi router. If you are going to go that route, at least get a good access point/router.

How many walls are there between you and the fiber modem?

I would recommend an 802.11ax (WiFi 6) access point/router. That is because the 802.11ax standard applies to both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. 802.11ac on the other hand (WiFi 5) is 5Ghz only. 802.11ac access points/routers that are dual-band use 802.11n (WiFi 4) on the 2.4Ghz band. With that in mind, understand that 5Ghz performance suffers greatly through walls. If you have enough walls between you, you will quickly reach a point where 2.4Ghz performance exceeds 5Ghz performance, so you don't want to be limited to 802.11n (WiFi 4) on the 2.4Ghz band. On the flip side, being an apartment, the 2.4Ghz band is probably pretty crowded... Only experimentation will tell you for sure which frequency will ultimately work better.

In addition to recommending an 802.11ax (WiFi 6) access point/router, I'd try to get one that has removable antennas. You can install external directional antennas that point to your apartment. You could potentially also get a WiFi extender or bridge that has removable antennas to use as the WiFi client in your apartment.

I'd also recommend that you do this using a dedicated WiFi network, with separate WiFi access points in your apartment for your regular devices to connect to, making your link between your apartment and the basement a dedicated link that nothing else uses.
 

Elledan

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I would not use a 2nd RE550 the way you are suggesting. Doing that would just turn it into a budget low-end WiFi router. If you are going to go that route, at least get a good access point/router.

How many walls are there between you and the fiber modem?

I would recommend an 802.11ax (WiFi 6) access point/router. That is because the 802.11ax standard applies to both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. 802.11ac on the other hand (WiFi 5) is 5Ghz only. 802.11ac access points/routers that are dual-band use 802.11n (WiFi 4) on the 2.4Ghz band. With that in mind, understand that 5Ghz performance suffers greatly through walls. If you have enough walls between you, you will quickly reach a point where 2.4Ghz performance exceeds 5Ghz performance, so you don't want to be limited to 802.11n (WiFi 4) on the 2.4Ghz band. On the flip side, being an apartment, the 2.4Ghz band is probably pretty crowded... Only experimentation will tell you for sure which frequency will ultimately work better.

In addition to recommending an 802.11ax (WiFi 6) access point/router, I'd try to get one that has removable antennas. You can install external directional antennas that point to your apartment. You could potentially also get a WiFi extender or bridge that has removable antennas to use as the WiFi client in your apartment.

I'd also recommend that you do this using a dedicated WiFi network, with separate WiFi access points in your apartment for your regular devices to connect to, making your link between your apartment and the basement a dedicated link that nothing else uses.
Since the goal is just to get a kind of wireless backhaul, I figured that it might be sufficient.

There's basically the (concrete, rebar) floor and some (load bearing?) walls between the fiber modem in the basement and the apartment. It's probably not more than 5-10 meters when drawing a straight line.

I updated my original post with some additional details on the intended layout. Basically the idea is to have the dedicated router with NAT (and the in-apartment WiFi network) inside the apartment, and the REs (or RE & bridged router) acting as internet wireless backhaul between modem & router.

Maybe it's just a very hare-brained idea, I'm not sure yet :) WiFi 6 might be an option, but I figure that based on the performance that even this ancient 2.4 GHz b/g router gives me, AC dual-band might be more than sufficient.
 

GotNoRice

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AC dual-band might be more than sufficient.

Just keep in mind, like I mentioned before, there is actually no such thing as AC dual band. AC is 5Ghz only. Any dual-band "AC" router is going to be using 802.11ac on 5Ghz only, and using the older 802.11n on 2.4Ghz. 802.11n (WiFi 4) dates back to ~2008-2009 so pretty ancient at this point. You have to go WiFi 6 if you want "modern" 2.4Ghz. Concrete is going to be especially terrible for 5Ghz. You might setup the RE550 (set to 5Ghz only) in the basement and then try to connect to it from inside your apartment using your phone to get a better picture of what penetration you will get with 5Ghz.
 

toast0

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This seems pretty weird. How did you end up with your fiber installed in the basement? Do you have exclusive access or is it in like a basement laundry room? Anything already running between there and your unit, like telephone or coax?
 

zandor

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If there's Coax you could use a MOCA adapter for ethernet. MOCA can do gigabit if it's a decently clean run and you don't have too many branches/splitters or MOCA endpoints.

Having lived in an assortment of apartments... also check for existing coax on the outside of the building. Slack jawed cable TV installers love to tack coax to the exterior walls and just drill a hole for it. One time I had to stop one from drilling a new hole right next to the existing hole from a previous installation. I swear all those contractors they send out for initial installs know how to do is drill holes. He fucked up the install and the cable company had to send one of their people out to fix it... and get rid of the splice that was sitting on the ground and failed whenever it got wet. The actual cable company employee knew what he was doing. If you find a nice coax run you can just use MOCA adapters or rip it out and replace it with cat6. Just make sure it's outdoor rated. Landlord probably won't mind as long as you don't drill another hole in his building.

I don't have any experience with trying to punch 5GHz through reinforced concrete. All the places I've lived in were either houses or single floor apartments with frame/drywall interiors. I get a pretty good signal in my garage ~8m from the router and through a 2-course brick wall, but that doesn't have rebar in it. So I'm not sure what to do there. If you only had wood in the way I'd say get a mesh system. They tend to have dedicated backhaul radios but they're generally 5GHz. It might be ok for a half gig connection, but I really don't know.
 

Elledan

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This seems pretty weird. How did you end up with your fiber installed in the basement? Do you have exclusive access or is it in like a basement laundry room? Anything already running between there and your unit, like telephone or coax?
With the installation a requirement to run fiber into apartments was to have a dedicated path prepared, which there wasn't. I think the phone wires also come in that way, but this place was built originally for pole-based wiring, so from the basement it first goes to the top of the building, then back down again. Very odd.

At any rate this meant that the fiber modems for all tenants ended up in the basement :)
 

Elledan

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If there's Coax you could use a MOCA adapter for ethernet. MOCA can do gigabit if it's a decently clean run and you don't have too many branches/splitters or MOCA endpoints.

There's coax everywhere, but tragically it doesn't run to the basement as it goes to the plain ol' antenna on top of the building. Only easy to way to do anything cable-based is to run Cat-6 through the stairwell, which would have to be discussed with the landlord. Doable, but adds fuss that doing things wirelessly could avoid :)

I don't have any experience with trying to punch 5GHz through reinforced concrete. All the places I've lived in were either houses or single floor apartments with frame/drywall interiors. I get a pretty good signal in my garage ~8m from the router and through a 2-course brick wall, but that doesn't have rebar in it. So I'm not sure what to do there. If you only had wood in the way I'd say get a mesh system. They tend to have dedicated backhaul radios but they're generally 5GHz. It might be ok for a half gig connection, but I really don't know.

All I have to hit here in terms of speed is the ~400 Mbps that I'm paying for, so a combined N & AC-based setup might just hit that. So far even the dodgy b/g link is holding up fine, so I'm hoping that a dual-band setup would offer a big stability and speed bump here.

Main question I guess is whether another range extender would be sufficient to try this, or that I do need a full-blown router to deal with the complexities of DHCP. Since the ISP gives you one IP address, and the RE takes an IP address (on its LAN port?), I'd assume that by enabling DHCP on the basement RE it'd act like a bridged router and allow the upstairs RE to link to its 2.4 & 5 GHz networks and get an IP. The Ethernet port on the upstairs RE could then plug into the router in the apartment and life would be grand.

That's the idea at least, but finding specifics on this configuration seem scarce somehow.
 

goodrob

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i havent looked into them in many years but what about a ethernet over power adapter from the modem up to your place then into an access point of some kind?
 

zandor

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Main question I guess is whether another range extender would be sufficient to try this, or that I do need a full-blown router to deal with the complexities of DHCP. Since the ISP gives you one IP address, and the RE takes an IP address (on its LAN port?), I'd assume that by enabling DHCP on the basement RE it'd act like a bridged router and allow the upstairs RE to link to its 2.4 & 5 GHz networks and get an IP. The Ethernet port on the upstairs RE could then plug into the router in the apartment and life would be grand.
You need a router somewhere unless you only have one device, and that device has to get the IP from the ISP. Those range extenders can be put in access point mode, so they could probably be set up to create a wireless bridge between the fiber connection and the router. Without a router only one device could use that link. The other caveat is you'd have to use the old router for any WiFi devices or buy another piece of equipment. The old router might not be able to handle Internet traffic at 400Mb/s either. Running NAT, firewall filters, connection tracking, etc. takes a little processing. You could test it by dragging a computer down to the basement and plugging it in. Does the router even have gigabit ports? That wasn't guaranteed in 2007. So now you might want a new router... might as well just buy one and put it in the basement. A router with about the same speed as an RE550 is about the same price. If you want to wire anything in your apartment just get a switch and hang it off the range extender in the apartment.

One other idea for improved signal: Directional antennas. That'll run the cost up a bit, but they're not too bad. Like here's a TP-Link for $70 a pop (of course you'd need 2): https://www.newegg.com/tp-link-cpe710/p/0ED-000J-000J6 Anyone ever tried using directional antennas to punch a signal through reinforced concrete?
 

Elledan

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You need a router somewhere unless you only have one device, and that device has to get the IP from the ISP. Those range extenders can be put in access point mode, so they could probably be set up to create a wireless bridge between the fiber connection and the router. Without a router only one device could use that link. The other caveat is you'd have to use the old router for any WiFi devices or buy another piece of equipment. The old router might not be able to handle Internet traffic at 400Mb/s either. Running NAT, firewall filters, connection tracking, etc. takes a little processing. You could test it by dragging a computer down to the basement and plugging it in. Does the router even have gigabit ports? That wasn't guaranteed in 2007. So now you might want a new router... might as well just buy one and put it in the basement. A router with about the same speed as an RE550 is about the same price. If you want to wire anything in your apartment just get a switch and hang it off the range extender in the apartment.

One other idea for improved signal: Directional antennas. That'll run the cost up a bit, but they're not too bad. Like here's a TP-Link for $70 a pop (of course you'd need 2): https://www.newegg.com/tp-link-cpe710/p/0ED-000J-000J6 Anyone ever tried using directional antennas to punch a signal through reinforced concrete?
Yeah, I'd have a much newer router (Asus RT-AC68U) acting as the router in this configuration. The two REs would literally just work as a bridge to get the signal to the router in the apartment .

You mentioned the single IP address, and that's one thing I'm not entirely clear about when I use two REs in AP mode: wouldn't both REs also want to get their own IP?

That was the reason why I figured that enabling the DHCP server for the basement RE would allow the upstairs RE and also the router to get an IP address, or can they be shared?
 

Elledan

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I guess I can answer my own question there already:

An access point's IP address is only used to access its configuration. The IP address is not involved in the task of handling wireless clients' traffic. An AP is a OSI Layer 2 bridge and only inspects MAC addresses when forwarding frames.

From: https://superuser.com/questions/1294567/how-can-ap-work-without-having-ip-address-assigned

This then means that the single IP from the ISP would end up at the router after the Modem -> RE1 -> RE2 -> Router route. Only compromise is then that the control panels of the REs would not be available, unless I were to enable a DHCP server on either RE.
 

Elledan

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Solved this issue by just replacing the router in the basement with a newer (AC 1900) router. Seems like both the 2.4 & 5 GHz WiFi bands are having little trouble punching through the reinforced concrete between the basement and apartment, so all is good :)
 
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