DD-WRT as an access point

There’s an addition on the back of our house, probably added in the 1970s or 80s, where the wi-fi reception is exceptionally poor. Something about the walls makes it tricky, and I also suspect we get some interference from the neighbors behind us. I solved the problem with a cheap router running DD-WRT as an access point.

TP-Link TL-WR841n
This is the TP-Link TL-WR841n.

My project to fix that began with a TP-Link TL-WR841N router. It’s inexpensive–frequently available for around $20–has a good enough reputation for reliability, and if you dig deeply enough, you can find a DD-WRT build for it. There are fancier routers available, with more antennas and gigabit ports, but this one would take care of my immediate needs while I wait for 802.11ac. I don’t have any 802.11ac-enabled equipment yet, so I’ll wait for the price to come down before adopting it. You can use any DD-WRT compatible router, of course.

I covered the upgrade process yesterday.

To solve the problem I was having, I configured DD-WRT as a wireless access point. I have an Ethernet connection in the corner of the room; I cheated by using some abandoned coax cable to pull the CAT5e cable through. Here are my tips for wiring your house if you need them. My existing router was running wi-fi on channel 11, so I put the new DD-WRT box on channel 1. I used Meraki Wifi Stumbler running on an Android phone to see what channels neighboring wifi networks were running on. In my case channel 6 was more crowded than channel 1.

Access points are better than repeaters, because all of the bandwidth remains available to the clients. Repeaters have to use half their bandwidth to talk to each other. Access points give better performance since they talk to each other over the wired connection. If two access points aren’t enough to cover your house, add a third on channel 6.

If you don’t have a wired network connection available, a powerline networking kit is a good way to provide one to connect your access point to your router without pulling CAT5e cable. An inexpensive 200-megabit kit will suffice and won’t cost a lot.

Now, you can buy a commercial access point, but you’ll pay more for it. You’ll save money by converting a router instead, and you can gain functionality too.

How? Well, for example, you can buy a costlier router that has a USB plug on it, configure it to extend your wireless, and then it can also double as a print server or a NAS. That’s exactly what I intend to do when I upgrade to 802.11ac.

The other role DD-WRT can play is a wireless bridge, which can be useful. Let’s say you have an older game console that has Ethernet but doesn’t have wifi, and running wires to it is impractical. Load DD-WRT on an old router or the cheapest new router you can find, configure it as a wireless bridge, connect it to your wifi, then plug the game console into the converted router. Now it’s on the network.

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