Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wirelessly Extend Your Verizon FiOS Wi-Fi Network

The Verizon FiOS Internet service is really quite spectacular. With their Quantum service, I regularly experience direct-connected speeds of 60 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload. However, the Actiontec MI424WR router is a weak link in their product. The wi-fi radio in this device is the source of frustration for many Verizon customers... me included.

Many FiOS users search for a way to extend the wi-fi capabilities of the Actiontec router. A simple Google search will reveal several options: tin foil reflectors, high-gain antennas, power line carrier sets, wi-fi repeater devices, and ethernet-connected remote access points. Some of these solutions work, some maybe not so much. None of them provided the answer that I was looking for.

I needed to solve three problems: (1) extend the range of my existing wireless network (and not by creating a new, separate wi-fi network); (2) provide ethernet network connections at a remote location in my home (for ethernet-connected computers, printers and console games); and (3) provide these two functions wirelessly (i.e. I did not want to install ethernet cable throughout the building for a new access point). The ideal solution would be a Repeater Bridge.

A Repeater Bridge connects two local area network segments with a wireless link. The two segments are in the same network, and to all of the computers on the network it looks like two ethernet switches connected by a cable. Since the computers are on the same network, broadcasts reach all machines. This is what I needed.

Sounds like an impossible task, right? Wrong. Fortunately, there is a rather simple and economic solution that is proven. It's not my idea, or my work, so no credit claimed here. I'm just providing you with the steps that I took, and a convenient source for all of the links to the necessary resources.

The solution is based upon the outstanding work of the very talented employees and dedicated user community at DD-WRT. The DD-WRT product is a Linux-based alternative OpenSource firmware designed for use with a variety of wi-fi routers. The idea is to load this custom firmware on the router which allows it to be more than simply an access point; to unleash the powerful device's enhanced capabilities... like the Repeater Bridge function we desired.

The DD-WRT community is probably best known for their work on enhancing the capabilities of the inexpensive Linksys WRT54G wireless router. While the WRT54G device is a real workhorse, it does not support IEEE 802.11n networks like that used by the Actiontec MI424WR. Therefore, I would need to start with another device.

The Linksys (Cisco) E2500 / N600 router is a dual-band N (2.4 and 5 GHz) device that supports transfer rates to 300 Mbps. More than sufficient for my needs. It is moderately priced, and can be found at most online and big-box retailers. It may sound funny to purchase a brand new router and essentially "hack" it. However, the hardware itself is really quite powerful, and we are just taking the steps necessary to leverage the capabilities of the DD-WRT firmware.

After installing the firmware and configuring the router as instructed, we are pleased to report that our DD-WRT powered Repeater Bridge has been working flawlessly on our network, having resolved many of our problems with the Actiontec router. If you are an advanced novice and are able to follow instructions, you can get the same results.

The actual steps we took are listed here with brief comments. Please carefully read the information at each of the provided links. While we are confident that these instructions work, we cannot be held responsible for any damage that may occur to your router, or the devices connected to your network. We are also not able to provide support for the DD-WRT firmware or instructions. Comments requesting such support will be deleted.

(1) Chose a router that you believe may meet your needs.

We chose the Linksys E2500 router since it supported 802.11n and had the dual-band and throughput capabilities that we desired.

(2) Navigate to the DD-WRT router database, and search for your chosen router to make certain that there is a current, up to-date firmware that supports the device.

Some routers are not supported by DD-WRT. Check before you buy!

(3) Acquire the router.

(4) Set-up and confirm that the router works as it was originally designed and that it performs the standard access point function.

For a brand-new router, there may be an initialization process that requires vendor-supplied software.

(5) Navigate to the DD-WRT wiki, and search for your chosen router. Carefully follow the instructions to replace the device's firmware.

The DD-WRT wiki will always have the most recent version of the firmware for your device. Do not trust other sources as installing the wrong version of the firmware may render your router useless.

I cannot stress enough to carefully follow all of the instructions. Do not skip a step regardless of how meaningless you may believe that it is.

(6) Navigate to the DD-WRT instructions on how to configure a Repeater Bridge. Carefully follow the instructions to configure the device for this specialized function.

I cannot stress enough to carefully follow all of the instructions. Do not skip a step regardless of how meaningless you may believe that it is.

(7) Enjoy the enhanced capabilities of your router, including the wireless extension of your Verizon FiOS Actiontec MI424WR router!