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Long Range Wireless

May 17, 2011 - Dave Hecei
Original Apple Airport Base Station circa 1999

I don’t consider myself a wireless networking expert. However, I have been using WiFi since Apple came out with the original Airport Base Station. Since then, I have used Apple, Netgear, D-Link, Linksys, and other wireless systems. While the latest generation, 802.11n, is faster and can reach out farther, there are times when a wireless just can’t reach every area you work. There are ways to extend WiFi’s reach, and it’s called WDS.

It’s hard to believe that it was almost 12 years ago that Apple introduced Airport WiFi. At that time, the Apple Airport was the least expensive wireless router on the market. Over the next several years, wireless has gotten cheaper, faster, and its working range has expanded. Apple still makes the Airport Base Station, but it is not as competitively priced as it once was.

Networking giants like Linksys (now owned by Cisco), build all sorts of wireless products, most of which are half the cost or even cheaper than Apple’s Airport. My personal preference is Netgear. They make a quality product that is easy to configure. But this is a personal preference, the other big named routers are just as good and setup usually entails following a step-by-step wizard program built into the router.

The latest version of WiFi is called 802.11n. It uses the same 2.4GHz WiFi frequency as the older b and g WiFi, but it can also use the 5.0GHz band, which is less used these days. 802.11n also has an extended range compared to the b and g flavor. In most cases, the range is 2 to 3 times that of the older b and g. Most of the n-routers offered today can reach out to about 150 feet, some even slightly further. This is a vast improvement to the old b and g WiFi, which had a range of about 50 feet – some could do about 100 feet.

But there are times when 150 feet won’t reach where you want to be. Maybe you are in a large office building, or maybe you want to get WiFi out in the garage or workshop. There is a system that most modern WiFi routers have to help extend their reach. It’s called WDS or Wireless Distribution System.

The idea is to have a centrally located main WiFi router. This is the one connected to your Internet source, either cable or DSL. Then you will need a second WiFi router placed somewhere between where you plan on working and the main router. This second WiFi router should be in range of the main router but also in the range of where you need to access your network. This second router is then put into WDS mode. When WDS is activated, this second router then basically becomes a booster for the main router. It picks up the main routers signal and repeats it out to where you want to be working. In WDS mode, the second router just picks up the settings of the main router so there is very little setup involved.

Ideally, you will want to match routers. While WDS is sort of a standard, the chipsets used in most WiFi routers do vary. For best performance, and less hair pulling (trust me), try to match your routers. If you have an Apple Airport Extreme as your main router, then get an Apple Airport Express. The Express was made for this type of work. If you have a Netgear then get a second WDS capable Netgear router.

It is quite possible, with one or two extra routers, to extend the range of your main WiFi out to several hundred feet. This can all be done fairly simply and with minimal cost. Just remember that the extending router does not have to be one of the super fancy models with multiple antennas, just a basic model that has WDS support.

 
 

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