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Setting up a home twifi

March 25, 2009

Vista busy cursor My eldest son, who is living at home this year while doing his law conversion course, has been tending to turn up in the oddest places around the house with his Mac perched on his knee. There was a time we hardly saw him – he would take himself up to his room to bury his head in law books – but then he started taking up vantage points in the lounge, half-way up the stairs, on the landing, always with his computer.

It seems wifi reception in his bedroom was becoming a problem. His room is at the opposite end of the house from the study, where the wifi router lives, and on a different floor. He had coped OK in the past but for whatever reason the weakish wifi signal was starting to become more of an issue. His pleas to me to “do something” had got to the level that I had to come up with a solution.

Now I already had a long-range router, a Belkin pre-N, which had always produced a decent signal all around the house. Unfortunately, I had had to stop using it when I switched my broadband service from Pipex to O2 last year, because O2 use the ETHoA protocol which the Belkin does not support. I had had to switch to the poxy Thomson 780 router supplied by O2.

Since then I had occasionally thought about trying to get the best of both worlds by connecting the two routers up in series, using the Thomson to talk to the broadband connection, but then hook it to the Belkin via the LAN to get the benefit of the latter’s better wifi range. From time to time I would Google for tips on how to do this but all I found was uber-geeks on weirdo forums arguing with each other about which ports to connect up, what IP addresses to use and other minutiae to do with configuration settings. It looked too hard and risky so I had never actually bothered to try.

But with Jonny’s growing wifi crisis it had to be worth a go. In the event it only took me around 30 minutes to get everything working, but did get a scare when I thought I had wrecked the Belkin forever. I knew that when you link two routers you need to make sure only one of them has DHCP turned on. DHCP is the technology that allocates IP addresses to devices on your LAN. You don’t want two devices fighting over IP address asssignments if you want the computers and routers on your LAN to be able to communicate with each other.

The advice seems to be to turn DHCP off in whichever router is not connected directly to the broadband service, in this case the Belkin. So I powered down my desktop PC, disconnected it from the Thomson router, connected it to the Belkin (which I had previously powered up) and rebooted the PC. I could now access the Belkin’s configuration panel by opening a browser and entering the address 192.168.2.1. I found the LAN settings screen and selected the DHCP off option. The Belkin rebooted, and now there was no way to communicate with it. The control screen was no longer available on 192.168.2.1. I tried all sort of workarounds, including connecting the Belkin up via the Thomson, hoping it would have been allocated a new IP address in the Thomson’s address range (192.168.1.nnn) but no joy.

In the end I Googled for how to reset the Belkin to factory settings. You have to find the reset button at the back and, with the router on, hold it down for 15 seconds. I hooked the PC up to the Belkin and could again get to the control screen at the 192.168.2.1 address. This time I first used the option to manually choose a new fixed IP address for the Belkin. I chose 192.168.1.100 because I knew it would be compatible with the IP addresses allocated by the Thomson, but would not clash with any other device on the network. Only then did I turn off DHCP.

I then powered everything off and connected my PC up to the Thomson as before. I then connected one of the LAN ports on the Belkin to a spare LAN port on the Thomson. I booted the Thomson up first then the Belkin and the PC. Now I could access the network and Internet from my PC in the normal way. But if I browsed to 192.168.1.100 I could now also access the Belkin settings, so I set up its wifi with WPA-PSK security. I now had two wifis, the one being broadcast by the Thomson and a second one, with different SSID and security password, broadcast by the Belkin. Using a laptop, I could log in to either wifi, and in either case see the rest of the network and use the Internet.

Jonny’s problem solved. Wifi signal from the Belkin is more than adequate in his room. And now that we have a twifi, we have double the wifi bandwidth for Internet traffic, file downloads etc., provided different users log into different wifis.

Twiffic.

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