Update: While the device I discuss below initially seemed to work promisingly as a repeater, we’ve had lots of problems with it – it seems to work fine for a few hours, but then will stop working for no clear reason. At some point I’m going to try reflashing it as suggested in the link below, but I haven’t been in the same house as the router for any appreciable amount of time in the last 6 months. The post below is as I originally wrote it, but please be aware that it hasn’t worked nearly as well as I thought at the time of writing. Update 2: having revisited the house recently, it seemed to be better having changed the default address of the TP Link device to be different from the BT Home Hub (duh) and outside the latter’s DHCP range, so I’d recommend checking that.
I’m posting this because we found it surprisingly hard to find convincing instructions for setting up a device to extend the range of a wireless router, and I suspect many other people might be in the same position. In the end, the device we got was very cheap, easy to set up, and it’s a great improvement.
Please bear in mind that I’m just reporting what worked for us – I can’t guarantee the same will work in your situation or provide any technical support. (I’m pretty ignorant about WiFi, it turns out.) I imagine that this will work fine with other wireless routers and the BT Home Hub 3, but of course I can’t promise that.
We found that one end of my parents’ house had very poor wireless LAN coverage, since for various reasons the BT Home Hub 2 has to be placed at the opposite end of the house and there are plenty of walls and other obstructions. (For those outside the UK, the BT Home Hub is just an ADSL modem and wireless access point which BT give you when you order their broadband service – it’s quite a basic model and I assume the method described here would work with any wireless access point.)
We first tried a couple of commonly suggested solutions which didn’t involve buying new hardware:
- Checking that 802.11n was turned on: this seems to be the default on this router, however, which had b, g and n turned on when I checked.
- Changing the wireless channel to one with less traffic: the home hub actually has an option to pick a new channel automatically, presumably based on the other access points it can detect. This did produce a slight improvement in range, in fact, but still not enough to cover the complete house.
Some searching turned up this suggestion from Keith Beddoe from the BT community forums. His second suggested option is to set up a particular TP Link wireless access point as a “Universal Repeater”, but suggests reflashing the access point with some files he supplies. I’m always slightly wary of reflashing devices unless it’s absolutely necessary, and it’s not clear why it is in this case – the manual for the TL-WA701ND says that it can act both as a Repeater and a Universal Repeater. (The distinction between those two for this device seems to be that the existing router must support WDS in order to use the Repeater option – since the BT Home Hub 2 doesn’t, we want the Universal Repeater option.)
The only steps I needed to take to set up the access point as a range extender were as follows:
- Find a spot in the house that can still get a good signal from the original access point, but is near to the end of the house that had poor coverage.
- Plug in the TP Link TL-WA701ND there.
- Find an ethernet cable, and use that to plug a laptop into the TP Link device.
- Configure the laptop to have a static IP address of 188.8.131.52
- Visit http://192.168.1.254 and log in with the default username and password given in the “Quick Installation” guide.
- Updated: the default IP address of the BT Home Hub we have is also 192.168.1.254, so it’s a good idea to change the IP address of the TP Link device to, say, 192.168.1.1 – that’s outside the address range that will be allocated via DHCP by the BT Home Hub with its default settings, and helpfully this will also enable you to log into the TP Link device in normal usage.
- Under the “Wireless” settings, select an operation mode of “Universal Repeater”.
- Click “Connect” by the existing BT Home Hub.
- Save those settings – it may want to reboot itself then, so let it do that if so.
- Now go to “Wireless Security”.
- Select WPA and enter the key for your existing BT Home Hub. (If you have an earlier BT Home Hub, you might need to use WEP instead – it should say on the back of the hub where the key is shown.)
- Save those settings, and I think it will want to reboot again.
- Just to check that everything is working, now go to “Wireless Statistics”, and you should see that there’s at least one connection – that to the existing access point.
- The bit that everyone apparently forgets (including me): change my laptop back to using DHCP instead of static IP.
The effect of this is that there are now two access points with the same SSID as the BT Home Hub listed in the output of “iwlist scan”. The network manager on my laptop only lists it once, though, as does my smartphone. If I walk with my laptop from one end of the house to the other, it seems to reconnect seamlessly when moving into an area that is only covered by the range extender, and our phones behave similarly. So, that seems to be ideal and we get a good signal all over the house now.
The price of the TP Link TL-WA701ND is only £23, and this seems like a reasonable price to pay to get wireless LAN in the garden :)