Vanquish Wi-Fi dead zones by turning an old router into a wireless extender

how to turn a router into wireless repeater

If you’ve got an old router collecting dust somewhere, there’s a good chance you can turn it into a repeater yourself. The default firmware included on your router almost certainly doesn’t allow this, but alternative open-source firmware DD-WRT does. We’ve already shown you how to replace the firmware on your router with DD-WRT, so check that guide up first.

Once DD-WRT is set up, you’ve got a couple of options. Let’s explain what those are, and then dive into the steps you need to take to set everything up.

Part 1: Decide if you want a repeater, or just a second access point

Wireless repeaters can extend the range of an existing wireless signal, but if your home or office is wired for Ethernet, you might want to consider setting up an access point instead. Put simply, repeaters can’t offer the same bandwidth as a dedicated router.

  • A wireless repeater receives existing wireless signals and re-broadcasts them, increasing the range of your wireless network. This doesn’t require a wired connection to the router, but offers worse performance.
  • An access point is simply a second router offering wireless access to the network. This requires a wired connection to the primary router, but offers better performance.

If your house is wired for Ethernet, an access point is a better idea. If no wires exist, go for the wireless repeater. Let’s outline both methods, starting with the repeater, but first we’ll do some housekeeping.

Part 2: Do a 30/30/30 reset

Before we configure everything, let’s make sure your DD-WRT router is using the default settings. To do this, we do what is called a hard reset — or 30/30/30 reset — which removes any and all configurations from the NVRAM of your router. Here’s how it’s done.

reset-button
  • Step 1: With the router plugged into the power supply, hold the “reset” button located on the bottom of the router for 30 seconds. Your router will reset, and this is normal. Keep holding the button.
  • Step 2: Now, keep holding the reset button, and unplug the router. Wait for 30 seconds.
  • Step 3: Keep holding the reset button, and plug the router in. Keep the reset button pressed down for 30 seconds.

That’s right: you’re holding the button for 30 seconds with the router on, then 30 seconds with the router off, then 30 seconds with the router on again. When this is done, you’re ready to do some configuring.

Part 3: Setting up DD-WRT as a wireless repeater

If the router is currently plugged into any network, unplug it — we don’t need any Ethernet cables for a repeater. Now connect to the router wirelessly. The default SSID will be dd-wrt, and you’ll need to set an admin username and password.

  • Step 1: First, head to the “Wireless” section and click the “Basic” tab.
dd-wrt-repeater-wireless-settings
  • Step 2: Set “Wireless Mode” to “Repeater.”
  • Step 3: Set “Wireless Network Mode” to match your router. This might require some research on your part, though “Mixed” is fairly universal.
  • Step 4: Set the SSID to match your router. We chose “Potcasting,”above, because that’s the name of the router we’re hoping to repeat.
  • Step 5: Under “Virtual Interfaces,” click “Add.”
  • Step 6: Give the new virtual interface a unique SSID. We used “Potcasting-Repeater,” but you can use whatever name you like. Just don’t use the same name as your primary network.
  • Step 7: Hit “Save,” but do not hit Apply just yet. You should wait until you’re complete finished.

Now let’s head to the “Wireless Security” section.

dd-wrt-repeater-security-settings
  • Step 1: Under the “Physical interface” section, make sure the settings exactly match those of your primary router. For example, if your primary router uses WPA2 Personal with TKIP encryption, set things the same here, and enter your key as you would if you were connecting from a PC or phone.
  • Step 2: Next, under the “Virtual interface” section, you’ll establish the settings you’ll use to connect to this router. It’s best to make these identical to the settings in the “Physical interface” section.
  • Step 3: Hit “Save,” but hold off on “Apply.”

Almost done! Now, head to the “Security” section, disable the “SPI Firewall,” and uncheck everything housed under “Block WAN Requests.” Then, hit “Save.”

Finally, head to “Setup” and select “Basic setup.” Under “Network Setup,” change the Router IP to a different subnet than that of your primary router. For example, if your main router’s IP is “192.168.1.1,” set the repeater’s IP to “192.168.2.1.”

dd-wrt-repeater-network-settings

With all of this done, go back to every page you configured and make sure all of the settings are correct. When you’re sure everything is right, hit the “Apply” button. Your router will restart, and eventually you’ll see the SSID you choose earlier for your repeater. Connect to it, and verify that your Internet is working by heading to the Digital Trends website (or any other). If it works, you now have a wireless repeater!

If you can’t get this working, review your settings, or find more information on the DD-WRT wiki.

Part 4: Setting up DD-WRT as a second access point

Let’s begin by ensuring that your router is not plugged into anything but the power. Connect wirelessly — the default SSID will be “dd-wrt,” and you’ll have to set an admin username and password.

You’ll start at the “Basic setup” page.

dd-wrt-access-point-basic

Here you need to:

  • Step 1: Change the local address to something other than what your primary router uses. We used “192.168.1.2.” Take note of this IP, because you’ll need it later to configure your access point.
  • Step 2: Enter the IP address used by your primary router under “Gateway.” This is typically 192.168.1.1, but check to make sure.
  • Step 3: Disable the DHCP server. This will prevent your access point from fighting your router to assign IPs.
  • Step 4: Assign the WAN port to switch. This isn’t necessary, but it gives you an extra port later if you need it.
  • Step 5: Hit “Save,” but don’t click “Apply.” Your router isn’t ready, and it will misbehave if you apply the new settings too early.

Next, head to the “Wireless” section, and make the following changes on the “Basic Settings” sub-page.

dd-wrt-access-point-wireless
  • Step 1: Make sure “wireless mode” is set to “AP.” It should be the default.
  • Step 2: Choose an SSID. This can be the same as your primary router if you’d like, but if so, ensure that this access point and the router are using different channels. For example, if your primary router is set to channel 1, set this one to channel 11 to avoid conflicts. If that’s too complicated, just use two different SSIDs.
  • Step 3: Hit “Save,” but not “Apply.”

Now, head to the “Wireless Security” sub-section. If you left the SSID identical to that of your primary router, copy the security settings here. This will ensure that your devices seamlessly switch between the two access points. If you used a different SSID, feel free to use a different security settings, but sticking to WPA2 is recommended if you want your network to be secure.

Next, head to the “Security” section, and disable the firewall. Because this router will not be filtering your connection to the Internet, this is unnecessary at best and a source of problems at worst.

Review all of the above settings, and when you’re happy click “Apply settings.” Then, restart your router and connect it to the network somewhere near a deadzone. Dead no more!

Part 5: Placing your repeater or access point

Now that you’ve gone through the process of turning your old router into a repeater or second access point, where should you put it?

  • The Repeater depends on receiving wireless signal from your primary router to do its job, so placing it in a dead zone likely won’t do you much good. Ideally the repeater should be placed near the dead zone, but close enough to the router to still get a decent signal. Experiment with different locations until you’re happy with the coverage and speed.
  • The Access Point can be placed in the extreme corners of the dead zone, provided there is a wired connection available. This allows for better coverage where you need it most, but depends on where you have wired access to the network

Some guessing and testing will be required, but it’s a fun afternoon project that will (hopefully) result in better Wi-Fi performance.

Want to learn more? When it comes to DD-WRT, there’s always something else to find out. Check out the DD-WRT wiki for more ways to link routers, because it’s amazing what a router with this open source firmware can do.