My home wireless woes continue. The springform-pan reflector I set up a while ago helped some, but there’s still a dead spot on my side of the bed and in the part of the master bedroom beyond that. As far as I can tell the real problem is that something in the wall of the guest bathroom (which was also one of the exterior walls of the original house) is blocking/scrambling wireless signals. That means a better antenna on the access point isn’t likely to help much; what I really need to do is bounce the signal around the corner from the office to the good part of the master bedroom to the bad part. Maybe I could put up a big sheet of aluminum foil…except that Cindy would kill me, so scratch that. Instead, I bought a D-Link DWL-800AP+ “range extender” which I set up yesterday. Read on for more of the story.

Configuring the D-Link range extender to work with my Linksys AP/router was a bit tricky for a couple of reasons…

  • The AP/router has three MAC addresses: one wireless, one that it presents to the built-in four-port switch, and one that it presents to the cable/DSL box. You’d think that the one you’d configure into the range extender, which communicates with the AP/router via wireless, would be the wireless MAC. Wrong. I already knew from reviews I’d read that you actually have to use the AP/router’s internal wired MAC address. I can’t think why that should be the case, but it is.
  • The range extender can work in two modes: as an access point, or as a repeater. If you configure it in repeater mode it allows you to set parameters such as the AP/router’s MAC address. If you use it in access-point mode it allows you to set things like the network SSID. As it turns out, the SSID matters even in repeater mode (which is not really too surprising). What you have to do is put it in access-point mode, set the SSID, save the settings, then put it in repeater mode so that it will work as a repeater but on the correct network. I’m guessing that most of the people who have reported success without mentioning this step never changed the SSID from the default setting on either their AP/router or the range extender.

With these problems resolved, the range extender seemed to be working quite well. I could see that my laptop was associating with the range extender and getting a strong signal, and I could go out and surf effectively. Then the glitchiness started showing up. Problem #1 is that the Linksys seems to get a bit confused with routing packets between the repeater and the internal wired ports. From the bedroom my laptop could connect to sites all over the world, but not to the server in the office. If I moved into the office, so the laptop would associate directly with the Linksys instead of the D-Link, everything would be fine. Back to the bedroom – broken again. Definitely not ideal.

The second problem is that the setup would just stop working after a while. Both my laptop and Cindy’s would suddenly stop being able to communicate. Unplugging the D-Link (and waiting for the laptops to re-associate with the Linksys) would fix the problem. Plugging the D-Link back in would work again for a while, and then stop again. What I suspect is that one of the two devices is not dealing very well with there being two machines on the D-Link side. This is a low-end device, after all, and normal people who wouldn’t have multiple machines active on that side at once wouldn’t see a problem. Cindy and I often surf simultaneously, so for us it’s an issue, and that leaves me with three options:

  • Suck it up and live with it. If I sit in the chair in the bedroom with a direct line of sight down the hall to the office, I’m fine. If I sit in the rocker/glider that Cindy got for nursing/soothing Amy, I’m fine. Who needs to surf from the bed anyway?
  • Run cable in the attic and put the Linksys where it has a clearer “view” of the master bedroom. This has the potential downside of killing what was previously a perfectly good connection downstairs.
  • Get a new AP/router and bridge/repeater that are known to work together for multiple computers at the bridge/repeater end. This could also be my chance to upgrade to 802.11g and a more robust firewall, so it’s the obvious choice for my geek side, but my practical side doesn’t want to spend the money for so little added functionality.

Ahhh, decisions, decisions. If any of you wireless gurus out there can suggest another alternative that would be cheaper than new gear and easier than stringing cable, please let me know.