The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Networks, Wifi and VLANs (oh my!)

Posted By on June 8, 2013

So, after about a week of fiddling, I believe I’ve gotten it all sorted.

Essentially, project goals were:

  1. Increase reliability
  2. Increase coverage

The extant arrangement of scattered WRT54Gs running OpenWRT was suboptimal, mainly because the core one would keep running out of memory, so various services would crash. So, you could associate with the AP with the big antennas, but then you’d never get an IP because the DHCP server crashed.

The solution was to buy a TP-Link TL-WDR4300 which has 128MB of RAM, and therefore has enough headroom that it doesn’t crash all the time. It also has 3 antennas, which you can orient in 3 different spacial dimensions (one straight back, one 90 degrees pointed up, one 90 degrees sideways) so they’re all at right angles to each other. Since the radio signals go in a “doughnut” shape away from the antenna (and generally don’t spread as much in the axis parallel to said antenna) 3 is loads better than 2, since we don’t live in Flatland.

Anyway, once that was set up, I checked coverage. It was pretty weak in my office (which is as far away from the access point as you can get and still be in the house) and in the garage (which is about 50 yards away from the house).

However, I now had 3 WRT54G and an old Netgear ME101 bridge – so, 3 pretty flexible devices and 1 that can only be a bridge.

With a little fiddling, I ended up with:

  • The ME101 in Liz’s sewing room, allowing a wired computer she has there to be wireless (we haven’t pulled cable there yet).
  • A WRT54G running DD-WRT with big antennas out in the garage. It’s running a “Vintage Stable” DD-WRT in Repeater Bridge mode, a DD-WRT exclusive.
  • A WRT54G running Tomato in my office, acting as an AP because the signal is weak there. Since my office is wired, a normal AP works.
  • A WRT54G running Tomato in the bedroom, acting as a bridge for the “smart” TV and Blu-Ray player in the bedroom (again, we haven’t pulled cable there yet).

So, 3 different types of devices, 3 different types of firmware, but it all seems to be working. We’ll see just how reliable it is.

Notes:

  • OpenWRT – Tremendously customizeable, down to what packages you install on top of the base system. Very hacker friendly, but complicated.
  • DD-WRT – Not as customizeable as OpenWRT as far as packages, but the default “standard” setup is pretty good. The notes on what versions are most stable are also pretty good (OpenWRT doesn’t give you much guidance here). Supports the Repeater Bridge mode, which is nifty.
  • Tomato – Simple, easy to use – probably the easiest of the three as far as a replacement firmware which allows more functionality yet isn’t too complex for an average user. I ran this firmware for years with very few problems. Of note, however, is that it lacks VLAN support, which is useful when you’re paranoid like me. After all, I have this cell repeater from Verizon on my network, which is a black box, I don’t control, and unlike my Blu-Ray players, it doesn’t need to access the DLNA server to stream media.. so, let’s just have that guy VLAN-ed off so it can only talk to the world, shall we? Like I said – Tomato is really good for normal people.

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