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Converting a Router into a Wireless Bridge

Converting a Router into a Wireless Bridge

To accommodate my household’s behind-the-times yet nonetheless growing reliance on wireless devices, I recently purchased only the second router I’ve ever owned.  My old one was a Linksys WRT54G (version 6), one of the most reliable workhorses of the router world.  There was nothing really wrong with it, so at first I was content to either sell it for a few bucks or stash it away with the rest of my broken and/or obsolete electronics, but soon I stumbled across an awesome thing to do with an old router – turn it into a wireless bridge (or wi-fi extender)!  This guide will specifically discuss how to install new firmware on a Linksys WRT54G, versions 5, 5.1, or 6.  Keep reading for information on where to obtain installation instructions for other routers.  The installation process for each router varies, though the configuration (also covered here) once the firmware is installed remains the same.

For instructions on converting a Linksys WRT54G v4 into a bridge and/or repeater/access point, click here.

Before dismissing this project, it’s worth finding out if this procedure could be useful for you.  In fact, depending on your situation, it might be worth your time and effort to find a cheap used router even if you don’t have an old one lying around or aren’t ready to replace your current one.

Briefly, let’s review what a router actually does.  Via a wire, a router “receives the internet” and then distributes the internet to various devices through both wire and wirelessly.  Nowadays most every device has wireless compatibility, meaning it can receive the signal that the router is distributing.  Depending on the location of your router and the devices which need to be connected to the internet, some devices can also be wired to the router in order to receive the signal as well.  This is especially the case with some desktop computers, older TVs and DVD/Blu-ray players with internet compatibility, and older game consoles.  Even with wireless capabilities, some consoles, such as the PlayStation 4, still recommend wired connections for best results in some applications.

Network Example

Home network example – solid lines represent wired connections and dotted lines wireless connections.
 
Here, the primary router supplies the internet connection to a number of devices as normal, both wired and wireless. One of these devices is a router that’s been re-purposed as a bridge. Notice how the secondary router solely controls the connection of its own devices. The devices connected to the secondary router, both wired and wireless, have no direct interaction with the primary router.

So what’s a wireless bridge do?  A bridge takes an existing internet connection and distributes it to other devices as well.  In this case, let’s call the primary router “Router A” and the second, converted router “Router B.”  Router A sends out its signal like normal, and Router B picks up the signal just like any other wireless device (laptop, tablet, etc.).  Then Router B passes this signal along via wire to other devices in order to connect them to the internet.  This allows us to establish wired connections to devices that aren’t physically close enough to our primary router to run a cable between them.  For example, if your router is connected to a desktop computer downstairs, and you had a desktop upstairs,  you probably wouldn’t want to run a cable from your router all the way up your stairs to the second desktop.  By using a bridge, we can put the converted router upstairs and connect it, via wire, to the upstairs desktop.

Basically this wireless bridge functionally acts like a wireless adapter, except that instead of needing a separate wireless adapter for all wired devices, the converted router can act as a singular adapter so long as the devices can be physically connected with a cable.

With a little more work, we can further extend the functionality of the converted router to act as a second access point and wi-fi extender (while still maintaining its role as a wireless bridge) but we’ll get to that a little later.

Disclaimer:  As usual, neither Nerd Bacon nor its writers, sponsors, or affiliates take any responsibility for damages incurred from undertaking any of our “DIY” projects.  Even in “riskless” procedures, there’s no guarantee that human error won’t lead to unintended consequences.  This is a safe, well-documented process, but as always, proceed at your own risk.  I recommend reading through this entire article before doing anything and asking any questions or conducting any relevant research before beginning.

  1. Materials
  2. Before We Start
  3. Step 1: Downloading DD-WRT
  4. Step 2: Installing DD-WRT
    1. Extracting DD-WRT
    2. Hard Reset and Power Cycle
    3. Connecting Router to Computer
    4. Creating Custom VX Image
    5. Prepping the Router
    6. Applying the VX Image
    7. Installing the Firmware
    8. Finishing Up
  5. Step 3: Configuration for Wireless Bridge
  6. Step 4: Testing the Bridge
  7. Step 5: Configuration for Repeater Bridge (Wi-fi Extender/Access Point)
  8. Thoughts, Comments, and Practical Applications
  9. Resources
  10. Questions?

Materials

  • An internet connection and a primary router that supplies the internet to your household
  • A secondary router, to be converted into a wireless bridge
  • An Ethernet cable
  • A PC or laptop (for adjusting the router’s settings)
  • DD-WRT firmware

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Before We Get Started

Some folks are really in touch with their router’s settings…others of us less so.  Most people don’t have a need to fiddle with their router’s configuration beyond initial setup, and even then, the default settings are perfectly adequate for most needs.  Before we get going, it might be well worth your time to make a note of a few of your primary router’s settings; this can save a lot of headaches and guesswork further on.

You should be able to access your router’s firmware by typing 192.168.1.1 in your browser’s address bar.  Once you’re there, you may need to consult the router’s documentation for where to find these settings, but most of them should be found under some type of “security” category as well as “networking” or “wireless.”  You won’t need to actually change anything so there’s no risk of messing anything up, but you will want to take note of a few of your settings.  When we configure the secondary router, we’ll need to make sure these settings match up.  So write ’em down, type ’em up, whatever you need to do:

  • Security Mode (options such as WPA Personal, WPA Enterprise, WEP, etc.)
  • Security Algorithm (options such as AES, TKIP, and TKIP+AES)
  • Network Mode (options such as Mixed, G-only, B-only, etc.)
  • Shared Key (the password needed to connect to your network)
  • SSID (the name of your access point, case sensitive)

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Step 1: Downloading DD-WRT

Before we get started, it’s important to get everything we need from the internet ahead of time since we’ll be doing all of this without an internet connection.  Keep this webpage up!  (All links will open in a new tab.)

DD-WRT is powerful firmware that can drastically extend the functionality of your router.  We’re not going to be messing with the firmware of our primary router (though you can experiment with DD-WRT if you’d like), but we will be replacing the firmware of our old (secondary) router with DD-WRT.  Depending on your router, the software you’ll need to download will be different.  Before doing anything else, check out DD-WRT’s list of supported devices: http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Supported_Devices

Find your router on the list.  If it’s supported, you should see a link in the rightmost column for “Installation Instructions” or something similar.  Click on this link, and the DD-WRT Wiki will provide you with all the necessary information for downloading and installing the correct firmware for your router.  In this guide, I will cover the installation instructions for the Linksys WRT54G, versions 5, 5.1, and 6.  The DD-WRT Wiki covers this as well, though I’m documenting the process here (with photos) since I’ve performed it twice.  The installation for all 3 of these versions is the same; I converted both a version 5 and a version 6 exactly the same.

If you do not have a Linksys WRT54G version 5, 5.1, or 6, please follow the instructions on the DD-WRT Wiki for your router and then come back to this page for the instructions on how to properly configure your router to function as a wireless bridge.  Please note that the instructions at the DD-WRT Wiki will only guide you through the installation and do not give details on how to configure the firmware to act as a wireless bridge.  If you’re using a router other than the ones I’ve mentioned, you’ll want the installation page and this page on your computer before we get started.

If converting one of the above mentioned routers, continue on to Step 2.  If using a different router, follow the instructions at the DD-WRT Wiki and then return here to Step 3.

Not sure which version of the WRT54G you have?  Look on the bottom.  You should see a label that says “Linksys” in the upper left.  Look just under it, and you should see “Model No. WRT54G v X” where “X” is the version of your router.

Router Version

The red circle marks the version number on the underside of the WRT54G.
 
The configuration settings beginning in Step 3 are applicable once DD-WRT is installed on any device, but the installation instructions on this page are only for versions 5, 5.1, and 6.

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Step 2: Installing DD-WRT

This is the most labor-intensive part of the process.  I would encourage you to read through this step completely before beginning in case you have any questions or need to use the internet to look for any further information.  Remember that we will not be interfering with the functionality of your primary router, but it will be necessary to disconnect from the internet while converting the old router.  Alternatively, you could use one PC to convert the router and keep the other connected to the internet.  For best results, I recommend using a laptop (or a computer that wirelessly connects to the internet) for the conversion process so that you can test the router with minimal effort.

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Step 2.a:  Extracting DD-WRT

This is the easy part!  First, download the firmware from this page.  After doing so, unzip the files to an easy to find directory.  Then unzip the file vximgtoolgui.zip to the exact same directory.  For instance, if you unzip the main file to a folder named Gv5Flash, also unzip vximgtoolgui.zip directly to the Gv5Flash folder.

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Step 2.b:  The Hard Reset – 30/30/30 and the Power Cycle

The “hard reset” is something you’ll need to be very familiar with, so I’m going to go ahead and devote a step to it now.  Any time that a hard reset is called for, this is what you’ll need to do.  Using a small tool, hold down the RESET button on the back of the router for a full 30 seconds.  While still holding the RESET button, unplug the power cable from the back of the router and continue holding the button for a further 30 seconds.  Then reconnect the power cable and continue holding the button for another 30 seconds.  Altogether you will hold the RESET button down for a full 90 seconds.  It may take some experimenting to figure out a comfortable way to do this.

A “power cycle” is performed by unplugging the power cable from the router, waiting 30 seconds, and then plugging it back in.

First we’ll need to perform our first hard reset.  Follow the instructions above to do so.  When finished, both the “Power” light and “WLAN” light should be on.  (These are the lights that are on when the router is functioning normally.)  If only the Power light is blinking rapidly, you’ll need to do a power cycle for both lights to come back on.  If it still doesn’t, power cycle again.  You may have to repeat a series of hard resets and power cycles, though generally 1 hard reset followed by a single power cycle should bring everything up to speed.

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Step 2.c:  Connecting the Router to Your PC
  1. We’re going to knock out a few different things with this step, but this should pretty easy.  First of all, you’ll need to disable your computer’s wireless connection.  (You’ll also want to physically disconnect from your router if using a wired connection.  I recommend using a wireless device to avoid the hassle of having to unplug and plug in to your primary router, especially when testing the connection.)  It’s not enough to simply disconnect from your current network as your wi-fi manager may automatically begin connecting (or trying to connect) to another available network.  The best thing to do is disable your computer’s wireless capabilities completely.
    Disable Wireless

    Don’t simply disconnect from your connection, go ahead and completely disable your computer’s wireless functions.

  2. Next, we want to set a static IP for our computer; 192.168.1.7 should be fine and 255.255.255.0 will be fine for the “Subnet Mask.”  You can Google “setting a static IP” if you need help.  If you’re somewhat familiar with your network settings, do the following:  Go to your “Network and Sharing Center” and click on “Change Adapter Settings” on the left.  Look for the icon for your “Local Area Connection.”  Right click, and go to “Properties.”  From there, go to “Internet Protocol Version 4” and click “Properties.”  Then choose the option to manually set your IP address.  For our purposes, use 192.168.1.7.  You’ll also need to fill in the “Subnet Mask;” for that use 255.255.255.0.  Make sure you click “OK” to confirm these changes.
    Setting a Static IP.

    Setting a Static IP (in Windows 7). Don’t worry about the DNS settings.

  3. Once you’ve done all of this, you can safely connect your to-be-converted router to  your computer.  Using an Ethernet cable, plug one end into the Ethernet port of your computer and the other into one of the LAN ports on the back of the router.  Note that this should not be the port used to receive the internet connection from the modem.  (On the WRT54G, this port is labeled “Internet.”  Plug the cable into one of the ports labeled 1, 2, 3, or 4.)
Router - Back

When connecting to your computer, be sure to use one of the 4 ports on the right (LAN ports) and not the single port on the left (WAN port).

It is very important that you are not connected to the internet (or your primary router) when plugging the router in!

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Step 2.d: Creating a Custom VX Image

During this step we’re going to create a custom VX image of our router to apply after we’ve wiped the memory.  This is to make sure that the router retains its original MAC address.  Without doing this, a generic MAC address may be created and your ISP may not allow such a generic address access to the internet.

  1. Find the file VXImgToolGui.exe.  It should be in the folder along with all of the other files if you’ve unzipped everything according to these instructions.  A small program will open.  You should see two options at the top – make sure the left one is marked.
  2. Now look at the box that says “Desired MAC.”  Here you’re going to enter in the MAC address of your router.  (Remember, we’re not doing anything to your primary router; this refers to the router we’re turning into a bridge.)  Look on the bottom of your router again, and on the sticker you should see 2 bar codes.  One is labeled “S/N” (serial number) and the other is labeled “MAC.”  Enter the number next to MAC into the Desired MAC box of the program.
    MAC Address

    Here is where to find the unique MAC address for your router.

  3. Next to the box that says “Output Image,” you should see 3 dots.  Click on them, and make sure you’re in the directory with everything else we’ve been working with.  Save the file as My54gImage.bin.
VX Image Tool

The VxImgToolGUI.exe program.

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Step 2.e: Prepping the Router
  1. Power cycle the router.
  2. Navigate to the router’s interface by going to 192.168.1.1 in your browser.  If you see “Management Mode,” power cycle the router again.  What we’re looking for is the “regular” Linksys firmware to boot.  If it asks you for a name and password, you’re in the right place.
  3. For Username, enter “root” and for password enter “admin” (without the quotes).
  4. You should now have access to the router’s settings.  Click on “Administration,” then click on “Firmware Upgrade.”
    Linksys WRT54G Firmware Upgrade

    Firmware Upgrade screen for Linksys WRT54G.

  5. Use the button the browse to the directory we’ve been working on and choose vxworks_prep_03.bin.  Click “Upgrade.”
  6. At first you’ll see a meter showing progress, but before it finishes, your browser window will probably display some sort of error in reference to your connection to the router.  Don’t worry.  After you click “Upgrade,” it’s imperative to wait five full minutes regardless of what you may see on your screen.  Give the software time to do what it needs to do and wait out those five full minutes.

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Step 2.f: Applying the VX Image
  1. After five minutes (from the previous step), power cycle the router.
  2. Use your browser to go back to 192.168.1.1.  What you want to see is a screen that says “Management Mode.”  If you don’t see this, clear your browser’s cache and reload.  If you still don’t see it, try power cycling the router again.  If all else fails, try a different browser.  If these don’t work, continue clearing the cache and power cycling the router until you see “Management Mode.”
    Management Mode

    It may take a few power cycles and cache clears, but eventually you’ll get here.

  3. Click “Choose File” and find the file we saved earlier, My54gImage.bin, and then click “Apply.”
    Applying the VX Image

    We want to find the file from earlier when we created the VX Image.

  4. What we want to see now is a message that says “Upgrade Success” in the browser window.  I had a little bit of difficulty getting here personally.  If you don’t get “Upgrade Success” after clicking apply, clear the cache and try again. If that doesn’t work, power cycle the router and repeat the process.  It may take a few tries, but keep trying and eventually it should succeed.
    Upgrade Success

    It may take a few tries, but keep at it and soon you’ll get this simple message.

  5. When you do get the “Upgrade Success” message, wait a full five minutes without doing anything.

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Step 2.g: Installing the Firmware
  1. After five minutes, go to the folder we’ve been working from and start the program tftp.exe.
  2. In the top box, where it says “Server,” type in 192.168.1.1.
    Firmware Upgrade

    The actual installation of DD-WRT with tftp.exe.

  3. Leave “Password” blank.
  4. For file, click on the 3 dots, go to the same directory as before, and select the file dd-wrt.v24-12548_NEWD_micro.bin.
    DD-WRT Installation File

    Depending on whether or not DD-WRT has been updated, the file name may be slightly different.

  5. Set “Retries” to 99.
  6. Power cycle the router.
  7. Count to 2.  (I don’t know what the reason is for this step, but who am I to question it?)
  8. Click “Upgrade.”
  9. When the program successfully completes the update, wait five minutes.
Upgrade Success

You should see this when the upgrade is successful.

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Step 2.h: Finishing Up
  1. After five minutes, use your browser to navigate to 192.168.1.1.  You should see the new DD-WRT firmware prompting you to create a username and password.  If you don’t, as usual, try clearing the browser’s cache and power cycling the router.
    DD-WRT Interface

    Once the installation is successful, the DD-WRT interface will be available at 192.168.1.1.

  2. Once the DD-WRT interface pops up, power cycle the router.
  3. Again navigate to 192.168.1.1.
  4. Once again, you should see the DD-WRT interface prompting for a username and password.  Now perform a hard reset.
  5. After the hard reset, yet again go to 192.168.1.1.  Again, you should see the DD-WRT interface.  If not, clear the cache and power cycle until you do.
  6. Once you can access DD-WRT after a hard reset, you’re free to set a username and password.  Be sure you write this down.  This is how you will access this router from now on!

DD-WRT is now successfully installed on your router.  In order to turn this into a wireless bridge, we will now need to configure several settings.  At this point, do not reconnect to the internet.  Leave your computer’s wireless capability turned off and move on to the next step.  Be sure to leave everything as-is, such as your computer’s static IP.  We’ll fix all of this when we finish up.

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Step 3: Configuring Your Router (for a Wireless Bridge)

If you followed the above instructions for converting a Linksys WRT54G version 5, 5.1, or 6, go ahead and skip this paragraph.  If you’re converting a different router via the instructions on the DD-WRT Wiki, it’s important to make sure we’re on the same page.  First of all, make sure your computer is not connected to the internet.  I recommend turning off your computer’s wireless capabilities completely before continuing.  (If you’re on a wired connection, disconnect your computer from your primary router.)  Then set your computer to a static IP – 192.168.1.7 should do – and set the subnet to 255.255.255.0.  If you don’t know how to do this, see Step 2.c.ii above.  Then connect your computer to one of your router’s LAN ports with an Ethernet cable.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to set a username and password after installing DD-WRT.  This is the first screen that you’ll see when accessing DD-WRT for the first time.  Be sure to write this information down in a safe place!  This is how you will access this router!

Now you should be at the main DD-WRT interface.  It’s important to follow these instructions very closely and note the difference between clicking SAVE and APPLY.  Clicking the wrong one at the wrong time can make the router difficult to access.  Should this happen, a hard reset should return the firmware to its default settings (where you’re prompted to create a username and password).  I won’t be addressing every single available option; if an item is not mentioned, be sure to leave it untouched.

  1. After successfully installing DD-WRT, you’ll have the opportunity to set your username and password.  If you’ve been following along so far, you’ve already done this.  Once you’ve finished, you’ll be taken to the main DD-WRT interface.
  2. First go to the Wireless tab, then the Wireless Security sub-tab.  Set the Security Mode, Algorithm, and Shared Key to the same as those settings on your primary router.  Click SAVE.
    DD-WRT - Wireless Security

    Wireless Security configuration – make sure these settings match those of your primary router.

  3. Now go to the Basic Settings sub-tab.  Set Wireless Mode to “Client Bridge.”  For Network Mode and SSID, enter in the same values as those of your primary router.  Click SAVE, then click APPLY SETTINGS.
    DD-WRT - Basic Settings

    DD-WRT – Basic Settings

  4. Go to the Setup tab and then Basic Setup sub-tab.  For Local IP Address, enter in whatever address you would like for your wireless bridge.  The final number can be anything you like (except “1” or the final number of your computer’s static IP); if you’re unsure of what to do here, use the address 192.168.1.15 (this is important – this is the address you’ll use to access this router!).  Note that if you ever add a second bridge, you’ll need to change that last number (“16” would be fine) to something different since each IP points to a single device.  Make sure that Subnet Mask says 255.255.255.0.  For Gateway, enter in the address of your primary router.  Unless you’ve done something fancy, this address will be 192.168.1.1.
    Note:  I encountered an interesting issue with this step at one point – immediately after clicking “Apply Settings,” the router’s IP had changed, but it had also connected to the internet, and therefore tried to access a non-existent script on my primary router. At this point I was completely locked out and had to hard reset the router.  The solution is to do all of this (up through Number 6) as usual, but leave Gateway blank.  Then when you access the router at its new IP address, come back to this area and fill in the appropriate information for “Gateway.”

    DD-WRT - Basic Setup

    Local IP can be any IP that isn’t in use – if you’re not sure, use 192.168.1.15, but be sure to change the final digit for any subsequent routers you add to your network in this manner.
    For Gateway, this should be the address of your primary router, which should be 192.168.1.1 by default.

  5. Set the time zone.
  6. If you like, check the box next to Assign WAN Port to Switch.  What this does is convert your router’s WAN port to another LAN port, enabling you to plug an extra device into the router.  In other words, the port designed to receive the internet connection can now be used to wire other devices to the router just like the other ports on the router.  Click APPLY SETTINGS.
    Updating Settings

    Once you click “Apply Settings” after changing the IP, you’ll see this. Then you’ll need to enter in the new IP in your address bar to continue with the configuration.

    WAN Port

    If you check Assign WAN Port to Switch, the WAN port (which is unused when the router is acting as a wireless bridge) becomes a 5th LAN port, allowing up to 5 wired devices to be connected instead of the usual 4.

  7. At this point, we’ve specified a new address for our router.  Previously we used 192.168.1.1 to access it, but since this will eventually be the address of our primary router, we needed to change the address of the bridge router.  Remember the IP we chose for Local IP Address?  Enter that into your browser.  You’ll be asked for the username and password you created and should then be back at the DD-WRT interface.
  8. Go to the Security tab and then the Firewall sub-tab.  Under Block WAN Requests, make sure that only “Filter Multicast” is checked.  None of the other options under Block WAN Requests should be checked.  Click SAVE.
  9. On the same page, under Firewall Protection, make sure that “SPI Firewall” is disabled.  Click APPLY SETTINGS.
    DD-WRT - Firewall

    This is what the settings should look like under the Firewall sub-tab.

  10. Go to the Setup tab, then the Advanced Routing sub-tab.  Set the Operating Mode to “Router” and click SAVE.
DD-WRT - Advanced Routing

One last setting…

That’s it for configuration!  If you want to use your repurposed router as a wi-fi extender and additional access point, you’ll need to do a little more, but for wireless bridge functionality, we’re ready to go.  Keep in mind that the router will only be receiving a signal from your primary router; it will not be transmitting the signal wirelessly.  It will be transmitting the signal through wires to any connected devices.  Before reconnecting to the internet, move on to Step 4 in order to test these new settings and to make sure everything is in order.

Be sure to write down your username, password, and the address we set in the Local IP Address step of configuration.  You’ll need all of this to access this router’s functions in the future.

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Step 4: Testing the Bridge and Finishing Up

DO NOT reconnect to the internet yet.  We want to test the functionality of the new bridge and the easiest way to do so is by keeping our wireless capability disabled.

The first thing we’re going to do is remove the static IP address from the computer.  This can be done easily by following the same steps we followed to set the static IP, only this time we want to make sure that the option for “Automatically Obtain IP Address” is checked.  You may also need to set the option below it to “Automatically Obtain DNS” as well.  At this point, your primary router may attempt to assign an automatic IP address to you computer.  If it doesn’t, power cycle the bridge router and wait for your computer to recognize the LAN connection.

At this point, your computer should recognize the LAN connection and should confirm that you are connected to the internet.  The easiest way to verify your connection is by visiting a couple of websites.  If everything works as it should, you’re finished!  You can now disconnect the router from your computer, re-enable your wireless capability, and use the bridge router however you’d like.  Anything plugged into the router will now have access to the internet!

With so many steps to follow, it’s easy to make a mistake.  Fortunately, if you’ve made it this far, it should be pretty easy to spot the mistake.  If you can’t connect to the internet after checking the options to automatically obtain IP and DNS, make sure you try power cycling the bridge router once or twice.  Sometimes it just needs a little “kick” to get everything in gear.  If it still doesn’t work, try accessing your bridge router’s settings.  Remember, this is the address we set in the Local IP setting.  Type this in your browser (192.168.1.15 in our example) and read through the configuration settings again making sure that you’ve followed all of the steps.

If you can’t access your bridge router at all, chances are that one of those options that needs to be the same as your primary router is entered incorrectly.  In this case, set a static IP address for your computer once again, preferably the one we first used (192.168.1.7 in our example) and try again to access the router.  Confirm your primary router’s values for Security Mode, Algorithm, Shared Key, Network Mode, SSID, and the address entered for Gateway.  You should be able to confirm all of these settings (except possibly the shared key, which is the same as the password one needs to access your wireless network) through your primary router’s settings.  I suggest having this information on hand early on, but if you need to check again, go to a computer that’s still connected to the internet and go to 192.168.1.1 to access the settings for your primary router.  You should be able to find similar categories/tabs that match up DD-WRT’s interface.  Verify that these are correct before moving on.  Make any changes, remove the static IP, and try again.

If you’ve followed all of the above instructions to a tee and you’re 100% positive that the values which need to be the same as your primary router are correct, it’s possible that you’ve accidentally changed a setting that didn’t need to be changed.  In this case, it’s probably best to perform a hard reset on your bridge router and go back to the beginning of Step 3.  The good news is that now that DD-WRT is installed, it’s just a matter of entering the correct configuration.

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Step 5: Creating a Repeater Bridge / Wi-Fi Extender

Hopefully, if you’re reading this far, you have a decent handle on what we’re doing conceptually, even if you don’t understand the technical ins and outs.  What we’ve done so far is take our secondary router and allow it to “receive the internet” from our primary router and then “distribute the internet” via Ethernet cable to devices without wireless capabilities or those that may “prefer” a wired connection.  There are tons of useful applications for this setup, especially if you have a device (or devices) such as a TV, game console, or something else located physically far away from you primary router.  This secondary router, or wireless bridge, acts as a sort of wireless adapter for all of the devices at once.

DD-WRT is a powerful tool, and we can take it one step further and allow the secondary router to not only “receive the internet” from the primary router, but also “re-transmit the internet” to other wireless devices in the area.  We can actually create a smaller, semi-insulated network inside of the larger network for other wireless devices.  What’s even better is that it still retains all of the functionality of the wireless bridge, it just has a few added benefits.

In addition to doing everything that a wireless bridge does, it can also act as a second access point for wireless devices to connect to.  This can be useful for extending the range of wi-fi in a large house, or providing a stronger wi-fi signal in weaker areas of the house.  There is a small downside to this though.  Since the bridge router is doing double duty, bandwidth is cut quite literally in half for wireless devices.  Any devices wired to the bridge router will still have access to your connection’s full bandwidth, but any wireless devices accessing the internet through the secondary router will only have access to roughly 50% of the bandwidth.  This shouldn’t be a big problem for one or two devices.  Speeds are high enough nowadays that we probably won’t notice any difference unless we attempted to do something such as stream video from multiple sources.  Game consoles and devices running streaming video services are the biggest users of bandwidth, so you may want to limit how many of these devices are connected wirelessly to this new access point, or at least set it up in such a way where only one will be heavily used at a time.

If you’ve skipped directly to this section, you’ll want to go back to Step 3 and follow the steps for configuring the router as a wireless bridge.  The following settings will assume that DD-WRT is already configured exactly as outlined above!  Since the only difference between a wireless bridge and a repeater bridge are the settings, it’s easy to change if your needs change in the future.

  1. Just to reiterate one final time, make sure your router is configured as per Step 3.
  2. Access the bridge router’s interface through your browser.  (The address we set was 192.168.1.15; you’ll also need the username and password.)
  3. Go to the Wireless tab and then the Basic Settings sub-tab.  For Wireless Mode, choose “Repeater Bridge.”  Click SAVE.
  4. A new section should pop up called “Virtual Interface” and underneath will be an “Add” button.  Click it.  For SSID, choose a name different from your primary router.  This is how your devices will be able to identify it as a separate access point from your primary router.  Click SAVE.
    Repeater Bridge Setup

    With “Repeater Bridge” chosen, a new “Virtual Interfaces” section will appear; click “Add” to enter in the appropriate information.

  5. Now go to the Wireless Security sub-tab.  A new “Virtual Interface” section should be here as well.  Make sure that Security Mode, Algorithm, and Shared Key all match the above values in the “Physical Interface” section.  (The values under “Physical Interface” should be the same as those for your primary router.)  Click SAVE.
    Repeater Bridge Settings

    A new “Virtual Interfaces” section will be under “Wireless Security” as well. These settings should match those under “Physical Interface,” which in turn should be identical to those of the primary router.

  6. Go to the Setup tab and the Basic Setup sub-tab.  The IP information should be correct from our initial configuration.  Previously we left Local DNS blank.  This time it should be the same as our primary router’s address, which in most cases will be 192.168.1.1.  Click SAVE.
  7. Go to the Services tab and the Services sub-tab.  Find the DNSMasq section, and mark “Disabled” for the DNSMasq option.  Click SAVE, then click APPLY SETTINGS.
Repeater Bridge Settings

The final step!

Now your repeater bridge should be fully functional.  The SSID specified for this router should show up as an access point on your wireless devices within range.  Remember though that anything wirelessly using the internet through this router will only have access to half of the bandwidth since the router has to relay information to and from both the device and the primary router.  Devices wired to the router will still enjoy the full extent of your bandwidth.

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Thoughts, Comments, and Practical Applications

With wireless technology quickly accelerating and making it into everything from our refrigerators to our cars, putting together a functional home network can be stressful, especially when more than a couple of devices are active simultaneously.  One problem that began to plague me was that devices were dropping their connections when new devices would come online.  Finally I discovered how to set DHCP reservations for my devices, which has gone a long way in keeping all devices online at once. The documentation for your particular router should include easy-to-follow instructions when it comes to setting DHCP reservations – what this means is that we’re assigning permanent IP addresses to our equipment so that when another device connects the router won’t potentially assign it the same IP that was previously given to a device.  (You can do this in DD-WRT under the “Services” tab.)  Most devices will also allow for such configurations, though it’s a lot easier to simply do all of this via the router’s settings.  Even if you don’t explicitly disconnect, most devices drop their connection when entering into standby mode, thus causing the router to assign a new IP when they’re reactivated.

If anything ever starts acting “weird,” remember that you do have a few options on hand: reboot the router, reboot the device, and even try rebooting your modem.  Sometimes all these things need is a good flush to get back to normal, especially if you have lots of devices that connect, disconnect, and reconnect several times throughout the day.

Another Network Example

Multiple bridges supporting wired and wireless devices. This would make even more sense if I had the devices mapped out in an actual house.

Throughout this project I’ve touched on a few uses for a wireless bridge or repeater bridge, and I wanted to take a moment to review some of these scenarios and the functionality that these converted routers offer, and specifically how they’ve ended up being relevant to my own needs.  Keep in mind that you can use multiple bridges in your household!

About a year ago I replaced my “fat,” non-wireless PlayStation 3 with a “slim” model with wireless.  The fat PS3 was sitting in a room where I was debating selling it, however, with a wireless bridge, I was able to use the PS3 in another family member’s bedroom.  Not only does this room now have a Blu-ray player and a game console, but it can also access streaming video services as well as the web in general.  A wireless adapter would serve the same function, but I already had the router anyway, and any future devices can also utilize the wired connection.  I’m also considering turning into a full repeater bridge to accommodate the wireless technology in the other upstairs bedroom, notably a Google Chromecast that doesn’t always seem to get along with the rest of the network.

I found another Linksys WRT54G at a local used electronics store a few days ago (this was a Version 5, and the other is a Version 6, which is why I can confirm that this process works the same for both) and I picked it up figuring I could find some use for it down the road.  This one now acts as a repeater bridge for my Wii (which I use for streaming video services) which, for reasons unknown, doesn’t seem to get along with my new router.  Even though the bandwidth is cut in half, I haven’t noticed any difference in streaming speeds, and I probably won’t unless I were running another streaming device at the same time.

I’ll probably pick up another used router in the near future – definitely a WRT54G if I can find one, though I wouldn’t be opposed to trying out a different one – in order use the PS4’s Remote Play and make the most use of my PlayStation TV device.  Since so much data is being streamed, it’d be great to isolate it.  Sony actually recommends that the PS4 be wired for best results, so it’ll be interesting to see if this connection counts as wired or not.  Technically the PS4 itself is wired to the internet since the router is receiving the signal and not the PS4, and I’m excited to give this a try.

I hope this information has been helpful for anyone with an old router lying around, but more important, I hope it’s given you some options and ideas when it comes to your home’s wireless network.  DD-WRT on an extra router or two opens up a wealth of possibilities when it comes to maximizing your internet connection and your available devices.

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Resources

The bulk of this information was taken from the DD-WRT site as well as the DD-WRT Wiki.  There’s a ton of information packed away over there, so I’ve attempted to condense as much of it as possible relevant to this exact situation.  Keep in mind that DD-WRT can do a lot more than re-purpose an old router.  It’s powerful router firmware in its own right with tons of uses, so if you’re interested in maximizing the performance of your router (specifically the Linksys WRT54G), it’s worth looking into.  It’s a little tech-heavy, but if you have the patience to sift through the wiki and/or the forums, there’s a ton of great stuff to learn.

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Questions?

If you’ve followed all of the above instructions to a tee, you should be successful with minimal hiccups along the way.  However, it is a lot to do, and it’s easy to overlook a step or a setting.  If you have any questions, I would first recommend reviewing the instructions, and then combing through the above links, but I’ll be happy to help however I can as well.  Also be sure to read through everything first and make sure that you know what’s in store ahead of time.  If you have any questions about any of the specifics I’ve covered, feel free to email me at TheCubist@NerdBacon.com.

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Written by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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