By Eric Geier
July 30, 2009
802.11n will be ratified soon, but don’t throw away your old 802.11g routers just yet. There are still many ways your old gear can help out, including extending your wireless coverage, providing network authentication, and enabling secure VPN connections.
- Ask the Wi-Fi Guru
- How to: Buy a Wireless Router
- How to: Run OpenVPN on Windows, Mac, and Linux/Unix
- Turn Your Old PC into an Access Point
Don’t throw away your old 802.11g routers just yet. The new slick-looking 802.11n routers may provide higher speeds and performance, but there are still many ways your old gear can help out, including extending your wireless coverage, improving a new network, assisting in offering public Wi-Fi, providing network authentication, or enabling secure remote or site-to-site VPN connections.
Some of these ideas consist of moving the old router around to serve a different purpose. However, most make use of the neat features that replacement firmware projects offer for the popular WRT series from Linksys and many other vendors and brands. Nevertheless, all the ideas can be quite helpful and save you a lot of money.
1) Extend coverage by using it as an AP
Though wireless routers are designed to connect to and distribute an Internet connection, they can be used just for their Wi-Fi capabilities. In other words, you can use it as an access point (AP) instead of a wireless router. If you have a small network with only a single wireless router, this can just about double your wireless coverage—and it’s essentially free.Like a regular AP, you want to place the makeshift AP in a thoughtful spot to provide the best coverage. You want the wireless coverage boundaries of each router to overlap some. Then you have to run an Ethernet cable from the network’s router or switch all the way to the makeshift AP.
The trick to turn the router into an AP is to turn off the router’s DHCP server and to hook the Ethernet cable to one of the switch ports instead of the old router’s WAN port. For more help with this project, click here.
2) Relieve 802.11n routers from supporting 802.11g
When using 802.11n (or Draft N), it’s best to allow only 802.11n connections on the router. If 802.11g clients connect, they can slow down the newer clients. However, you can set up the old router again, just to support the old clients. You’d use the router as an AP, such as discussed above, except you could place it right next to the new router since you aren’t trying to get more coverage.
So you can better differentiate between the 802.11g and 802.11n signals, you should use different SSIDs or network names. To make sure someone loaded with a 802.11g card doesn’t accidentally connect to the new router, you can change the default wireless mode to 802.11n only.
3)Make it a repeater to take the signal further
Another way you can use an old router to extend your Wi-Fi footprint is to turn it into a repeater. Instead of having to run an Ethernet cable out to an AP, a repeater gets its network connection by listening to the airwaves and retransmitting the Wi-Fi signals between the existing wireless network and the users out of the main coverage area. This is great if you can’t or don’t want to run wires.
Though this range-extending technique doesn’t require running cables, it does require flashing your router with replacement firmware. That’s because routers don’t come with the repeater feature out of the box. If you have a supported router, you can use the DD-WRT, Tomato, or Sveasoft firmware replacement.
4) Use it as a wireless bridge
If you have computers or other network devices that need to be connected to the network but only have an Ethernet port and aren’t close enough to the router, you could convert your old router into a wireless bridge. In bridge mode, the old router would communicate with the new router via the airwaves. Any computers connected to the old router’s Ethernet ports would be just like they were wirelessly connected with the new router themselves.
Like with the repeater mode, to get this bridging capability, you’ll have to use a firmware replacement: DD-WRT, Tomato, or Sveasoft.
For more on wireless bridges, read Ask the Wi-Fi Guru, Episode XVI.
5) Offer VPN connections or connect offices together
Another feature provided by some firmware replacements is a built-in VPN server and client. This lets you set up the router for secure remote connections, so you can access files and services or secure your Wi-Fi hotspot connections. Plus if you have multiple locations, you can securely connect them via the Internet. You can find this functionality in the DD-WRT or Sveasoft firmware replacements.
6) Turn it into a hotspot
If you have a business, you could convert your old router into a hotspot gateway. Though you can simply plug in a regular wireless router to offer wireless Internet, you should implement the hotspot features. A captive portal makes users see a disclaimer or advertisements, or make payment, before getting Internet access. Plus some hotspot gateways can manage user accounts if login is required.
Both DD-WRT and Sveasoft include hotspot features. You might also want to check out the CoovaAP firmware replacement and all their free services. Sputnik offers a modified version of DD-WRT along with their paid services.
7) Make it a RADIUS server
If you want to use the enterprise mode of WPA or WPA2, but don’t have a RADIUS server to do the authentication, you may be able to convert your old router into one. If you have a supported router, you can flash it with the TinyPEAP firmware replacement.
8) Do your own brainstorming
We’ve discussed many ideas on how to use your old gear. Now you can review the features and documentation of the firmware projects to see if there are even more features that interest you. If all else fails, list your equipment on eBay…