Turn a WRT54G into a Wireless Extender

WiFi at the common 2.4GHz frequency is challenged moving around your house. Metal, water, wood, etc. all weaken the signal. Older style homes with long hallways, many rooms, and multiple floors are particularly challenging for the signal.

WiFi is broadcast in a torus (doughnut) shape from your antenna. This means that the signal is strongest with the furthest reach along a perpendicular axis from the antenna. So, ideally, you have your WiFi router in the centre of the house about computer high and that should get most of it. Of course, not every house is configured that way. And that’s why we sometimes need a WiFi repeater or extender.

I’ve written about these in the past and included some recommendations in my column then. However, I recently had a need myself for some WiFi extension and didn’t have one. What I did have was an old Linksys WRT54G WiFi router kicking around. These used to be as common as Crocs back in the 2000s. A lot of people have them in old boxes. Some people are still using them.

What does this have to do with WiFi extension, you’re wondering. Well, sometimes a router doesn’t have to be a router. Why this matters is this, on small home networks you generally only want one router. Occasionally you want more, such as when you need a separate subnet. Say for example, if you are providing WiFi for a separate suite. But, generally, just one is present. If you have two routers handing out IP addresses on the same network, it may cause conflicts.

Now, the WRT54G, like most routers, can have its DHCP Server capability turned off. Once you do that and a couple of other configurations, it’s no longer a router but is now extending your existing router’s DHCP capability to its location.

This means you can plug in your WRT54G to ethernet, and suddenly all the WiFi equipment is connecting via it back to the main router. Everyone’s on the same network. Yay, Among Us party!

Here are the steps to do this. Note, making the same configuration changes on other similar routers may work, but check your router manual first.

Before you start you’ll need the IP address of your main router and a computer you can temporarily plug into the WRT54G via ethernet.

1. Reset your WRT54G back to factory settings by holding the reset button for 30 seconds.
2. Plug a computer into a LAN port (not the WAN port)
3. Open up a browser on the connected computer and go to HTTP://192.168.1.1 and sign in with Admin/Admin
4. Go to the Wireless Settings page and change the SSID to be the same as your current main router’s SSID
5. Change the Wireless Channel to 1. This helps avoid radio conflicts with your main router.
6. Under the Wireless Security tab enable security. Probably WPA2 Personal. With a good password! Write it down!
7. Save Settings
8. Go to the main setup page.
9. Under Local IP Address, you’re going to give your router a static IP. I usually pick the high end of my router’s IP. So, if your router’s IP address is 192.168.1.1 then use 192.168.1.254. The “.1.” on your router may be something else, if so just use that.
10. Disable DHCP Server.
11. Under static DNS 1: Enter your router’s IP address.
12. Save settings.
 
At this point, your WRT54G will reboot. Connect the WRT54G to the ethernet that connects to your main router. Make sure to use one of the four LAN ports NOT the WAN port. This is important.

Your computer may recognize the change, or it may need to be rebooted to get a new IP address. Once it does you should be able to bring up the WRT54G settings screen again using the Static IP address you used.

If anything went wrong, remember you can always reset back to factory settings with a 30-second reset.

At this point, you have a Wireless Access Point using an old piece of equipment that was doing nothing. Good job!