Multi-Station Home WiFi with WDS 5GHz backbone

2016 September 7
by Daniel Lakeland

You might be a computer nerd if you run OpenWRT on your home wifi router. If you do, you might want to take advantage of the following setup.

My main router used to be the only access point I had, it ran OpenWRT on a Buffalo WZR-600DHP which is a dual band 802.11n router. Pretty good kit for not much money. It has QoS settings, IPv6, special firewall settings, an OpenVPN set-up and lots of good stuff going.

Well, I run CSipSimple on my cell phone and take calls via VOIP over WiFi and the coverage in my house (old school concrete based plaster walls) was just OK. People would complain if my kids streamed videos while I was on the phone etc. Once the packets hit the router it's possible to QoS them upstream to the ISP, but it's harder to share just one radio channel.

A while back I grabbed two TP-Link WDR3600 routers which are somewhat less fancy but dual band and work well with OpenWRT. My plan was to pull Cat5e under my house to the front room, and the back room and wire them in so I could use channels 1, 6, and 11 to get good coverage. Of course, I'd be nice to neighbors, so I'd turn DOWN the power output to just the required level.

Well, running the wires never really happened, and I was thinking to myself "Gee I have these two routers, can I use them without the wires?"

The answer, of course, is YES, specifically, you can use the 5GHz link in WDS mode to distribute the local network to each of the routers, and this will still let you have a 2.4GHz access point in multiple locations. Since 5GHz can be set up with 40MHz channel width effectively and is generally lower interference, it's actually perfect for distributing wireless WITHIN your house, while 2.4 GHz is great for getting coverage on your back deck, front yard, various bedrooms, and throughout your house for devices that only have 2.4GHz (which is still a lot of devices).

Here's how the system works:

  1. On the "central" router, set up the 5GHz link in Access Point (WDS) mode (you might make this an "additional" network, with it's own "backbone" ESSID if you like, but then if you do, the clients need to use that ESSID, and you need to bridge it on the central router)
  2. On each satellite router delete the WAN network, and set up the 5GHz wifi in Client (WDS) mode with same ESSID as in (1).
  3. Add an additional wifi network to the 5GHz link in "Access Point" mode (if you use just one ESSID set that, otherwise set up the "normal" client ESSID)
  4. Set up the satellite 2.4GHz network in Access Point mode (using the "normal" client ESSID)
  5. Make sure all the WiFi networks on the satellite device have the same WPA2 settings and pre-shared-key.
  6. Set up the satellite station's LAN network to bridge the 5Ghz Client, 5GHz AP, 2.4GHz AP, and wired ethernet into one LAN.
  7. Set up the satellite station LAN network to be in DHCP client mode (you'll have to do an "are you sure" type acknowledgement of the change).
  8. On the central router add static DHCP assignments for your satellite devices so you will be able to access them for maintenance.
  9. Reboot the satellite devices, they should come up with a 5GHz client link to the central router which gives them LAN connectivity, and both 5GHz and 2.4GHz access points for local stations to use.
  10. Lay out your channel usage on 2.4GHz so you're interfering as little as possible with neighbors, and turn down the xmit power on the stations. you have more stations, each one should cover its own smaller area at low power, they don't all need to SHOUT.

 

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