Struggling to connect to the internet over a weak WIFI / WLAN signal in your area? Here's an example how to improve connection quality and share it over a WIFI bridge optimized for weak WIFI signals in rural or urban area’s.
Sharing weak WIFI signals
The reach of a WIFI signal greatly varies it’s environment. With line of sight the reach of a WIFI signal using moderate hardware, can be astounding - 1 Km / 0.6 Mile or further is no exception. On the other end of the spectrum, WIFI coverage in densely populated urban area’s can drop dramatically to just a rooms length.
|Connecting to a weak WIFI signal over a large distance in Turkey - perfect line of sight to a an open WIFI hotspot
In both extremes (open rural or dense urban) there’s strong demand to connect to that one free WIFI / WLAN access point barely within or just outside of reach. The challenge is to capture a weak, faint or poluted WIFI signal and share it with others around you – of course over WIFI.
WLAN WIFI repeater / extender / range expander / signal booster
The standard solution to stretch / enlarge the reach of WIFI access points is to install a WIFI extender, repeater, range expander or signal booster. The device is installed somewhere halfway between the WIFI access point and the connecting computer. But what if it's a public place? Or simply no access to the ideal WIFI repeater location?
|WIFI repeater / extender / booster / range expander connected to a 12 volt battery - a Sitecom WL-130
An alternative is to use an external (outside) high gain WIFI antenna at a location with a less obstructed line of sight. Antenna placement is everything - requiring experimentation and sometimes rigid determination to find the ideal spot. A WIFI tool like Netstumbler can be of great help of finding that location.
When a location is found where a high gain WIFI antenna captures that one WIFI signal, distributing it over distance is the next step.
Common weak WIFI signal bridges
There are 2 common scenario’s to create a weak WIFI signal bridge. With the bridge a new local WIFI hotspot / WLAN is created. A repeater / range extender / expander just connects WIFI clients to the remote WIFI access point.
|The ideal weak WIFI signal bridge with local WIFI hotpsot
The one box WIFI bridge is the ideal solution, such as the popular Linksys WRT54G or the Buffalo WIFI router running on free open source DD-WRT software set into bridge mode.
There's one downside, when the incoming WIFI signal is already weak. Local WIFI connected systems can interfere / pollute / over-shout the already faint WIFI signal. Signal quality can go down causing a drop in internet speeds.
Also when there’s just too little transmit power in the WIFI bridge to be heard by the far away WIFI access point, a more dedicated solution comes to mind.
|Weak wifi signal bridge with high power USB WIFI adapter and local WIFI hotspot - based on a USFF SX280 / GX280
In this case a high power WIFI USB adapter is used connected to a PC equipped with router software – sharing the connection of LAN or ad-hoc WIFI. Because of the higher mobility of the WIFI USB adapter, it’s possible to
- Use less antenna cable by partly covering distance with USB extension cables
- Avoid an extra DC power lead because the WIFI adapter is powered through USB
- Upgrade to more powerful WIFI USB adapters for more transmit power
but also to create more distance between the high powered WIFI client and the local WIFI hotspot, minimizing chances of degrading the faint / remote WIFI signal.
The router can be a PC / Linux / Mac system equipped with router software over LAN. A simple WIFI access point can distribute the LAN as a local WLAN.
Instead of rather simple Windows ICS (Internet Connection Sharing) more advanced router software can be used to share the incoming WIFI signal over LAN. Skip this section if you want to share WLAN -WIFI.
An example of PC based router software is NAT32 Windows Software Router. It comes with a free test version.
One of the early PC based router was Sygate Office Network. It's end-of-life but still available for those who want to give it a try. It still works on Windows XP based workstations and can share a WIFI connection over LAN. Sygate Office network can be extended Sygate Personal Firewall. (also obsolete, but still available)
With Windows 7 it's possible to turn your PC into a real WIFI access point. (not based on WIFI ad-hoc mode). Recently introduced is Connectify created by Nomadio. It's a free WIFI tool (for now) capable of sharing a WIFI internet connection using just 1 WIFI network card.
|Windows 7 only :: Sharing internet over WIFI with Connectify by Nomadio
Windows XP / Vista only supports ad-hoc WIFI sharing (point 2 point) with limited access controls and security (no WPA).