How to Build a Wireless Bridge

wireless access point

Scenario: You have a computer network in your house. You want wireless coverage and Internet access in your shop, about 100 yards away. Your wireless router doesn't reach that far. What should you do?

A wired infrastructure is usually the best option for extending a computer network, but sometimes trenching a pipe to lay a few wires is not an option. A wireless bridge can git ‘er done without perturbing the petunias or digging up the driveway.

Reliability is critical to a wireless bridge. In northwestern Pennsylvania, durability in extreme weather (snow, hail, rain, you name it) matters, too. I've built wireless bridges with the venerable Linksys WRT54GL using external antennae, but for this scenario I went with the newer ENH200 outdoor client bridge from EnGenius, which offers business-class hardware and Wireless N speeds. (For a greater span, the EnGenius ENH200EXT can add external antennae via SMA or SMA-N-type connectors. The ENH200 has two integrated 10dBi dual-polarized antennae and no external antenna connectors.)

wireless diagram of wireless network

In this scenario my client, Tim Schlabach of Fairfield Custom Kitchens, mounted the bridge/access point hardware on the exterior walls of house and shop, and ran a CAT5e cable from his existing wireless router to the access point. Another CAT5e cable ran from the shop exterior wall to its interior.

I set up the house ENH200 in Access Point mode, using WPA2/PSK/AES for security. (You may want to specify a static IP address so you can count on using one IP for configuring the device.) Since the included PoE injector provided power, the only wiring required was the single CAT5e cable to the exterior wall, with a CAT5e patch cable between a LAN port on the existing wireless router and the PoE injector. The ENH200 can deliver up to 26dBm of wireless power, but FCC regulations limit antenna gain to 18dBi. The interface allows you to set the regulatory authority and compliance with those restrictions.

I set up the shop ENH200 in Client Bridge mode, scanning for and joining the Access Point network. (Again, you may want to specify a static IP address for this device.) On the back of the ENH200 are indicator lights for power, signal strength, and connectivity. The PoE injector provided power, and the CAT5e cable connected to the Internet port of a Cisco/Linksys E2500 consumer-grade access point. Without switching to WDS mode*, the ENH200 will not rebroadcast the bridge network, so you will need another access point on the far side of the bridge to connect wireless clients.

The Cisco Connect software refused to set up the E2500 using DHCP across the bridge, so I ended up setting its WAN IP address, gateway, and DNS manually. First I ran Cisco Connect to set up the wireless network. Then I opened the E2500 management interface to configure the WAN settings.

The existing wireless router was an older 2wire model from Windstream. It didn't like the router-behind-router setup and griped about it until I disabled that warning. (If you're gaming or using VPN, a wireless bridge doesn't add complexity until you add a router. Then you have to mess with NAT and port-forwarding… not impossible, but prepare for some work.)

The end result was a solid wireless network that covered the shop area and the walkway between house and shop. I highly recommend the Engenius ENH200 if you need to extend wireless reach.

* I decided against WDS modes because they add complexity and throughput can be affected negatively on the ENH200. Plus, I wanted a consumer-friendly access point at the shop so Tim could easily manage the wireless network himself using Cisco Connect.

What hardware have you used to build wireless bridges?

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I usually use an Engenius 2611 or ENH200 like you. I have used dd-wrt routers and a TP-Link AP as well. Most of my setups are Internet --> wireless router --> client bridge --> router or computer. I have 2 links that use 2 Engenius 2610s; one as AP one as CB. I have a friend that connected with 2 Ubiquiti devices similar to the ENH200. Fun stuff!!