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Please Educate Me about WiFi Extenders
Old 07-17-2014, 09:28 PM   #1
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Please Educate Me about WiFi Extenders

Our city runs a wifi system to be able to monitor the electrical power meters remotely. As a side benefit, the residents are supposed to have access to free outdoor wifi. We got lucky in the beginning and were able to get indoor wifi reception also. However after a year or so, the city reconfigured the system so the signal was significantly weaker and indoor reception was poor.
The city suggested that a wifi extender might help.

As I understand it, the wifi extender receives the signal from the city radio perched on the light pole down the street and then retransmits to the laptop....
an amplifier ? of sorts. The computer talks to the city radio via the middleman wifi extender.

The wifi extender has a signal strength monitor light that is green when the signal strength from the city radio is good, amber when fair, and red when poor. I have always found that the wifi works well when the signal strength is green and poor when the signal strength monitor is red so have assumed the city radio signal strength is key. Over time, I have had to move the wifi extender from the garage, to the front porch near the house, and then most recently closer to the street on the front porch to maintain good incoming signal strength. I had taken that to mean that the city signal was degrading.
Or does that mean the wifi extender is changing?

The city has asked for the mac address to help. Previously I had given them the mac address of the wifi extender since that was the only one I could find and since I thought the extender was talking to the city radio. Yesterday the city tech showed me how to find the mac address on the laptop I am using.
He later said they could find no record of the laptop since Tuesday when the latest problem began.

Questions: which is the relevant mac address and why? Is the city radio
supposed to recognize my system even if the city radio signal is weak as perceived by my wifi extender? Obviously we each desire the other party to be at fault so we don't have to do anything. Is it possible that both ends are ok and that some middleman ghost is responsible.......more leaves on the trees,etc........or maybe the radiation pattern is different for some reason.
Would a "better" extender be beneficial........more sensitive or higher broadcasting power? I'm missing some basics here.
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Old 07-17-2014, 11:38 PM   #2
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First thing I would do is install inssider so that I could look at the signal from my laptop as I moved around the yard and house. That would be with the extender off. You will no doubt see many conflicting signals from your neighbors. The key is to find a channel for you to use that produces most signal.
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Old 07-17-2014, 11:55 PM   #3
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This article is a starting point.
http://computer.howstuffworks.com/municipal-wifi1.htm
One interesting comment was that your signal must be strong enough also. Look at the problem with just your notebook and inssider initially. You'll learn about the environmental variables.
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Old 07-18-2014, 07:52 AM   #4
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target2019.........thanks for that interesting link and your comments. Yes, I noticed that comment about my radio strength too.......I think the thing I am confused about is whether my radio strength (as measured by the city) can be strong if the city radio (as measured by my extender) is weak. One thing I forgot to mention is that at times the "incoming" signal strength varies and sometimes even a direct connection (w/o exxtender) outdoors is not good.

I searched to find info on inssider but what I found wasn't very clear. It kind of sounds like what my mac has........the wifi signal strength icon (w/ bars)
and the various connections available? mine shows the city wifi, my extender,
and various other private (mostly locked) connections. Occasionally there is an unlocked private connection that I sometimes can use to make a connection but generally it is not there or is weak.........is that what inssider does?

Again, thanks for your help.
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Old 07-18-2014, 08:42 AM   #5
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A repeater/extender is not going to help much with a weak signal. Starting with a weak signal it just extends it with an even weaker signal. Here is an article that describes some of the issues The Best Way To Get Whole House Wireless Coverage - SmallNetBuilder

A MAC address is a unique hardware based address, each network cable device has one. ISPs will use the MAC address to join your device to their system.

Probably what would work better in your case is an outdoor wireless bridge. Basically it would connect to the city wifi outside ( located with a strong signal ) then you run a cable from it to the house and then connect your home wifi access to it.

google "outdoor wifi bridge" and check the images for what I am trying to describe. If not familiar with all this, get some local help.
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Old 07-18-2014, 04:10 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
target2019.........thanks for that interesting link and your comments. Yes, I noticed that comment about my radio strength too.......I think the thing I am confused about is whether my radio strength (as measured by the city) can be strong if the city radio (as measured by my extender) is weak. One thing I forgot to mention is that at times the "incoming" signal strength varies and sometimes even a direct connection (w/o exxtender) outdoors is not good.

I searched to find info on inssider but what I found wasn't very clear. It kind of sounds like what my mac has........the wifi signal strength icon (w/ bars)
and the various connections available? mine shows the city wifi, my extender,
and various other private (mostly locked) connections. Occasionally there is an unlocked private connection that I sometimes can use to make a connection but generally it is not there or is weak.........is that what inssider does?

Again, thanks for your help.
Inssider goes much further than showing a few bars. But you're not able to use it on a Mac.

The wireless bridge mentioned is a good idea.

Do you have line of site to the pole?

How close are neighbors? There could be channel interference.

Are we talking 2.2GHz? How about interfering sources like wireless phone?
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Old 07-18-2014, 04:33 PM   #7
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Below is a screen capture of my local wireless networks. Mine are called Hollybook. You see two 2G signals as I have a wireless repeater two floors up. The PC with inssider is connected via 5G, so a third hollybook signal.

The other signals are neighbors, and notice how everyone bunches on 1, 6, or 11 channels.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Clipboard01.jpg (61.1 KB, 26 views)
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Old 07-18-2014, 07:33 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rbmrtn View Post
A repeater/extender is not going to help much with a weak signal. Starting with a weak signal it just extends it with an even weaker signal. Here is an article that describes some of the issues The Best Way To Get Whole House Wireless Coverage - SmallNetBuilder

A MAC address is a unique hardware based address, each network cable device has one. ISPs will use the MAC address to join your device to their system.

Probably what would work better in your case is an outdoor wireless bridge. Basically it would connect to the city wifi outside ( located with a strong signal ) then you run a cable from it to the house and then connect your home wifi access to it.

google "outdoor wifi bridge" and check the images for what I am trying to describe. If not familiar with all this, get some local help.
rbmrtn.........thanks for your education. The city tech used the term "bridge"
but obviously I did not understand what he was talking about at the time....now perhaps I have an inkling.....it collects the signal and transmits via a wire, rather than wirelessly so stronger in the house?? If I use both the mac laptop and the extender, which is the one w/ the relevant mac address that the city is monitoring or both?
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Old 07-18-2014, 07:42 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by target2019 View Post
Inssider goes much further than showing a few bars. But you're not able to use it on a Mac.

The wireless bridge mentioned is a good idea.

Do you have line of site to the pole?

How close are neighbors? There could be channel interference.

Are we talking 2.2GHz? How about interfering sources like wireless phone?
target2019........thanks for that screenshot.....was worth a 1K words. The city must have something like that since the tech was telling me he hadn't seen my device since Monday. line of site to the pole........possibly tho not obvious because of the trees. For now locating on the porch closer to the street seems to work ok which I did when the city tech asked the same question. I guess if things improve after the leaves fall in Nov, I'll know for sure. Perhaps trying to connect directly outside w/ the Mac sometimes is iffy because I'm sometimes standing up so higher than where the extender is sitting so perhaps line of sight is better lower........I guess that's what the tech was calling environmental conditions.

Again,thanks to both of you for educating me. Much appreciated.
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Old 07-19-2014, 01:59 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
rbmrtn.........thanks for your education. The city tech used the term "bridge"
but obviously I did not understand what he was talking about at the time....now perhaps I have an inkling.....it collects the signal and transmits via a wire, rather than wirelessly so stronger in the house?? If I use both the mac laptop and the extender, which is the one w/ the relevant mac address that the city is monitoring or both?
Yes, basically the bridge device would be located where it can get a strong signal. Then run that via wire from the bridge into your house connecting to a router/access point etc. Your devices then connect to that.

What MAC they see ( monitor ) depends on what and how your stuff is connected. Typically a provider would see your routers MAC which connected to their network. They would not see the MACs on your items on your side of the router.

Note on the pic of inssider it shows tha MAC addresses of available wifi connections.

Sounds like the the city may have rearranged their coverage, which caused your connection issue so it would be a good idea to use something like inssider to verify you have enough signal to play with.
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Old 07-19-2014, 02:04 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
... The city has asked for the mac address to help. Previously I had given them the mac address of the wifi extender since that was the only one I could find and since I thought the extender was talking to the city radio. Yesterday the city tech showed me how to find the mac address on the laptop I am using.

He later said they could find no record of the laptop since Tuesday when the latest problem began.

Questions: which is the relevant mac address and why?...
I am confused here too. I thought the city guy can only see the MAC address of the WiFi extender, and not the laptop's MAC hiding behind the extender which also acts as a router.
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Old 07-19-2014, 03:20 PM   #12
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The extender would just allow devices to join an existing network. So they would pull their configuration info from the existing network and their MACs exposed to the network they join. If you use your own router and connect to the other network only the routers MAC would seen on the other network.
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Old 07-19-2014, 04:13 PM   #13
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I have never used a repeater. To satisfy my curiosity, I searched and found the following Wiki article: Wireless repeater - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
... as far as the original router or access point is concerned only the repeater MAC is connected.
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Old 07-19-2014, 04:15 PM   #14
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This article explains why you don't want/need an extender.
The Best Wi-Fi Extender (If You're Out of Options) - Tested

The bridge that rbmrtn described is exactly what you want. The bridge picks up the wireless signal and through a wired connection to your router just sends along the packets. Your router MAC is authenticated to get an internet connection. Then your router gives out private addresses to wireless and wired clients in your home.
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Old 07-19-2014, 04:20 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
I have never used a repeater. To satisfy my curiosity, I searched and found the following Wiki article: Wireless repeater - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
... as far as the original router or access point is concerned only the repeater MAC is connected.
I'd ask what radio is on top of the pole before buying more equipment.

Also from that article:
Quote:
  • Wireless throughput is reduced by at least 50%.
  • Wireless interference (e.g., with other networks on the same channel) is at least doubled.
You'd want to avoid that if possible.
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Old 07-19-2014, 05:42 PM   #16
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Wireless repeaters may not help, but the city IT guy was likely wrong in looking for the OP laptop's MAC address.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
... Over time, I have had to move the wifi extender from the garage, to the front porch near the house, and then most recently closer to the street on the front porch to maintain good incoming signal strength. I had taken that to mean that the city signal was degrading...
It may be that more people in the neighborhood are piling onto this freebie and overload the network. Of course more people using WiFi extenders are making it worse too.

Then, there may be some unexpected interference. In my travel, I have had trouble getting access to the WiFi of the RV parks. Then, while doing some investigation of external WiFi adapters in an effort to improve on the WiFi internal to the laptop, with the RV on the driveway while trying to access the router inside the home, I discovered a source of interference. It was the wireless backup camera mounted at the rear of the motorhome! So, I had to install a power switch to turn the camera off when it's not needed.

And I have bought a Yagi antenna to pair with a USB WiFi adapter having an antenna connector. I then used inSSIDer to monitor the signal strength to aim the Yagi. Besides the extra gain of the antenna, its directivity also helps cut out the interference that may not be in the same direction as the intended signal. I am looking forward to using this set up in my RV trip.
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Old 07-19-2014, 07:52 PM   #17
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Wireless repeaters may not help, but the city IT guy was likely wrong in looking for the OP laptop's MAC address.
NWB.......thanks for your repeated questions/comments on this question
(and all the others too!). My non-educated brain is still trying to understand this since it thinks that the city would be seeing the extender
(repeater) and not the laptop I'm using. I had given the city the mac address for the extender previously but the recent tech seemed to want the
mac adddress for the laptop. Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough that I was using the extender.

The extender definitely does help w/ indoor reception which is almost impossible these days w/o it. Traffic (wifi) and environmental (line-of-sight,etc.) issues confuse things since they can vary by the hour (or minute). There also may be a lag time in the extender monitoring of the incoming wifi signal strength which also makes for some fun in figuring things out.

Still learning from all the comments to again thanks to all.
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Old 07-20-2014, 06:15 AM   #18
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Kanehoe, what are the details on the extender and computer(s) you are using? Just occurred to me that we don't know much, really. Do you have any technical details on the municipal network?
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Old 07-20-2014, 08:02 AM   #19
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This is the extender...Netgear WN2000RPT WN2000RPT | WiFi Range Extenders | Networking | Home | NETGEAR

I just noticed on that page below the extender info there is a link to a
Negear wifi analytics app that sounds like it might be similar to inssider?
Interestingly, the link also says I don't have an devices.......which means it doesn't know I have a Netgear extender? Is that related to why the city was looking for the laptop mac address and not the extender?

Laptops are an older Mac with OSX v.10.6.8 (about 5-6 yrs old) using Safari
and newer Mac (about 1-2yrs old) using Chrome.

This link has some info in the last comment below the column:
Santa Clara free Wi-Fi service more popular than expected - MuniWireless

There may be some info in the FAQ tho I didn't see any very technical info:
Santa Clara Free Wi-Fi | Powerd by SVP MeterConnect℠
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Old 07-20-2014, 08:35 AM   #20
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The extender is used to increase the range of your existing wireless router.
I'll read your other links too. Will try the app.
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