How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

Summary: My neighbors in Woodstock, NY, aren’t wired for cable or DSL, so I figured I’d extend some country courtesy and wirelessly share my cable connection. I just hadn’t figured that it would take me months to stretch my Wi-Fi signal to their house, even though it’s only a few hundred feet south of mine. Here's how I did it.


Editor's note: Don't try this at home. Sharing your Internet connection may be against your ISP's terms of service.

My neighbors in Woodstock, NY, aren’t wired for cable or DSL, so I figured I’d extend some country courtesy and wirelessly share my cable connection. But I had no idea that it would take me months to stretch my Wi-Fi signal to their house, even though it’s only a few hundred feet south of mine.

The idea seemed pretty doable. Sure, I knew there would be a hint of challenge because my garage sits right smack in between our houses, and the garage has a pitched metal roof. Metal deflects wireless signals, and I’m betting that the thicket of evergreens between our houses would do the same.


But with all the range-extending devices out there, I was pretty sure I could bridge the two houses in no time. Over the course of the winter, I have tried an array of signal-boosting tactics that include a cantenna, signal boosters, range extenders, and a variety of high-gain antennas. I managed to connect to Kevin’s PC in the house by hooking up a Hawking Hi-Gain 8dBi Directional Dish Antenna to his notebook and attaching a Hawking HiGain WiFi Signal Booster to my router. From his office, Kevin gets two to three signal bars, and speeds that are pretty decent. We were satisfied with that.

But Myoshin’s iMac sits in a stand-alone studio that’s about 40 feet further west of her house. No matter what device I attached on either end (and in the middle), I couldn’t get the signal to span the distance. A couple of weeks ago I thought I had it licked when I connected the hField Wi-Fire high-gain antenna to the iMac. The device pulled in a strong signal, but neither I nor hField’s tech support could resolve an issue with the antenna’s IP address that rendered it inoperative.


So this weekend, I swapped out my Buffalo router for a $159 Ruckus MediaFlex NG 802.11g Multimedia Router, and configured a $259 Ruckus ZoneFlex 2925 Lite Mesh Gateway as a repeater to be connected to Myoshin’s recalcitrant Mac.

First of all, setup for both devices was amazingly simple. Ruckus doesn’t ship the products with setup discs, as most router vendors do. Instead, you get a one-sheet installation guide that walks you through the very simple process. It might not be the best option for beginners, but anyone who has configured a router or two should have absolutely no problem.

The ZoneFlex 2925 can be configured as a router or a repeater, and when you connect the device the first time it gives you the option of a wizard to walk you through the settings for either. I clicked the radio button for repeater, and prepared to hunker down for at least five or six configuration steps. Instead, the device pretty much instantly configured itself, with no input from me. I trotted it over to the office, and plugged it in. Yay! The iMac was finally connected. Of course, there is some signal degradation, due to the distance, the metal roof, and the trees, but Myoshin says Web browsing is a satisfying clip faster.


So how did Ruckus succeed when other attempts failed? I’m guessing that the company’s BeamFlex technology played a big role. Ruckus says that smart-MIMO technology controls the reception of radio signals and can steer around physical obstructions (like that pesky garage roof). Another winning factor is both devices’ high-gain directional antennas, an array of intelligent devices that combine with software to find the best path and manage traffic.

This solution was a little pricier than my initial attempts, but Ruckus found a way to wend a signal around buildings and through trees. And Kevin and Myoshin, no doubt, are relieved that I’ll stop poking around their house every weekend.

Topics: Networking, Hardware, Mobility, Wi-Fi

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  • Nice Work!

    D T Schmitz
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    Interesting but just a small technical point. the "signals" are radio waves that travel in straight lines. nothing can make the signal "wend it's way around the metal roof, etc". paraphrase. More likely, it was simply successfull at picking up the very degraded signal.
    Nice article.
    • Signals do 'Wend'
    • Actually, it can wend it's way around... sorta

      Like you indicated, radio waves radiate out from a point like the ripples in a still pond radiate out when you drop a pebble in the water. But just like the ripples in a pond, they bounce off of things. The bounced waves interfere with the unbounced and other bounced waves until you have an indescernable jumble. With traditional wi-fi, the receiver locks onto the strongest signal which is usually the straight line signal. I'm oversimplifying things, but with modern wi-fi technology (MIMO), the receiver is able to see that one bounced signal is from the the same source as another bounced signal and even the straight line signal and effectively add them up so the signal it decodes is apparently much stronger. In essence, it can make sense of the jumble of overlapping signals. It can use the bounced signals to its advantage instead of considering it noise. Also, it can work in situations where there is ONLY bounced signals like when you have an impenetrable barrier in the straight line between sender and receiver so in this sense it can "wend it's way around"... sorta.
      Larry Maccherone
      • Also there's diffraction

        Also with a wavelength of 12cm 11a/g waves will bend (diffract) around the edges of ordinary objects (small dry goods). Light/Radio doesn't really travel in straight lines at all, it's a wave. When thinking about radio waves people have pictures of laser beams in their heads, when they should have pictures of the sea. It's just that visible light has a very small wavelength so these efects are small on it and aren't easily seen. Unlike radio.
      • MIMO was the simplest solution all along

        The MIMO G, and pre-N routers are the way to go for any long distance or difficult "path". When I went form a linksys G to MIMO-enhanced G router, I was able to use my laptop outside on the other side of a 110 year old boulder and mason wall which blocked signal before. I've found excellent signal down 350 ft concrete encased tunnels. And three floors of sturdy old home construction jumped from Low to Good, and speed more than doubled.

        Even without going to N or having mimo-enhanced G clients, the MIMO-enhanced G routers inprove things greatly.
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    And of course, you have notified your connection supplier that you are now a reseller of their bandwidth.
    • actually

      Using the wifi to connect he is NOT a reseller, the neighbor is a member of his network, there is no reason to notify.

      Most suppliers have directions for networking in the docs, it doesn't matter how far apart the nodes are.

      Used to have a hardwired network that covered three houses for gaming, was very easy to share connections in which case it was just another user on my network.

    • Reselling

      I'm not reselling, just sharing.
      • Do the terms of the service agreement

        dictate where and how you can share it? I would imagine that there is some sort of limit to "how" you can share it.
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    Sometimes LOWERING the antenna works better than raising it. The signal probably would make it through the workshop if you stayed lower than the metal roof. This would also put it under the tree leaves.
    Keith Hoffman
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    You could of utilized a DD-WRT compatible router and turned up the power output saving yourself a bunch of money.
  • Are you sure what you did was legal?

    My cable company actually has rules about me sharing my cable or internet connection with neighbors. I think it has some thing to do with them wanting to make money. Otherwise, since I live in the city and only about 10 feet from my neighbors house, I would just stretch a cable between our homes and we could both get cable and internet for half the price.

    Oh, and I don't know if this would have worked for you because you said 'several hundered feet', and your solution is certainly more elegant, but if several hundred feet was less than 500, I would have simply burried some cat 6 cable ($70 for a 500 foot spool?) and run it over to his house. Again, not elegant, but it would have been cheaper than spending a few hundred dollars on your setup, and Ok, I know this solution wouldn't have been as high tech, but sometimes keeping it simple works pretty well. By the way, I suggested cat 6 because it holds a signal better than cat 5 or 5e, and even though 500 feet would be more than the 100 meeters it is speced for , the spec is for 1000 mb. At 500 feet, you would likely still get 100 mb's which is a far sight better than what you're probably getting with WIFI across that distance. And Cheaper. Throw in a wireless router at your neighbors house and voila, your sharing a network pretty effectively.
    • difference in ground potential could be bad

      The two homes have separate ground potentials (i.e., they each have their own grounding rods). The difference in ground potential could damage the equipment, via the hard cabling running between the two homes. A wireless system would obviously not have this problem.

      The damage might not occur immediately, if at all, but other problems may arise. Analog equipment can exhibit symptoms such as hum, in a similar situation, but I'm not sure what might happen with this kind of equipment.
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    well people don't relalize that Antennas can be verticality and horizontality polarized - it looks like he was using a verticality polarized ant -
    and the photo of the new ant looks to be a horizontality polarized - which can make a big difference because of the metal roof
  • I was confused. Of course a repeater does better than no repeater.

    Please post a topology figure next time. Thanks for share though.
  • Didn't have any succed with DLink stuff?

    I'm surprised to no hear about any DLink products. I've built rather complexe wireless networks using their rather vast choice of products. Plus the prices are ok and the usually work with Macs without problem.
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    i would have save the money and dug a trench and put cat5 cable to his house if it was less than 300 ft. the setup a wireless router at his place to connect to the laptop in the other building. would have been quite a bit easier IMO and alot cheaper than purchasing alot of different equipment and the time to play with it all. even a fiber connection with media converters would have been cheaper.. now wait and see how the signal is when the next big snow hits and coats the trees with ice and snow.
    • grounding

      Be careful wrt grounding and ground loops when running copper between buildings. Maybe it can be done safely, I'm no expert - I just know enough that I know not to try something like that myself.
  • RE: How I (finally) shared a Wi-Fi connection with my neighbors

    I wonder if you checked the TOS of your ISP to see how they would feel about you purposely sharing your connection with the property next door.

    Most ISP's frown down upon this and state what their actions would be in the TOS if they were to catch you.

    Not once in your article did you mention what could happen if your ISP caught you sharing their service you rent from them. Do you even know? Did you even bother to check and decided NOT to write that part in?

    Now you have implemented those poor nice people that live next to you into your crime of "Theft of Service".