Hardware

A road warriors wifi

This blog post comes to you from warm and azure blue waters of Côte d’Azur – That is the French Riviera.

All thought that is not important and I really do not consider my self a road warrior, I have been and am traveling more than enough to be extremely annoyed about the conditions and limitations of wifi all over the world. Even here in France, which I consider to be a country of a fairly high living standard, superb cooking and lovely wines and of course Champagne, but still the wifi, internet or 4G always seems to sucks. Of Course I can fix the internet connection being over crowed or just too damn slow, but there are a few other scenarios is which a better wifi connection can help.

So what are the issues:

  • Bad coverage
  • Wifi with device limitations
  • Constant setting up devices to new wifi (when changing location)
  • Some devices does not support wifi portals
What am I using to fix this

Currently I am using TP-Links AC750 Wi-Fi Travel Router (TL-WR902AC), as it is small and support a range a possible scenarios, making it ideal as an router on the go. I have previously used an earlier version which at the time only was b/g, but I had to have two of them and a small cable between them in order for the one to be client and the order to be a server so to speak. With the AC750 there is no need. I can logon to a wireless network and provide a different wifi network that all my devices can connect to.

So how does it work

Let me explain where I see the fit for each of the scenarios.

Bad coverage:

This usually means the wifi range is limited from the hotels side, too few access-point, or just poor coverage due to building materials. One room has access while others do not.

So if the provided wifi does not cover the hotel room or apartment, the extra wifi can act as an wifi extender, boosting the signal from the provider. This should be more than enough to cover where ever you are staying. Only down side of this is that the speed of the wifi is effectively cut in half. I still think it is better than no or spotty wifi.

As a bonus it also support 4G modems via an USB port. I have not tested this feature so I cannot speak to the quality of it. I think it is nice to know that if I have the need, I can get internet access through other means.

Wifi with device limitations:

This one seems to be mostly used where wifi is in abundance and for the sole purpose of making more money! Never had this issue in fx. Thailand, but book a highend hotel on Times squre and your are paying $12 or so per device. When I am traveling either for business or pleasure, I usually have no less the three or four wifi enabled devices with me and if the family is with me we are well above 10 devices. So this is a big deal for me as it is just so annoying to have to mess with creating a hotspot on either the computer or mobile.

As you might have guessed, this is also handle with the TP-Link. It can act as a wireless client towards the hotel wifi, while at the same time providing another AP for the client side. This means that everything gets NAT’ed and only one IP is used from the providers point of view. Also this is totally transparent to the clients. This will give you unlimited number of clients to connect to the wifi.

Constant setting up devices to new wifi (when changing location):

Lets say I have 10 devices with me. At every new hotel I have to enter a new wifi code and password for every device. As I explained above, if you client SSID is always the same, there is no need to change SSID or password for your devices. Because you are using your own AP, this becomes a thing of the past. All I have to do is plugin my TP-Link AP in the power outlet and connect with either phone or laptop. I prefer laptop, login to the AP and change the wifi SSID to what ever the hotel wifi is, ei. The name of the hotel wifi, click next, next, next until I am through the wizard and I am done and connected to the internet again. Best of all is all my devices is now connected!

Some devices does not support wifi portals:

If I travel for longer periods of time or have the family with me, I always have a Chromecast with me! It is a life saver from bad TV channels and it makes relaxing a little easier when every service I am use to is in the palm of my hand (hint: my phone). Be it local online services or worldwide services such as netflix. The only problem with this is that I cannot connect it to a wifi which is using a wifi portal to provide access.

Even this problem get solved by using your own AP. After connecting my AP to the hotels, I simply open a browser and try to go to some web site and usually end up being redirected to the wifi portal and I can now login. As everything connected to my AP is seen as one device (one mac address). All devices connected to my AP, has instant access, that includes the Chromecast.

Also I was staying at a hotel with the family, with an open wifi network. No portal, no nothing and using a Chromecast, so the kids could watch some Netflix. On more than one occasion my kids cartoons where interrupted by some one else at the hotel casting to our Chromecast. Needless to say, I did not have the AC750 with or it would have been use to avoid this kind of thing as well. Privacy is important and also I want to know what my kids watch.

Setting it up

The AC750 is of a fairly simple design. On the top there are some LED lights.

Connectivity and settings are located on the edge of the AP. On one side the power plug and USB port is. The power plug is a micro usb, which is provided together with the actual power adapter which the cable plugs directly into. The should also mean that any micro usb cable with enough power should be able to power the device. So you can save on space and weight. I have not test this. The USB port can be used for connection storage, 3G/4G dongle or supposedly charge your phone. Again I have not tested this. There is also a reset pin hole if needed.

On the other side is an ethernet port, so devices which does not support wireless connection can be used or I can also be use as a source of internet, but more on other use cases later. Next to the ethernet port is a little switch. The switch controls the mode of the device. Though I have called it an AP several times by now it is just so much more then that. The three modes which can be selected are, “share ETH”, “share hotspot” and “AP/Rng Ext/Client”. More on these later on.

I have the switch setting in the middle on “share hotspot”, which enables the WISP mode, that allows me to connect to one wifi SSID and have another one for all my client devices. Once the switch is in the right position, I connect to the AC750, either via wireless or the ethernet port. As all other simple devices it has an default ip and a username and password, you need to login. In the box with the AC750 there is a little card which details the login info for the default wireless connection. Of course the admin login is also documented.

The setup of the device is quite simple, once login to the web gui. Hit the wizard guide and start filling in the needed information. First select the SSID of the network you want to connect to and here is the only weird thing about the AC750. Once I click connect to the SSID I want to get internet access from, it seems like the AC750 freezes or dies on me. It does not! But it does take several minutes to comeback to a state where the wizard can be continued. I suspect that the AC750 is actually restarting after choosing the SSID, but I have not validated that. After the SSID is chosen, the wizards continues where I left of and now I can setup the SSID, encryption, name, password etc.

If you have done this before all the settings is already filled in, you will just get a change to verify and click next. Once done your clients are ready to connect to the SSID of the AC750.

That it!

The specs

This small thing is great device and very versatile, but it is no speed king or a replacement for a proper access point like the Ubiquiti AC Pro, that I am running at home. It gets the job done and that is all that matters when your on the go. It small, compact and will fix almost any task you have for it.

Besides the specs and my use case the AC750 has a few other use cases that TP-Link highlights.

  • Router mode, using the ethernet port as a wan connection.
  • Hotspot modes, that the one I am using.
  • Range extender
  • Client mode, allows a device without a wifi card to connect via ethernet connecting. The AC750, will connect via wifi to another access point.
  • AP mode, like router mode but without the router part.

 

HARDWARE FEATURES
Interface1 10/100Mbps WAN/LAN Port
1 Reset Button
1 USB 2.0 Port
1 Mode Switch
1 WPS Button
External Power Supply5V/2A
Dimensions ( W x D x H )2.91*2.64*0.87 in. (74*67*22mm)
Antenna TypeOn-Board

 

WIRELESS FEATURES
Wireless StandardsIEEE 802.11ac/n/a 5GHz
IEEE 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz
Frequency2.4GHz and 5GHz
Signal Rate5GHz: Up to 433Mbps(Only with 11AC Wireless Adapter); Up to 150Mbps with 11N Wireless Adapter
2.4GHz: Up to 300Mbps
Reception Sensitivity11a 54M: -76dBm; 11ac VHT20 MCS8: -70dBm;
11ac VHT40 MCS9: -65.5dBm; 11ac VHT80 MCS9:
-61.5dBm
2.4GHz:
11g 54M: -76dBm11n; HT20 MCS7: -74dBm;
11n HT40 MCS7: -71dBm
Transmit PowerCE:
<20dBm(2.4GHz)
<23dBm(5GHz)
Wireless FunctionsEnable/Disable Wireless Radio, WDS Bridge, WMM, Wireless Statistics
Wireless Security64/128-bit WEP,WPA / WPA2,WPA-PSK/ WPA2-PSK encryption

 

SOFTWARE FEATURES
Quality of ServiceWMM, Bandwidth Control
ManagementAccess Control
Local Management
Remote Management
WAN Connection TypeDynamic IP/Static IP/PPPoE/
PPTP(Dual Access)/L2TP(Dual Access)
DHCPServer, Client, DHCP Client List,
Address Reservation
Port ForwardingVirtual Server, Port Triggering, UPnP, DMZ
Dynamic DNSDynDns, Comexe, NO-IP
VPN Pass-ThroughPPTP, L2TP, IPSec
Access ControlParental Control, Local Management Control, Host List,
Access Schedule, Rule Management
Firewall SecurityDoS, SPI Firewall, IP Address Filter/Domain Filter, IP and MAC Address Binding
ProtocolsSupports IPv4
Guest Network2.4GHz guest network × 1
5GHz guest network × 1
Raspberry Pie

I really think it is a great device. When that said, I also wish it could be more. So I have been looking into creating the same feature set with a Raspberry Pie. The main reason for this is that there is a few things the AC750 will never do which would be nice to have.

Caching of content: Sometimes it is just the internet connection or the QoS applied by the ISP that limits you. In these cases it would be nice to not have to download every file again to have a cache with a longer life time, to help you speed things up.

Site-to-Site VPN: Sometimes sites are blocked or service are unavailable in the region you are in. An example is google maps, but I could just as well be Netflix or some other service. So having the option to create a VPN tunnel home to my network would help mitigate some of these issues.

DNS service: The ability to have a DNS cache or to be able to manipulate DNS records, when clients need to access a site. Caching is to avoid slow DNS servers and something you get force redirected to another site because the local DNS provider is forced to do so by law or for financial gains. Either way I like to decide for my self.

 

I have looked into if the is possible and it should be. Now all there is missing is me finding some time to play and buy a Raspberry Pie, until then I will have to stick to my trusted AC750.

 

Hope this helps some one else out there and if I ever get around to play with a RaspBerry Pie, you will be the first to know. Thanks for reading this far and please share if you have used the Raspberry Pie for this or you have other solutions that works for you.

By the way if you ever come by my travel wifi, the password is “atrejseeratleve” which is a famous H.C. Andersen quote “To travel is to live”.

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