Adventures in wireless networking: Linksys WRT54G / WRE54G setup

Wireless networking is on the rise, has been for some time now. Many homes and small businesses have already made the switch and many more are still considering whether they should take the plunge. Sure wireless technology is sometimes considered less reliable than its wired counterpart, and probably less secure too. But the promise of a cordless existence is something few people can resist, and so here is my latest experience with Linksys wireless home networking (do not try this at home).

One thing that’s not cool is when companies like Linksys sell you wireless networking hardware that costs a lot of money with next to no documentation to support the product. The closest thing you get is a huge 6-foot poster thingy, with lots of beautiful photographs and absolutely no useful information. What do they think i’m gonna do with it, hang it on my wall? Then you go to the website and it’s impossible to navigate, and all you see are catchy slogans all over the place, talking about how easy it is to setup your wireless home network.

I know that Linksys uses Cisco parts so that’s good. I also found their wireless products to have really good range, as compared to similar products by Netgear, D-Link, MSI, GVC. I had put together a number of different wireless networks solutions for people using a Linksys WRT54G wireless router, PCMCIA and PCI cards, but many of them wanted to extend their networks either upstairs, downstairs, into the backyard, you name it.

image of Linksys WRE54G
So i did some research and came up with the Linksys WRE54G Wireless Range Extended. Also known as a “repeater”, the WRE54G has been around for a while and is supposed to let you increase the range of your network past the average 100FT max. Theoretically, you could double that distance but throughput (your bandwidth) is cut in half with every hop. So basically, with every range extender you add, speed (in this case) goes from 54 Mbps to 27 Mbps to 13.5, and so on. What’s great about it though, is that unlike a wireless bridge or access point, the range extender doesn’t actually plug into you LAN directly. That means no need to run ethernet cable from the router to the device, just plug it into the wall outlet for power and your good to go.

Anyway, i got the WRE54G because it was also a Linksys product, same manufacturer as the rest of the equipment, and hoped this would ensure compatibility, maximum performance and stability. Let me tell you – i was wrong. First of all, i haven’t seen much stability in the way of wireless networks in general. What i have seen is: 2 wireless “g” products from different manufacturers, that should work fine together, but don’t. So from now on, i try to go with all components from the same manufacturer. Second, i later found out that the WRE54G only works with 2 other Linksys products: the WRT54G and WRT54GS wireless routers (so much for maximum compatibility). Luckily, i had one of these – but come on, 2 other products..

The disk provided by Linksys takes you easily through the setup of the range extender. Ironically, this entire process is completely unnecessary as you can just plug in the WRE54G and connect to it directly without using the disk at all. In fact, you don’t even need to do anything at all; the default setup will normally do just fine until you get more comfortable with the whole thing. What they fail to tell you before you buy the WRE54G, is that it is completely useless and that it won’t work. Well, not right out of the box anyway, and not with the wireless router i had.

The main problem is (and this is a big one): that the range extender uses WDS (a bridging technology), and the wireless router doesn’t have this feature built in. very disturbing indeed. After hours of wondering why i could connect, but not get the internet – i decided it was time to hit the web a second time. i looked for troubleshooting and how-to pages and once again the Linksys site was no help. Frankly, at this point, i don’t know if i would believe them if they did offer some advice. i ended up on TomsNetworking.com, reading about how to manually setup the WRE54G with almost any other wireless router except the one i had. all you needed was a WDS capable device and as it turns out, the only way i was going to get my wireless Linksys router to play nice with his brother is by flashing the BIOS and installing firmware that has WDS functionality. i soon found out that Sveasoft Alchemy firmware is best for the job and thanks to phillippe [niquille.com], i was finally able to download it.

From that point on, everything else went pretty smoothly. i followed the relevant steps from the article on tomsnetworking.com and finally got the range extender to associate itself with the wireless router. Now i’ve got 2 big hotspots that i can connect to..

i’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Comments 37

  1. Philippe wrote:

    Well, it’s always a long journey to setup wireless network devices, but when it works it’s a real charm :-)

    Nice page by the way!

    Posted 30 Sep 2005 at 5:06 am
  2. elran wrote:

    hey philippe,
    i enjoyed your site as well..
    lot’s of great wireless, php, and linux info.
    thanks for dropping by!

    Posted 30 Sep 2005 at 11:05 am
  3. Al D wrote:

    4 hours of frustration trying to install a WRE54G into my wireless network finally ended with the Linksys 1-800 line. The rep requested my router information and returned to tell me that this extender is only compatible with two models of Linksys routers. Most other routers are not compatible, just like my D-Link router.

    Suggest you check for compatablity first.
    Returning mine to the vendor today.

    Posted 24 Nov 2005 at 1:52 pm
  4. elran wrote:

    Al D,

    what version of WRE54G did you get?

    i just had my hands on the ver.2 model, and the back-end configuration didn’t even have a field for entering your Gateway’s MAC address. Without ever being able to enter this information, i don’t see how ANY router is going to work in WDS bridging mode.

    long story short: stay away from the WRE54G ver.2 because as far as i know, there is no bios update/hack that fixes this problem. It’s pretty sad if Linksys shipped out this busted version (though technically the hardware functions perfectly) without even testing it in a live scenario.

    Posted 25 Nov 2005 at 5:27 am
  5. don rev wrote:

    hi. i was just wondering if theres some other way to do repeating without using this newer wds technology. im in a situation where im picking up wireless from a unv so i dont have actual access to their router to upgrade anything. basically i want a unit that can act as a repeater on many b and g networks with the most possible compatibility with older systems. like if i could connect a network with my wireless card and laptop why couldnt a repeater connect the same way and then pass data to mi without having to us wds?

    Posted 28 Sep 2006 at 8:41 pm
  6. elran wrote:

    hi, i think the whole point of getting a repeater for me (and this was a while ago) was to reduce on any type of setup/configuring for each client pc. Ironically, thanks to WDS, this turned out to be even more work than just setting up each client to connect to another wireless router or access point.

    also, i don’t think i know of any other way to extend your wireless network without adding another network cable to the setup (ie: like you would between a wireless router and a wireless bridge)

    maybe if you could setup a machine with 2 wireless cards and have 1 card receive and IP address (acting as a client) from the far-away network and then have it route that traffic to the 2nd card (acting as a router) on a local/internal network. then your laptop could get an IP address from this 2nd network (acting as a client). same effect more or less.

    just a thought.

    Posted 28 Sep 2006 at 11:25 pm
  7. down_under wrote:

    Forget repeaters… there a pain. Half the thru-put, nightmare to configure, major incompatabilities… in the bin

    Look for two, identical model, name brand, decent Access Points selling for a good price, check to make sure they support wep/wpa and have these 2 modes (99% do): Wireless Client Mode and Wireless Access Point Mode…. doh.

    Configure AP 1 to operate in Wireless Client Mode (to receive remote wlan signal) and configure AP 2 to operate in Wireless Access Point Mode to redistribute remote wlan signal. Keep ssid’s the same as remote wlan, create your own encryption on the AP 2 link and select a channel at least 5 away from the incoming remote wlan’s channel.

    Use a 1 mtr crossover type cat5 cable to link the units via there LAN ports, power up and presto a repeater that actually does work.

    Posted 26 Oct 2006 at 9:11 am
  8. elran wrote:

    wow, that’s awesome!

    i’m going to try that the first chance i get..

    do you have a brand/model you can recommend?

    thanks down_under – for taking the time to share.

    Posted 26 Oct 2006 at 1:53 pm
  9. had wrote:

    the IP of the expender?

    Posted 02 Apr 2008 at 5:33 am
  10. Ezekiel wrote:

    i wanted to extend my wireless network range about 2oometres away from my home and i have decided to get 2 WRE54G with a Netcomm N290W Ethernet wireless. please i need your advice will it work.

    Posted 25 Jun 2008 at 2:39 am
  11. Jake wrote:

    Boughta WRE54G yesterday. It connected with no problems. Now my IPHONE works on internet allover the house. Great Stuff!

    Posted 25 Jul 2008 at 10:32 am
  12. elran wrote:

    iPhone all over the house.. gotta get me one of those ;)

    Posted 29 Jul 2008 at 1:31 pm
  13. elran wrote:

    @ Ezekiel –
    i have no idea if the WRE54G and the Netcomm N290W router work well together.
    also, because of the way wireless ranges need to overlap for best performance/stability – is suspect that 2 WRE54G range extended will probably only give you a combined wireless network range of 150feet (at a 50% overlap of range for each device and between the 3 devices – Router-to-RangeExtender-to-RangeExtended).

    but testing it out for yourself is the only way to get real-world results/answers to your questions.

    Posted 29 Jul 2008 at 1:37 pm
  14. OTAR TECH INT wrote:

    I GOT A DEFECTIVE ONE THAT I CAN NOT FLASH THE FIRMWARE, MUST RETURN IT WE WILL SE BUT THE TECHS SAID IT WILL WORK WITH MY OLD WAP11 IF IT HAS THE NEWEST FIRMWARE ///// STILL GOOD COVERAGE WITH OMNI DIRECTIONALS

    Posted 26 Feb 2009 at 10:18 am
  15. Alex wrote:

    I am currently deployed and am trying to get net into my tent, I bought the WRE54G, Ver. 3, and now have a very strong signal. But I am not exactly computer savy, and am having the same problem you described above, connecting but not getting the internet. I have no idea what kind of router they are using on this base. If you have any suggestions for me, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 1:27 pm
  16. elran wrote:

    hey Alex,

    i think that in order to get the range extender to associate itself with the wireless router:
    a) the router must be WDS capable
    b) the router must “accept” the association on it’s end (an additional security feature)

    item “b” is likely your problem..
    of course, it’s been a while since i last attempted this! ;)

    Posted 19 Jun 2009 at 1:05 pm
  17. david wrote:

    i have a westell versalink 327w and i’m curious as to weather the linksys wre54g range expander will work with this modem.

    Posted 25 Jun 2009 at 3:14 pm
  18. elran wrote:

    i’m curious too! haven’t tried the versalink 327w so i guess the only way to find out is to test it out… oh, and let us know if it worked.

    Posted 29 Jun 2009 at 7:50 pm
  19. Dave wrote:

    Any idea what happened to tomsnetworking.com?

    ~Dave

    Posted 06 Jan 2010 at 5:16 pm
  20. elran wrote:

    @dave
    no idea.. but it definitely seems down.
    the domain is still registered for a few more years so not sure why it’s down.
    found others are talking about it by searching google but no answers.
    oh well, i guess we’ll have to wait and see..

    Posted 08 Jan 2010 at 2:41 pm
  21. Dirk wrote:

    I was thinking of getting one of these but I haven’t yet had the need for it but doing some reading on it.

    Anyway, since I see the tomsnetworking.com link is down I decided to contribute this link that I found:

    http://msmvps.com/blogs/netman66/archive/2008/04/19/installing-and-configuring-the-linksys-wre54g.aspx

    although he set it up with a Linksys router, it may be helpful with other routers.

    Posted 27 Mar 2010 at 5:35 pm
  22. elran wrote:

    thanks for the link Dirk!
    i’m sure it will prove useful to those still messing around with the wrt54g or wre54g.

    Posted 29 Mar 2010 at 4:06 pm
  23. lilly adams wrote:

    The company I used for my Wireless LAN Setup was very knowledgeable and available 24 hours a day for any problems I may have run into. Check out their site http://www.turn-keytechnologies.com/About-Us.aspx I hope this helps you.

    Posted 17 Jun 2010 at 2:03 pm
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