Wireless network without Access point - 'consume' internet share possible?

phillipwj
phillipwj used Ask the Experts™
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Hi all. My neighbour has a wireless broadband node set up (with antenna on roof) and is happy to provide broadband access to me for free. So Im off to get a couple of wireless pcmcia cards (one for Win98 laptop other for OsX Apple Powerbook).  

I dont want to go to expense of buying an access point too, so assuming my card can actually get a signal from next doors connection (hopefully an Orinoco Silver, so I can attach antenna if required), will I be able to share that internet connection with the Apple? Since we will effectively be setting up a peer-to-peer non-infrastructure wireless network in the house.

I also have an old Cyrix 166 desktop w 128Mb RAM which I was thinking about using as some sort of access point/firewall/print server (though that will be more expensive of course, having to put a wireless PCI card in it) but Im just wondering what is the best course of action to get a nice little home wireless network set up between the laptops (and maybe desktop) enabling us to share the broadband connection from next door, plus the printer and even our own crappy dial up when required.

Ideas, suggestions, directions gratefully received.
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Les MooreSr. Systems Engineer
Top Expert 2008

Commented:
You may be best off with a wireless bridge. This way, you can wire up all your local systems and just provide a wireless bridge to your neighbor. I would ask your neighbor how many IP addresses he has directly from the ISP. Every node that connects to his wireless node will have to have an IP address from somewhere, or you need a device that provides its own addresses and does some form of NAT like a router w/wireless capabilities...

Here's a Linksys model:
http://www.linksys.com/products/product.asp?grid=22&prid=432

Author

Commented:
I dont think he is willing to 'network' with me (hardly knows me). only wants to allow 'consume' mode from his node. he's part of some sharing group consume.net

Author

Commented:
Also, dont want to keep the wired home network, the cables are driving me crazy. really want to go wireless totally.
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Commented:
How is your neighboor connecting to the antenna/signal on the roof?

Is he using 803.11b 11Mbit/sec WLAN card?

If so, he should be using Ad-Hoc mode, where each node needs a valid IP.  If this is the case, an access point of some sort will be required, in order to share that connection and provide a NAT'ed IP address for each user.

Author

Commented:
Really not sure. Never met him, only emailed and chatted via phone. He's a Linux user so im sure its a set-up not far akin from 'Matrix' ;)

All I know is its a ADSL connection and he already shares it (via aerial onto the street) but he's setting up the antenna to increase the spread. Im sure its 802.11b, not 802.11a

I assume he has an access point and is attaching the antenna to that to give it a bigger range for any wireless lan cards that happen to come within range.

So doesnt that mean I DONT need an access point, but just pcmcia cards?

If I wanted a stronger signal do I need to buy an access point aswell (with two antennas), put it within range of his (to form a bridge) and then would that amplify the signal and allow my wireless lan cards to access via our access point?

Im whining on here about something I dont know a great deal about so please put me in line if Im talking rubbish...

Commented:
No you wont need an access point if his is an access point (assuming u can get good reception).  However he has set up his AP u need a valid IP address - however I thinks its really unlikely that his AP goes starignt onto the net - bridging an AP onto the net isnt usually done mainly for security and the fact that every client must then have a globally addressable IP and the ISP must know about them all (v expensive) - its usually set up so a wired network or a machine sits connected to the AP, and either this machine or one on a wired net will be acting as a gateway to the net.  Therefore he will will have a private network, probably running in the IP range 192.168.x.x, which you will join over both the wired and wireless nets.  You will then set up your gateway (in TCP/IP properties, witht he IP address) to be the IP of his gateway machine and access to the Internet will then be available.

Alternatively, it is very likely that he will have DHCP (auto-config) set up on his AP so just setyour card to "obtain IP address" and it will set itself up is he has set it up properly.

if you cant get reception, you can use an AP to relay, but its not very nice and it requires a machine to bridge the network you make with your AP to a wireless card connecting to his network (so effectively you have annetwork and he has a network, and the machine provides the link between them.

My biggest concern ids his security on the AP.  If he puts it in the roof he will be broadcasting over a long distance, and if he hasnt put decent WEP (encryption) codes in place, and sensible security measures like net names, passwords etc hackers can get into his network and ll the machines connected to it (including yours).  if you are worried aboutthis, doing the bridge idea above allows you to put a firewall on the bridging machine to protect your side of the network (but make sure your AP is secure!)

Oh and dont expect 802.11b wto work if you have bluetooth running nearby (from bitter experience!)

--Chris

Author

Commented:
Hi zuzzy. Thanks for the detailed info. Reflects what irmoore was on about I think but with greater clarity thanks.

I do in fact have a spare old desktop which I could use as the gateway and attach an access point/antenna to it to boost the signal. Thing is a) Im meant to be giving it to my parents and b) the huge extra cost to buy not only the access point but also I guess a wireless PCI card so the desktop machine can broadbast wirelessly to the laptops (cripes!).

So how about these alternative scenarios assuming I get rid of the desktop machine:

1)how about if I just buy wireless pcmcia for my pc laptop and also for the Mac laptop. If no signal then just attach small indoor antenna to the pc laptop's pcmcia card and receive the broadband connection from that and share that connection from the pc to the mac also via the pcmcia card(since the mac wont have an antenna to get its own signal) - is that possible, or would the pc and mac have to be WIRED together?

2) alternatively I buy wireless pcmcia PLUS an access point for my pc laptop (which to be honest I dont move around the house with much anyway) and also a pcmcia card for the Mac laptop. I can then use the fixed laptop as the gateway and allow the Mac to roam free drawing its connection from the PC...does this work better?  

Im not sure how access points work. Can I for example just plug it into the power supply as a stand-alone unit (not into ethernet or phone socket or laptop)in a place where it can reach next doors signal and will it then amplify next doors signal and pass it wirelessly to my laptops with pcmcia cards (this would be excellent!), or does it HAVE to be WIRED into one of the laptops in order to act as a getway (not so excellent!)....?

Sorry to be such a dunse but this is a real learning curve for me.

Cheers


Commented:
APs are supposed to be briging devices between wired and wireless networks - so they theoretically provide a wireless extension to a wired LAN.

Wireless networking has 2 "flavours" - AP based and ad-hoc.  ad-hoc is where 2 or more wireless NICs (network interface cards) see each other and just seemlessly form a connection - so machines come in and out of reception ad-hoc (hence the name) - but in addition every card acts like a bridge so someone too far from you to be in reception can "bounce" off other hosts to get to you.  More common is the AP, where the machines conenct through the AP, which acts like a standard network switch so all data goes through it.

By using an AP to act as an extender, you would effectively be forming a wireless connection between the 2 APs in the same way as 1 card connecting to an AP. When you connect to the AP from a laptop you get a connectio hopefully through the 2 APS to the gateway - however I am not confident that the 2 APs will work together properly without being wired together (it depends how nice they feel - I have never tried it (ironically, you could form an adhoc network using machines off the back of the APs to old machines with wireless cons conencting to each other, if you had enough money!)

Anyway back to the question..

Basically if your machines can see this guy's AP, then great.  Just conenct them both (they both should work fine on the net - though the Mac may or may not require software to allow connections from MS machines into its filesystem - like SAMBA for linux - don't know enough about Macs to tell u that)

if not, I would use an old machine or something to bridge, as that would provide security to stop this guy (or anyone else he feels like letting onto his net) onto your machines, which my biggest worry in this situation - I don't trust wireless LANs that I don't know who connects to.

If money is an object and u want the internet badwidth the most, the first thing I'd do is use your old box to connect to his wireless LAN, and use a wired LAN from that box around your house - using NAT and a firewall on the box to mask your machines from the rest of the wireless network.

Then you could put your own AP on the back of thebox sometime to provide wireless connectivity (or more likely off the network card on the back of your box or off a switch on the wired LAN).  This is the best way forward for this situation, as it allows YOU to manage your own network, and just leech bandwidth of this guy as necessary.

--Chris

Author

Commented:
So u are saying that if I choose to connect to his node with just a pcmcia card in my laptop then I have NO security? Cant I just run a firewall on my laptop to protect myself?

To to connect my old box (sorry mum and dad!) to his node I just need to buy a PCI version wireless card and maybe antenna? Then, if I want to share the broadband signal around the house to the laptops wirelessly do I really have to buy an Access point?  Wont the PCI wireless card in the back of the desktop machine both receive the signal from next doors node PLUS share it to the laptops wirelessly anyway, without the need for an AP attached to it tho?

Author

Commented:
So u are saying that if I choose to connect to his node with just a pcmcia card in my laptop then I have NO security? Cant I just run a firewall on my laptop to protect myself?

To to connect my old box (sorry mum and dad!) to his node I just need to buy a PCI version wireless card and maybe antenna? Then, if I want to share the broadband signal around the house to the laptops wirelessly do I really have to buy an Access point?  Wont the PCI wireless card in the back of the desktop machine both receive the signal from next doors node PLUS share it to the laptops wirelessly anyway, without the need for an AP attached to it tho?

Commented:
Yeah u can run a firewall on your laptop - that would be OK.  However, using NAT through your bax and a firewall makes double-sure - people can't get to any of your internal machines directly (since u are through a NAT) and the firewall stops traffic into your server (ie the server is the point of failure) and that can be locked down by using linux and no services - which isnt what you would want on your laptop. Firewalls arent nice things to run on Windows IMHO cos windows is so insecure.  Macs, well, Ok.... :)

The AP in the back of the box could share the signal (as I was saying earlier, if it actually works).  That would kind of eliminate the need for the box running off the back of the AP as no traffic would go through it! And as for seeing both networks, yes it willbut u use network names, encryption keys, paswords etc to secure networks - so if that card wasnt set up to see the AP it wouldnt use it.

Author

Commented:
Crikey. The last para lost me a bit. So basically if I decide to use the old desktop as firewall/bridge do I need BOTH a PCI wireless card/antenna AND an access point attached to it to share the broadband connection wirelessley, or can I get away with JUST the PCI wireless card to achieve this?

If I want to share from it with WIRED network I just need the PCI wireless card /antenna right?

Sorry again for being dumb :)

Author

Commented:
Re security I dont think his signal is going to get so far that many people could get on the system, unless they sit outside on the pavement with their laptop and wireless card plugging away trying to hack into my computer.
Commented:
Yes you need both the PCI and the AP.

What I was saying is that the AP (or just possibly the PCI card) theoretically could act as a booster to provide signal in your house by connecting to the AP in this guy's house - but only if u can get the AP (/PCI card) to connect properly and act as a relay of sorts.  I am not at all sure that all APs will do that as the security implications of creating a web of connection between all local APs is quite bad - u could tehoretically access a network miles away.  Also I am not sure that u can tell an AP to connect to another network as it thinks it is the cantre of a network, not a node.

And if you want to share it across a wired net u just need the 1 PCI card.

and re: security never ever ever assume that cos its only a small AP it wont go far.  U would be very surprised how far it will go if the receiver uses a half decent antenna - (ever heard of the old pringles can antenna, it was in the news a while ago? V good reception from a long way away, dunno why though) And if he is known to share bandwidth he will be a prime target.

Author

Commented:
Ok. thanks for all the help. I think you've earned the points! :)

Not certain which route Im going to take to start. The desktop/access point route is expensive (1x PCI card, 1x AP, 2x pcmcia cards, + poss Antenna etc).  

So I may just use the PC laptop as the gateway to start off (just 2x pcmcia card and maybe indoor antenna if needed). It can then share the connection with the other laptops via windows ICS.  I can always use a firewall on it (though this does seem to cause some probs when sharing internet via windows ICS as that has a built in NAT firewall too I think) - wont that give me protection from others linked into the node (if I have password protected share-level access).



Author

Commented:
Cheers for all the help.

Commented:
Sorry to all others who get the note about this message, but:
PhillipWJ I have just discovered that you can buy 802.11 repeaters which would solve your problem.  No idea about details though, just read about them on Wired... --CHris

Author

Commented:
Hi Chris

Repeater as in a box than can be plugged in somewhere (not necessarily into a pc or telephone socket) and a) boost the signal and b) act as gateway for all the pcmcia cards in the house?

Author

Commented:
Hi Chris

Repeater as in a box than can be plugged in somewhere within range of next doors signal (not necessarily into a pc or telephone socket) and then a) boost the signal around our house and b) act as gateway for all the pcmcia cards in the house?

Commented:
Yep thats what it looks like. Have a look around --Chris

Author

Commented:
Great one. Thanks for the info. Will have a hunt around.

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