Custom firmware like Tomato allows you to extend the functionality of your network router. Choosing a wireless bridge mode for your Tomato network gives you the possibility of connecting two or more LAN segments through a wireless link. There are multiple modes available with Tomato, including Wireless Client, Wireless Ethernet Bridge, Access Point, WDS (Wireless Distribution System) and Access Point + WDS.
Wireless Bridge mode
You will find routers that support a “client” or “bridge” mode, while others feature a “repeater” mode. Although Tomato firmware doesn’t have a wireless repeater mode, it offers Access Point + WDS, a mode that works in a similar way. We’ll start by checking the modes available and what they can be used for.
This mode lets you connect the router to another router in client mode. This means that the “client” router doesn’t re-transmit wireless signal, but it can share access to internet with other client devices. However, they have to be connected to the router using an Ethernet cable. In client mode, the router has a separate subnet and manages its own set of IP addresses available (pool).
Wireless Ethernet Bridge
This mode works has similarities with “client” mode, but in this case, the router handles DHCP and IP addresses for the two routers in use. Like in client mode, wireless signal is not res-transmitted. However, you can use the Ethernet ports on the back of the router to connect additional devices.
This mode is suitable for establishing a basic wireless access point. It allows you to setup a wireless SSID (service set identifier, which is the name of the network) and password to connect. Access Point mode doesn’t support bridging.
WDS (Wireless Distribution Mode)
This wireless bridge mode can be used to connect two or more routers by exchanging MAC addresses. MAC stands for media access control and the MAC address is used as a network address for Ethernet, WiFi and other network technologies.
Access Point + WDS
This mode works as a wireless access point and also as a wireless bridge.
It is important to note that the wireless modes that we mention in this article, may work in a different way depending on the router and firmware that you have. If you can’t find these wireless options, it is advisable to upgrade your firmware to another mod such as the AIO (All in One) mod or the VPN mod by Shibby. EasyTomato, Shibby and Toastman are some of the mods available and you can find their firmware in the following links:
If you have a large home or need to extend internet access to other areas like a guest house, a wireless bridge can be a good solution. Setting up a connection between two routers over a wireless bridge is not complicated. We’ll start with some important considerations.
Tomato Wireless Bridge Network
With a wireless bridge, two LAN segments are connected using a wireless link, which is known as point-to-point wireless bridge or wireless LAN to LAN bridge. In a true bridge setting, the transmitters only have communication between then and there is not any communication with clients whatsoever. The bridge is only established to connect the two networks and allows wired clients to establish a connection to their LAN ports. As such, they don’t re-transmit the signal to wireless clients. In order to re-transmit wireless signal with Tomato, you should opt for the Access Point + WDS mode.
Keep in mind that these bridge options are not available on all routers. However, Tomato, as well as DD-WRT have become the most popular options when it comes to custom firmware due in part to the fact that they support wireless bridge features. In the official DD-WRT website, you will find a comparison between the modes supported, including a helpful table.
Downsides of a wireless bridge
The main issue with using a wireless bridge in repeater mode and WDS mode is that slower speeds can be expected. If client computers re not connected with a wire and the second router re-transmits the wireless signal, the wireless signal delivered in the additional building (like a guest house), will be reduced by half. Each transmission is called “hop” and the secondary one is affected, resulting in slower speeds.
Wireless clients (devices) that are connected to the second router will not get the same performance and speed as those that are connected to the main router. This is due to the fact that the second router has to complete additional tasks: apart from receiving the signal first from the main router, it also has to re-transmit it to the devices in the secondary environment. If these devices are just being used to browse internet or stream music, there shouldn’t be a major issue. However, if the connection is needed for high-demanding use including online gaming, streaming HD videos and downloading large files, the performance will be significantly affected.
What you can do to ensure an optimal service is to opt for high capacity routers such as two wireless-AC (802.11ac) or wireless-N (802.11n) routers. Having two powerful routers will allow you to enjoy good performance across the network. Additionally, if you opt for dual-band routers, you will be able to significantly reduce the impact of the second transmission or hop. Just use one frequency band for the bridge and the other one for your devices.