Point-to-point The quick and inexpensive method of connecting Wi-Fi between buildings

Our wireless connection between two buildings across a small wooded area cost us about $100.

Unfortunately, correctly extending your Wi-Fi from one building to another is a bit of a secret art, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. The key is primarily in recognizing which tools are best for the job. This is not a task that should use normal Wi-Fi mesh components or require range extenders. The good news is that you don’t need to be a specialist or have a ditch witch and a spool of burial-grade cable to connect your house to an outbuilding if you have the proper equipment.

Even though the present generation of Salters is firmly entrenched in suburbia, my parents chose to remain in the country in order to be nearer to their grandchildren. Their home is lovely, but the kind where a tractor with a bush hog is a must and a riding lawnmower is an extra. About 80 meters from the home, in the middle of a mostly forested grove, is the barn where the aforementioned tractor resides. Because of this, it was a great choice for a small-scale do-it-yourself networking experiment.

We are not trying to be the biggest nerds by mounting and targeting things to millimeter accuracy for this activity. Rather, our goal is just to show that anyone can quickly, cheaply, and conveniently connect two buildings wirelessly. In fact, the end outcomes may even be better than satisfactory.

Wireless bridge connecting two points

The optimum solution nearly always involves using a cable to extend a network between buildings; ideally, this cable should be burial-grade, either fiber or Ethernet, placed in a conduit and buried several feet below the surface. But that costs a lot. It’s probably overkill if all you need is reliable Internet connectivity in a neighboring barn or pool house.

However, omnidirectional Wi-Fi-based solutions are nearly never successful. People have experimented with anything from Wi-Fi mesh kits divided between buildings to range extenders. Point-to-point directional Wi-Fi, such as the two kits we recently tested—TP-Link’s low-cost 2.4GHz CPE210 and 5GHz CPE510 outdoor bridges—is the proper solution in this case.

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Short distances are OK for self-install.

Professional installers are the target audience for the marketing and documentation of this and other point-to-point systems, not homeowners. It’s common to hear phrases like “tower mount,” “professional installation only,” and “completely clear line of sight.” This advice is quite sensible if you’re attempting to bridge a few kilometers. But you can get much sloppier over shorter distances.

Here, I’ve purposefully kept everything as straightforward and messy as possible. I zip-tied the house’s Access Point device to a “cat tree” in the living room and pointed it loosely through a picture window toward the barn rather than fixing it to the rooftop. I just placed the client on a utility shelf on the barn side, purposefully aiming it a few degrees off-center from the home unit.

Fast Ethernet vs 5 GHz versus 2.4 GHz

These two TP-Link kits employ a single radio and are compatible with the outdated 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) protocol, as are many other directional Wi-Fi bridges. Both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz version are available for purchase. And although it’s easy to assume, “Oh, 5 GHz will be faster,” that won’t always happen.

5 GHz Wi-Fi delivers less penetration and range than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, despite the fact that it can theoretically handle higher throughput. These are crucial elements to consider when trying to breach multiple walls or a limited area of forest. The wired Ethernet interface is typically the limiting factor when it comes to this and many other inexpensive Wi-Fi bridges, rather than the Wi-Fi itself.

The wired ports on the CPE210 and CPE510 are Fast Ethernet (100Mbps), not gigabit. Therefore, anything above 100Mbps is essentially lost. Since 2.4 GHz has a wider penetration and range, most individuals in rural regions should utilize it. In densely populated suburban regions, 5 GHz would be a better option because to its reduced penetration and range, particularly if the residences of other neighbors are directly in line with the new bridge.

Plus, TP-Link has a more sophisticated, recent point-to-point AP. Although I was unable to test it, that specific gadget has a gigabit interface and 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5)—if you require more than 100Mbps, it might be something to think about. But because of its physical intricacy, installing the CPE710 will take more work in addition to some more expense.

How everything functions

Hidden beneath a weather-resistant access panel, these straightforward point-to-point APs contain a single port—a 100Mbps Ethernet interface. The access point receives both power and data from that single interface.

You can feed your AP with a Power over Ethernet (PoE) switch, just like you would with a camera or other device, if you already have one. Use the PoE injector that comes with the CPE210/CPE510 if you don’t have a PoE switch; it has three Ethernet ports: one for “Data” that connects to your network, one for AC power, and one for Power + Data that connects to the AP.

Everything functions exactly the same on the distant side. To power and feed the access point, you can use the included injector or a PoE switch. If you are utilizing the injector, you can feed an entire network through a switch or simply plug the “Data” port into one device.

I do not advise directly connecting client devices (such as laptops, phones, and tablets) to TP-Link bridges, even though they support the connection. A number of devices configuring to share the same Wi-Fi band and channel as the bridge APs will negatively affect the quality of the point-to-point link.

To enable “whole barn Wi-Fi,” all you need to do is connect a Wi-Fi access point, such as the TP-Link EAP-225, to the bridge’s output. Your devices will even roam to either side of the link automatically if you set it up with the same SSID (network name) and password as when you join at home.

You might not want to use the above-mentioned independent access point method if your main residence has Wi-Fi mesh installed, like Eero. Rather, take one of your mesh kit’s nodes outside to the guest house or barn and connect the CPE210/CPE510 to its Ethernet interface. From then, everything will “just work” as if the barn Eero was still a home Eero, with the Eero node viewing itself as wiredly connected to its mesh siblings.

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Setup

I tested TP-Link bridges that make use of the “Pharos” setup interface. You will need an Ethernet-equipped laptop or PC that you plug into the same network as the bridge unit in order to log in to a brand-new Pharos-powered bridge AP. (On the remote side, you’ll plug straight into the power injector of the AP’s “Data” port.)

You browse to the factory default IP address of the AP at http://192.168.0.254/ after temporarily assigning your PC a static IP address in the 192.168.0.x subnet, for instance, 192.168.0.10. Following a default admin:admin login, a Quick Setup wizard will appear, asking you to choose a new username and password.

Client in the barn, access point in the home

Selecting an option for your device—Access Point, Client, Repeater, Bridge, AP Router, or AP Client Router—occurs on the first page of the Quick Setup Wizard. To put it simply, you want to be in Client mode in your outbuilding and Access Point mode inside your house.

We do not advise using any other mode, or if you must read this article for guidance, we do not advise using any other mode at all.

Lastly, before starting the client setup, check sure the access point is fully configured. During initial configuration, the Client must establish a connection with the preconfigured Access Point.

IP configurations

After choosing Access Point or Client mode, you will have the option to modify the Ethernet interface’s IP settings and subsequently the radio’s Wi-Fi settings. You cannot have both the AP and the Client on the default 192.168.0.254 IP address. The only criterion for the devices’ Ethernet is that they have different IP addresses.

It’s not necessary to assign them addresses on the same subnet (for example, 192.168.1.50 on a 192.168.1.x LAN) if you want to be able to access their interfaces with ease from your primary network. When someone has to manually modify a laptop’s IP settings before it can access the AP configuration pages, you may actually welcome a bit “security by obscurity” in some situations.

Wi-Fi configuration

You must configure your bridge’s WiFi after setting up its IP settings. It entails building a network on the Access Point side, and connecting to the network you have already established on the Client side.

Your “real” Wi-Fi network should not be compatible with the Wi-Fi settings you set up for the AP; these are just for the point-to-point devices to locate each other! Generally speaking, the default SSID, which starts with “TP-LINK_Outdoor,” is a decent option. However, I strongly advise changing security to WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK and creating a password.

Distance

The “Distance” setting, which permits a range of 0 to 27.9 km, is the last one. It could be tempting to turn everything up to “really blast that signal out there.”Avoid it!You risk damaging your own throughput and possibly disrupting the RF environment for many linear miles beyond your own link if you set the distance too high.

Our link crossed a about 80-meter distance, much of it through highly forested areas. I thus precisely set the distance to 0.1 km, and I was able to get the best possible performance out of these gadgets.

You only need to select “Next,” verify your selections, and then “Finish” when you’ve established your distance. A column of green LEDs on the side of each device, when fully configured, provides a rapid visual indication of the link quality.

In most scenarios, achieving full signal strength and quality shouldn’t be too difficult. Therefore, if only a portion of the column is lit, think about either precisely directing the devices or clearing some obstructions.

Outcomes

A qualified installer would have pole-mounted each side of these devices on the outside of the corresponding building and run an Ethernet connection from the interior of the structure to the pole. I purposely chose not to do that; instead, I left the Access Point in the living room and pointed it through the window on the home side. I just placed the client on a utility shelf on the barn side.

Both the 2.4 GHz CPE210 and the 5 GHz CPE510 flawlessly attained their maximum wired-Ethernet-limited throughput of approximately 100 Mbps, even with my shoddy installation. It is not unexpected, I found, that the 2.4 GHz link is more tolerant of even worse installations and more physical obstacles.

Twice, in March and June, we conducted tests on both kits. Both CPE210 and CPE510 performed nearly as well inside the barn (with its corrugated metal walls) as they did outdoors on the utility shelf, even with minimal leaf on the trees. Moving the 2.4 GHz CPE210 inside the barn reduced throughput slightly to a steady 80 Mbps in June due to the dense foliage on the trees, while the 5 GHz CPE510’s throughput dropped significantly to less than 20 Mbps.

For those with somewhat longer, ugly hauls, it’s important to note that even the ~20Mbps link worked flawlessly, which stands in stark contrast to the house’s own Wi-Fi at the same distance. After some trial and error, I was able to link my test laptop directly from the barn to the home Eero in March, though at a very slow throughput of a few kilobits. I was unable to connect to the house network in June, let alone see it from the barn.

In summary

I installed the 2.4 GHz CPE210 and 5 GHz CPE510 kits with deliberate carelessness, pointing one vertically, one horizontally, and one inside the house. Nevertheless, I got great results. Speed tests conducted over 100Mbps fiber Internet while linked to a barn Eero feed over a point-to-point link or to an Eero device inside the home showed no discernible differences.

Therefore, these devices can bridge more than 25 km as long as they are mounted and aligned properly, and as long as there is a clear line of sight. However, professional installation, mounting, and/or tree-trimming are required for this. However, none of that was required for my own 80 m experiment, and it won’t be for most people using this system on any reasonably close outbuildings.

With either of these kits, you can wirelessly bridge two buildings almost effortlessly if you’re a somewhat technical user. You won’t need to hire a professional installation or spend hours researching precise mounting hardware. Throughout my installation, I utilized nothing more complicated than a zip tie on either end, made no effort to remove any obstacles, and still achieved fantastic results. Trust us, you too can succeed.

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