WAP11 to WET11: Easy, Cheap Wireless Bridging

by Glenn Fleishman

"Only bridge," E.M. Forster would have written if he had read my article last year on connecting wired networks with a pair of Linksys WAP11 wireless access points (APs) set to bridge mode. Judging by reader email, "only bridge" is a plaintive cry for many small network builders. A new and better option from Linksys should answer that call, making it simpler and more affordable--and more hardware-agnostic to implement.

About a year ago, I provided detailed instructions on linking two wired networks using a pair of inexpensive, WAP11 Wi-Fi-based wireless access points.

Until last week, the only easier way to carry out this task had a much higher price tag. The new Linksys WET11 brings a new kind of simplicity for bridging smaller networks over a wireless link, with an appropriate price tag: $130 list price.

The point of the wired-to-wireless-to-wired bridge is to connect networks too remote or too inaccessible for a simple wire to reach them. The networks might be on opposite sides of a wall that you can't or don't want to drill through, across the street from one another, or on either ends of a 20-mile, point-to-point antenna link.

The WAP11 solution was a focused one: the two WAP11s (or more for multipoint links) were switched from AP infrastructure mode, the standard Wi-Fi hub in the hub-and-client network model, to a dedicated point-to-point or point-to-multipoint wireless device.

The most popular question from last year's article about the WAP11s was: Do they really have to connect to a likeminded partner? Can't we just configure one WAP11 and have it hook into a regular AP?

No, no, no! It's not an issue of RTFM, but rather wishful thinking. The WET11 turns that wish into reality. The WET11 can handle up to 30 Ethernet devices and bridge the traffic to any Wi-Fi-certified AP.

Linksys WET11
The Linksys WET11 Wireless Bridge.

Instead of buying two dedicated pieces of equipment (albeit they're only about $99 each), you need to buy just a single $129 device. Instead of messing with strange configuration options using a USB interface that the WAP11 required, you can now use a simple Web interface to point to existing APs you may already be using.

I'm exaggerating about the Web interface a little: with a WET11 out of the box, you have to configure it using a clever little Windows-only program that performs cross-subnet discovery for WET11s. (Can anyone say, "Rendezvous?")

However, it appears that the WET11 is always set to by default. Switch your local IP or add a local Ethernet alias to the subnet and you should be able to connect initially via a Web browser. The user name and password are both "admin".

The Info tab shows all of the current settings for the WET11, including any wireless networks the device is aware of.

WET11 Web Based Configuration
The "Wireless" tab of the WET11's Web Based Configuration Interface.

The Wireless tab lets you choose to configure the WET11 to connect either in ad hoc (machine-to-machine bridging) or in infrastructure mode, the standard for connecting in a wireless LAN. The rest of the settings are familiar to anyone who has added a wireless client to a network (enter the settings necessary for a single client). You can also control some of the tweakier settings, like Transmission Rate (locking the WET11 into strict 11Mbps mode) and access-point density, which controls how much interference elimination the system tries for.

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In the IP Addr tab, set the WET11's information. You may want to opt for a static address, even a static NAT address, to make it easier to find the device next time. In the Admin tab you can and should change the user name and password access.

After saving your changes, the WET11 fires right up and connects. A warning: I tried this in our existing network, and the WET11 was rebroadcasting MAC addresses over its client connection to our Apple AirPort Base Station and really confused the DHCP clients. Be smarter than me, and run your test outside of your existing LAN by connecting one or more computers to a hub, and in turn connecting it to the WET 11.

In the "nice touch" department, the WET11 has an external switch by which you can set whether its Ethernet port is crossover or passthrough, avoiding any need for a special cable. (It ships with a two-foot Ethernet cable!)

If you're trying to bridge several different networks to a single AP, you can hang a WET11 off each of the remote LANs as spokes pointing to that hub. However, keep in mind that many APs have a limit, often not stated clearly, of how many MAC addresses or unique sessions it can handle at once. Because the WET11 is forwarding a ton of separate machines onto another AP, a single AP might wind up not handling a number of spokes.

As another side option, you could take a WET11 and plug it via a wired connection into an AP and daisy chain pairs of these units in a primitive and cheap mesh network to create pods of wireless access, while forwarding a single Internet connection from some part of the network. Latency might be high, however.

The WET11 also has a removable antenna, as do many of Linksys's wireless transceivers, which allows you to swap in a higher-powered, inexpensive antenna. The WET11 is ideally suited to bridge to a central AP in a neighborhood area network, a community network, or a distributed small office network.

One of my officemates recently bought a home about one and a half miles as the crow flies from our new office. His new home and our office are both roughly the same elevation even though we don't have precise line of sight -- a few trees are too tall. We're currently planning to deploy a couple of 24 dBi parabolic antennas and a WET11, and see what happens.

Glenn Fleishman is a freelance technology journalist contributing regularly to The New York Times, The Seattle Times, Macworld magazine, and InfoWorld. He maintains a wireless weblog at

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