Simplifying your network with a bridge - Making an FIOs ActionTec MI424-WR a Network Bridge
I have FIOs Fiber-optic internet at my house and I'm very happy with it - have been for years. I get 35Mbit/s both up and down and it's rock solid. It's not technically all fiber of course, as the fiber goes into an ONT (Optical Network Terminal) in my garage and is changed into a COAX (Coaxial Cable) using MoCA technology, travels 50 feet, then goes into a very old ActionTec MI412-WR wireless router with 4 LAN ports. This common device is multi-function and not only changes the Coax to RJ-45 (Standard Ethernet), it acts as a LAN and Wi-Fi router, and also has been my home's DHCP server, passing out IP addresses to devices in my house.
NOTE: It may be possible to call your installer and have your ONT changed to use RJ-45, but Coax is the default for almost every installation I've seen. For most folks, it's fine. However, that Coax connection can limit our choices when adding 3rd party routers. Hence, this article.
The ActionTec MI424-WR is an old but competent router, but it has a very small NAT table which can cause issues over Xbox Live or in houses with dozens of devices, like mine. It also is a router with just 10/100Mbit Ethernet connections. If you're like me and push a lot of local traffic through it or use Gigabit Ethernet you'll want to think twice between flowing your entire home's traffic through this little router. I added a gigabit switch to partition things, but this router remains a weak part of the network.
There's a number of ways to optimize your home network when still using a mediocre router. The #1 complaint with wireless networks is wireless range. The second complaint is (perceived or otherwise) performance, both internally and externally.
TIP: Before you switch the ActionTec router to a bridge and possibly void warranties, here's two other options to improve your network. Otherwise, skip past these to the Bridging Instructions.
Option 1: Add a better wireless router and the ActionTec still does DHCP
I added a Netgear N600 a few years back along with a Netgear GS724T-300 24-port Gigabit Smart Switch. The N600 is powerful and faster Wireless N router for <$100. You can just disable the Wifi on your ActionTec and plug a new router into the old with a wired connection. The new router will get an IP address from the ActionTec and provide Wireless to the house. Just adding a new wireless router may be enough to get you more range without a lot of trouble.
Option 2: Add a second Wireless Router on the same SSID for double coverage
I've written up this option on my blog. You can have two routers with the same wireless network SSID. Before I had the N600, I added a second wireless router on the same SSID and used it effectively as a repeater.
Or, you can bridge the Coax and Ethernet and disable everything else on the ActionTec, removing all but the most fundamental of its functions.
GIANT DISCLAIMER: Let's just be clear here. I'm a random dude on the Internet and I'm showing you how to mess up your router and home network. If this works for you, awesome, I take full credit. If not, we never spoke and I don't know you. I know only what I wrote here. While some of you will write me with questions, I'll apologize now, everything I know is in this post, and I can't help. If there's errors in this post, they are mine and I'll try to correct them. Mess with your home router at your own risk.
Why did I do this? I want my internet traffic flowing through fewer boxes. I also wanted better wireless coverage in the house. I wanted a new, modern router with a larger NAT table, and better management tools. I didn't want to affect my (currently) very reliable internet connection by swapping out my old but reliable ActionTec. I just wanted to remove it from the equation.
WARNING TO THOSE GEEKS IN RELATIONSHIPS: You'll work on this for a whole weekend, like I did, and when you get it all working it'll be totally awesome and you'll love everything about yourself. Then, you'll go and regale our gender-non-specific-non-geek partner with tales of your dramatic success and they will not care. In fact, ideally, they won't even know that you did anything, but perhaps they'll be able to watch House of Cards in the tub when previously they couldn't. Regardless, be prepared for the deafening silence of your non-technical partner's profound apathy.
New Option: Make the ActionTec a Bridge, effectively hiding it from the network, and use a new Router for everything.
First, some irony. There's two great documents at the ActionTec support website.
- The first is called "Can I Bridge the Actiontec MI424WR FiOS Router?" and basically says "The MI424WR does not support Transparent-Bridging, and neither Verizon nor Actiontec support attempting to bridge it."
- The second document located at the same exact website is called "Configure MI424WR as a LAN MoCA Bridge." So. Ya. Drink that in. The point is, you're basically on your own and your Internet provider won't support you if you don't use their devices
That said, here's what I did. I picked up a new Router, specifically a Linksys WRT1900AC (between US$250 and US$300) that just came out.
MORE WARNINGS? REALLY? When redoing your home network you'll want to be prepared to lose connectivity, freak out a little, set static IP addresses, and be prepared to reset things if it doesn't work. If you're not comfortable with any of these things, just stop now.
You're going to be changing your router into a Bridge and it won't be passing out IP addresses any more. You best know where you'll be getting your next IP address from.
- Set your PC to an unused static IP address within the range that your router passes out. For example. 192.168.1.100 for the PC.
- Login to the router's existing IP address, usually 192.168.1.1, and go to My Network, then Network Connections, then Home/Office, then Settings
Note your current router's IP address:
- Set a static IP. You want the PC and Router to have static IPs so you don't lose connectivity between them while you're doing all these changes. Once your IP has changed, you will likely need to access your router from that new IP to finish these instructions.
- Also, disable the Wireless Access Point, you'll be using your other router soon. You only care about Ethernet and Broadband Connection (Coax).
Note also that my Coax and Ethernet are connected and not bridged. Ethernet and Wireless are bridged. That's the normal configuration for this router.
- Go back to my Network, then Settings for Broadband Connection (Coax). Go to Internet Protocol and set your Broadband Connection (Coax) to No IP Address. This step is important.
(They are all important, but this one is doubly so.)
Why? That means you don't want your Coax to pick up an IP Address from the ONT. You intent to pass traffic through (bridge) the Coax to the Ethernet. Your NEW router will use the Ethernet port and pick up the external IP Address from your provider.
- Go back to Configure Home/Office Network and make sure you've checked the boxes under the Bridge section, so Broadband Connection and Ethernet are both checked, as seen below. Note that Wireless is disabled.
- Click Apply and reboot the router.
At this point, the Coax port and the LAN 4 ports will be bridged. If you plug an Ethernet cable from the WAN port of your new router to ONE of the LAN ports of the ActionTec (and wait a while) you should see your new router pick up an external IP address. This did take about 5-10 minutes for me.
NOTE: Don't forget to change your PC's network back to automatically get an IP via DHCP.
Hopefully that's reasonably clear. Here's a visual way to look at it.
Typical Network After Bridging COAX/Ethernet+ New Router
After performing major brain surgery like this you'll need to go over EVERY DEVICE IN THE HOUSE and Release/Renew their IP Address (I recommend this, although there are technically ways around it) as well as connecting them to your new Wireless Network's SSID.
My shiny new router is a Linksys WRT1900AC and it's AMAZING. It's spendy, but works fantastically and is worth the premium. It's nearly doubled my effective range and includes Gigabit Ethernet ports. Everything is faster, both internal traffic, and external.
I hope this guide helps someone improve their home network. Have fun!
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