Ask LH: How Can I Convert My College Room Ethernet To Wi-Fi?

Ask LH: How Can I Convert My College Room Ethernet To Wi-Fi?

Dear Lifehacker,
I am a student staying at a dorm where we don’t get Wi-Fi in our rooms. We have to use Ethernet and are given a unique pairing of username and password to log in via a software the management installed on our laptops.

Dorm room picture from Shutterstock

I’m currently using Connectify to broadcast the Ethernet as Wi-Fi signals for my iPad and iPhone to connect to, but I would like a proper solution to this limited connectivity without having to leave my laptop on. I presume I could do this with a router, but I’m unsure of which one I should get. I’m confused about the different types of routers. Do I need DSL? I’m also concerned over the password locked nature of the internet provided by my dorm, how would my login work with a router? Another issue is that we have a bandwidth quota, and are only allowed one login on one machine at a time, so if I have to use my internet in the printing room, I have to log out on my laptop. How would that work with a router? Any thoughts? Thanks, Cable Confused

Dear CC,

The first thing you’ll want to do is check what the policy is in your residence, as some may ban Wi-Fi precisely in order to reduce bandwidth usage. If this isn’t an issue, check if the university or residence has recommended/supported models. Most routers can be controlled remotely via a web interface, so setting them is easy — simply connect to the cable, log on via Wi-Fi, enter the password and you should be okay. Things can become slightly more complicated if the university software is particularly arcane — all you can do is cross your fingers really.

As to the DSL question, you definitely don’t need it. To solve the printing problem, we advise logging out before you head to the printer room. In today’s increasingly paperless tertiary environment, we’re guessing this won’t be a hugely common occurrence.

Are any of our readers currently boarding at university? Share you own Wi-Fi tips in the comments section below.


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  • Why not get an powerline adapter which has wireless, and plug that into the ethernet ? The onboard software should let you use it as a access point, even though there isn’t a reciprocal powerline adaptor at the other end.

    However, as Chris suggests, using a router will probably be your best bet, just set it to DHCP off, have your wireless on WPA2, and a decent password, and you’ll be the envy of your dorm mates. A cheap and easy Netgear will most likely suffice.
    Logging in should be the same as via ethernet, I’d suggest you do not put your username/password into the router, as all traffic will be logged against your profile, and you won’t be able to just jump off the wireless and hook onto the ethernet.

  • From previous experience (and current work experience), universities don’t want you tampering with the network. This means no extension cables and DEFINITELY no routers/switches/etc.

    I’m not sure how you’ll get past a ‘password-locked’ LAN connection. This is very weird to begin with. Even a router with DHCP off probably won’t work here. Anyway, I have an alternative suggestion below.

    1. Connect the LAN cable to your laptop and use it as a network bridge. True, you’ll have to have your laptop on, but your iPhone/pad will now be able to connect to it.

    2. Create an ad hoc wifi network on your PC. Secure it, as anyone connecting to this will be using your credentials.

    3. Right-click on the LAN adaptor, click Properties, then Sharing.

    4. Tick the ‘allow’ box and select the wifi adaptor with the ad hoc connection.

    5. Connect devices to your created wifi network and you’ll have a data connection.

    Note: if you connect the laptop up to other wifi locations, you’ll probably have to turn off the sharing, then re-enable it once back at dorm. Alternative – buy a cheap old PC to perform this function 24/7.

  • I live on campus and all we have to do is plug a wireless router into the ethernet port and set it to router mode in the portal.

  • “use whatever your uni recommends/allows (if anything)”

    pretty sure this is the opposite of answering their question, to which they were probably more interested in models or required/recommended capabilities.

    • It’s also the only right answer. Network admins are protective of their network architecture, especially in education. I know, I was one. School networks are hell to administrate. In order to service everyone some rules have to be put in place.

      Spanning-tree topology needs to be maintained so radial switches are configured to drop to errdisable when BPDU packets are encountered. Attaching random, unauthorized networking gear to the network is likely to result in a disabled port, a pissed off netadmin and trouble. Limiting single users to single logins on single devices is an AAA issue and likely motivated be accountability and security policies.

      It’s not like wifi isnt provided because no one thought of it. It’s not there for technical and policy decisions. Trying to circumvent the rules without understanding the reasoning behind them is just going to cause problems and annoy people.

      The only correct answer is “ask you uni”. They will help as much as they can, and when they can’t help any more it’s for solid reasons that need to be respected.

      • I hear what you’re saying.. But at the same time perhaps believe you should reread the question in the context of “how can I get away with doing this without annoying anyone” – to which i’d probably personally recommend he simply sets up a NAT gateway. Incredibly unlikely to affect the outside network in any way, unless improperly secured.. but that’s true of all wifi.

  • Turn SSID broadcasting off as well so people (and the uni) don’t see your wireless network.

    • Because nobody ever has sniffed WiFi traffic and found any “hidden” SSIDs…

  • There are still ways how to find out if you are behind NAT, so be careful. Your policy may not allow that.

  • The easiest way to figure out if you can connect a Wireless Access Point to your Network port is to connect you PC and before logging into the network using the supplied software, check your network settings and see if your computer has been allocated an IP address.
    If you PC can get an IP address without logging into the software then you will be find to connect a WAP device in bridged mode. If your computer does not get an IP address then things become more difficult. If you can find out what method the software is using to connect to the network you may be able to fund the right device that can log you in (Some Tomato supported routers may work here)….

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