It’s fairly common knowledge that most hotels these days have free WiFi in at least part of the hotel. The hotel in question is the Renaissance Waverly that Anime Weekend Atlanta has been at the past three years. Their free WiFi is in the lobby/convention center area (basically the first two floors of the hotel) only. The hotel rooms on floors 3-14 can’t access it directly (believe me, we tried. both on the 4th floor last year and the 11th this year), so either you pay the $10/night to use the wired access, gimp it using a cell phone (be it GPRS, EDGE, 1xRTT, 1xEV-DO, or God forbid CSD or CDMA data) or do without.

We’d already decided to not do the $10/night and were just going to use my cell or something for access. Then I had a brainstorm the weekend before the con. I realized I could do basically a “reverse AP” by setting a wireless network interface as the “WAN” interface and then run the regular ethernet jack into a switch or hub. Not to mention that I’d recently picked up a 15dBi 2.4GHz Yagi antenna and have a Netgear MA311 PCI 802.11b network card, which is based on the Prism2 chipset.

Add all those together and what do you get? A semi-portable “OK let’s get these workstations on the wireless here STAT” setup. I say semi-portable because the board we pulled from a decomissioned firewall went in a rather heavy small form factor case. Definitely not light enough to toss in a laptop bag or a “Go Pack.”

I loaded m0n0wall on the machine for the sake of time. Had I had more time, I’d probably have done a “proper” setup on OpenBSD or whatever, but for our purpose, m0n0wall worked flawlessly. I’d be running it here if it let me assign the same static DHCP mapping to multiple MAC addresses (as I do like to sometimes pick my laptop off my desk and go to another room to access the net). Other than that one little quirk, which is a bit of a nonissue for most people, I like it.

At any rate, the final result looked like this. We had a clear line of sight to the skylights in what was Artists’ Alley that weekend (really the main convention area) and it worked wonderfully.

Because it worked so well, I’m going to be picking up a Soekris net4501 just for that purpose. It will end up living in my laptop bag and will serve as quick and dirty AP or quick and dirty “reverse AP” for a multitude of purposes. Not to mention giving my laptop bag a bit more “sturdiness” since I’m no longer carrying a notebook and textbooks in it in addition to my laptop.

If it works out well enough, I’ll probably pick up another net4501 or a higher model to replace my rapidly aging router machine. Or I’ll migrate it to a CF based setup. Right now I dunno for sure, but it should be fun either way. IPCop is small enough to fit on a 1GB CF card, so I may just do that. Though the Soekris is a lot smaller and wallmountable and would free up some desk space. But for now I’ll stick with IPCop on this old Deskpro 2000.