Using a Linksys WRT54GL as a Wireless Access Point for DirecTV

They said it couldn't be done.  But I never believe Best Buy employees when they try to answer technical questions.  I knew there had to be a way to connect my DirecTV HD DVR HR23-700 to my existing 802.11n network without spending a lot of money.  DirecTV has a guide on how to use a powered access point to connect to the ethernet port of the HR23-700, but none of the big box electronics stores seem to carry access points anymore.  They mostly only carry routers.  Fortunately, there is a way to use these routers to solve the problem, but it does take some fancy work.

This guide will walk you step by step through the complete configuration from start to finish.

[Screen prints coming soon.]

[UPDATE:  This site has quickly been one of the most popular pages on this site.  I will be producing a video walkthrough soon explaining how to configure this setup.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please rop me an email via the Contact Me page and I will be happy to answer your questions.]

My home network runs with a gigabit Airport Extreme Base Station.  At an investment of $179, I did not want to waste the money to replace it with another brand so that I could get the setup to work.  Besides, my AppleTV and Macs work great in my existing network and I only wanted to expand instead of replace.  I could buy a second AEBS and have it run in bridged mode, but I would rather save that money for Vegas than drop another $179 for a single use access point.  So I decided to try a linksys WRT54GL v1.1 that I had sitting around unused.

Now, many internet sites recommend using ports 1-4 of the device to plug into a non-wireless switch to provide wireless coverage.  But that is not what we want.  We want something that can work from a distance without wires to connect to the main wireless router.  If you search Google and find a solution that requires you to run an ethernet cable from the WRT54GL to your router, you have found someone who does not understand your predicament.

The WRT54GL out of the box did not have the ability to be configured as a wireless access point.  The firmware is limited on what you can do to tweak how the device functions.  Fortunately the device is linux based which means there is a whole community of people who have found ways to create their own replacement firmware to get the device to do what we want.

The first step is to flash the firmware with one of these alternate linux images.  A search on the internet shows various configurations where others have configured the WRT54GL for communicating with the XBox360.  There were a variety of recommendations for which firmware to use, but after extensive research I chose dd-wrt because of the simplicity and the variety of routers it supports.  If you are using a WRT54GL v1.1, these instructions are for you.

First, we need to document our existing wireless network installation.  You will need to know your SSID, encryption type, passphrase, channel and IP address of your wireless router.  Since Apple sets these differently from every other product I have used, these instructions are customized for that special configuration.  You can retrieve these settings by using the Airport Utility and connecting to the router.

SSID:  Apple Network a1b2c3
Channel: 11
Encryption: WPA2 Personal / TKIP
Passphrase: Password

[Insert phone AEBS01.jpg]

Now we need to download the firmware so we can flash the WRT54GL.  This requires two files and will only take a few minutes.  Because there is a 8MB flash memory, we can download the mega pack for the secondary firmware install.

  • Go to http://www.dd-wrt.com/dd-wrtv3/dd-wrt/downloads.html and select v24-sp1 from the list to get the latest version. 
  • This is a consumer device so select Consumer from the subsequent list. 
  • Scroll down to Linksys and click on the link to go to the proper directory.
  • Now we want to go to the WRT4GL_1.1 directory.

You will see a broad choice of files to download, but there are only two that you need.  The first is dd-wrt.v24_mini_generic.bin.  The other is dd-wrt.v24_mega_generic.bin.  Pay attention to the file names because it is important that these are installed in the proper order.

  • Connect to your router using an ethernet cable.  You do not want to perform an upgrade over wireless.
  • Login to your Linksys WRT54GL router and go to Administration|Firmware Upgrade.  The default wireless settings are: 

IP: 192.168.1.1
User: admin
Pass: admin

  • Click Browse and locate the dd-wrt.v24_mini_generic.bin file downloaded previously and click Upgrade.  DO NOT POWER OFF THE ROUTER UNTIL COMPLETE!
  • Once the firmware is flashed, use a pen or whatever works to press and hold the reset button on the back of the router for 30 seconds.
  • When the router comes back online, connect back to the router.  The user name has been changed from 'admin' to 'root'.  The password should still be admin.
  • Go to Administration|Firmware Upgrade and browse to find the dd-wrt.v24_mega_generic.bin file downloaded previously.
  • Click Upgrade.
  • Once the firmware is upgraded, reset the device as above one final time.  Your router now has the software necessary to connect to your DirecTV, but we will need to change a few of the default settings.