Turn An Unused Pi Zero Into A Parts Bin WiFi Extender

We know a lot of you are sitting on an unused Raspberry Pi Zero W, maybe even several of them. The things are just too small and cheap not to buy in bulk when the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, the Zero isn’t exactly a powerhouse, and it can sometimes be tricky to find an application that really fits the hardware.

Which is why this tip from [Tejas Lotlikar] is worth taking a look at. Using the Pi Zero W, a cheap USB WiFi adapter, and some software trickery, you can put together a cheap extender for your wireless network. The Pi should even have a few cycles left over to run ad-blocking software like Pi-hole while it shuffles your packets around the tubes.

[Tejas] explains every step of the process, from putting the Raspbian image onto an SD card to convincing wpa_supplicant to put the Pi’s WiFi radio into Access Point mode. Incidentally, this means that you don’t need to be very selective about the make and model of the USB wireless adapter. Something with an external antenna is preferable since it will be able to pull in the weak source signal, but you don’t have to worry about it supporting Soft AP.

With the software configured, all you need to finish this project off is an enclosure. A custom 3D printed case large enough to hold both the Pi and the external WiFi adapter would be a nice touch.

17 thoughts on “Turn An Unused Pi Zero Into A Parts Bin WiFi Extender

    1. There you go! Yeah this makes sense if the price is free cause it’s lying around anyway but otherwise–old routers are plentiful as e-waste all over the world. And they come with antennas.

    1. Not if your a card carrying member of the PPLD library district, have access to the 3D printer at the 21C library, and the knowledge of how to make a 3D model, to be printed on the 3D printer; oh, also, did you not read the part saying it’s not required.

  1. Hoping over the same frequency is a speed disaster.

    Wifi is a half-duplex medium, where you can receive and transmit at the same time (might be not true for 801.11ac, which use multiple channels, but most of the wifi drivers I have seen are binary and proprietary, so you don’t know how they handle the case of resending packets over the same air).

    Better use 2 wifi cards set over 2 different non-overlaping frequencies (1-6-11 in 2.4Ghz, 5ghz channels are not overlaping).

    Using 2 routers with an ethernet cable in between should give better results.

      1. Yes-ish. The AP decides what channel to use. So you can tell the router to use one channel and the pi and its AP to use another one.
        This is true for all the non channel hopping WiFi standards.

      2. My confusion, as there are 2 kinds of PiZero (with and without wifi).

        The other question is, if you are not afraid of the performance loss, is the driver and the chip of the built-in pizero would support behaving as an AP and a client at the time, like many Atheros chips have been doing for years?

  2. These single-core SBCs never made me quite happy, but they are amazing for long logging tasks where you don’t want to use a MCU for ease of access. I have a pi0w sitting on my desk collecting dust, since their larger brothers are just better at most tasks. The middle-ground is not always the best choice, but these devices are nice to build cameras out of them.

    This is what I want to do, build a cheaper trail camera from one, but I need to do more research on battery packs and sleep modes. If I can get the boot up time low enough a PIR sensor might just work to keep the device idle. I’d hate to be switching again for an ESP and have the pi0w collect more dust.

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