This is just a story which started off badly but now with an increasingly happy ending. Be warned the blog entry is at in-depth WiFi router nerd level – and is probably going to expand over time – there is already some great feedback in here..
Back around May 2020, Banggood supplied me with two routers, a black one which I described as a Mi 2100 router… and a white one with 6 antenna which I didn’t even get so far as to write about. The reason for all of this is simple – both arrived with Chinese instructions and Chinese menus with NO chance of converting to English (other than Google Translate, not ideal when you want to do anything out of the ordinary). To me, both were utterly indecypherable and hence just so much landfill.
Rather than create more waste, I put both routers in a corner until I happened to be talking to my Italian friend Antonio (Mr Shark) in 2021 who suggested we try to hack them to run OpenWRT firmware. As the backdoor hack was beyond me, I let him figure out the back door to open them up – and we installed OpenWRT on them. The result, a pair of routers, one BLACK, the other WHITE – which the OpenWRT status page described as Xiaomi Mi Router AC2100 and Xiaomi Redme Router AC2100 respectively. Broke my heart to leave them doing nothing as they both LOOK excellent.
All very nice, but then what? Well, they sat in a corner from that point on until March 27, 2022 – even then I knew very little about using OpenWRT in it’s LUCI interface and even less in it’s basic SSH-accessed (command line) UCI interface.
I have (had) a general issue with coverage here in our place in Spain – I had until now a GL-iNET router sitting at the bottom of our stairs covering the entire upstairs but only JUST reaching the (impossible to hardwire) upper bedroom… and JUST providing coverage for part of our DOWNSTAIRS (below ground level) bedroom (we have 3 floors – solid rock + breezeblock “cavehome” construction, not ideal for WiFi). othing wrong with the GL-iNet router but the design focus was on having 4G backup for w general purpose router, not getting the best WiFi signal around a solid rock cavehome 🙂
So, March 27, I grabbed the two previously Chinese-only routers with their newly upgraded OpenWrt interface (in English). We tried using them, I griped that I could not get their “hostnames” to show up on my network (it turned out that the routers don’t handle hostnames for fixed -IP devices, only those running on DHCP – but I didn’t know that) – and Antonio got the bright idea of upgrading OpenWrt in both to the latest version of OpenWRT – he also told me that the latest version handles “meshing” – and being greedy I could not resist.
One should never get too greedy – I did and I completely lost access to BLACK. So, rather than give up, I spent hours the following morning hardwiring my Windows tablet to BLACK and messing about so I could talk to the router – and having gained access to a completely factory reset OpenWrt with no LUCI (why??), no editors etc… I managed to go in and change the base range of addresses so I could hook up it’s WAN interface and have it go and download LUCI and an editor (Nano) from the web… the result – WHITE replaces my original GL-iNET with a resulting increase in upstairs coverage and BLACK, positioned behind the TV on the ground floor now ensures our below-ground-level bedroom gets GOOD coverage – in both cases offering both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz WiFi.
Not too bad for what originally seemed like a pair of unusable, un-saleable routers. I get better coverage and simultaneously free up an un-altered GL-iNET FLINT router which happens to have (up to now unused) 4G SIM support but which implies positioning the FLINT somewhere nearer an outside window.
So – anyone finding themselves in a similar situation, I am definitely warming up to OpenWRT – you may too. As a matter of interest, all of the GL-iNET routers, underneath their GL-iNET interface have OpenWRT, I just checked my CONVEXA – its normal interface is GL-iNET’s own – but you can SSH into the UCI interface and from there install LUCI – so you have 3 interfaces – anything you can’t do with one, the other might prove more useful and there’s no doubt that unadulterated OpenWRT is very versatile.
BTW: If I lost you at SSH don’t worry. On a PC I use the very handy Mobaxterm and for casual use – it is free. Assuming something you want to talk to has SSH enabled… simply open an SSH “session” in Mobaxterm. The black window below – is talking to the router by UCI (command line).
Mobaxterm session talking to one of the routers using the CLI called UCI
The browser window below is talking to the router by LUCI.
Web browser control over the router using LUCI
And if all of that isn’t enough I’m starting to get some great comments in here – if you’re interested in OpenWRT – and possibly re-tasking Xiaomi routers – check the comments – and if you’re any good at it, please do add your comments as well.