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Extended Apple Wifi Networks


Murphy has been keeping an eye on threads in Apple Discussions about firmware updates to Airport base stations. Problems with the 7.6.3 update aren’t universal. It seems the people who are having trouble are using more than one Apple router.

The issues are somewhat varied. Some report basic connectivity problems and many report a significant slowdown on their network.

But the main reason I’m posting is to point out a couple of Apple Support documents I’d never seen before, referenced by Vijay S on the Apple Discussions support site. The articles address setting up a roaming network. Roaming means you have multiple base stations, and your devices automatically connect to whichever one has the best signal without your intervention. Vijay points out that setting up a roaming network might not be as intuitive as you’d expect. I’d have to say I agree.

When I extended my wireless network I referenced a book I reviewed a long time ago, Taking Control of Your 802.1n Network by the incomparable Glenn Fleishman. If you’re interested in fine-tuning your Apple-based network you should grab this book. The latest edition includes updates covering changes to the Airport Utility and Mountain Lion.

The two Apple documents referenced by Vijay are :
Extending the range of your wireless network by adding additional Wi-Fi base stations
Setting up and Configuring a roaming network (802.11 a/b/g/n)

One point that gets some emphasis: If you can use Ethernet cable to extend your network you should. When we had our kitchen renovated last year I finally got an Ethernet cable running to the back of the house. My main Airport Extreme base station was upstairs toward the front of the house. Now I have coverage in the back of the house as well via an Airport Express wired into my network.

The key thing I learned when reading the Glenn Fleishman book was making sure your wireless networks have the same ssid name, password, and security settings. The only exception in my case is that I’m running both 5 and 2.4ghz networks. The 5ghz networks have different names than the 2.4 ghz networks because you probably have a reason for picking one over the other.

Some people prefer to lump their 5 and 2.4ghz networks into one name; you can read up on that in this Ars Technica article. Personally I agree with this comment so I can easily identify which band I’m connected to.

With two base stations serving up wireless networks named and secured the same way my wireless devices can roam from one base station to the other without the user noticing. It’s great.








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12 comments to “Extended Apple Wifi Networks”

  1. Good information; most people do not realize how easy it is to set up an series of Airport Express units to extend your network via ethernet (which is the same as setting up a roaming network). Essentially, you are setting up multiple identical individual networks with exactly the same SSID, settings and password; thus your devices “see” each new network as identical and link to the strongest one. The improvement in signal strength and speed is terrific, but obviously a prerequisite is that you have multiple active ethernet ports in your home or office.

    My experience has been that the software sets up virtually automatically and quickly. There are two methods of doing this that I have used; both seem to work. Try number 1 first:

    1) Using newer Airport basestations and the most recent Airport Utility app, simply plug your Airport Express (WAN port) into the ethernet wall port and power it up, then go to your Airport Utility software. The utility software is now smart enough to figure out what you’re trying to do, and that will force it to auto-setup as a wired ethernet extender, not wireless and you are done.

    2) Setup by plugging your Express into your Extreme base station and allow it to setup in the following steps:

    -1 Reset Express
    -2 Once the Express is reset and powered on, connect the Express to the Extreme with an ethernet cable (LAN port Extreme to WAN port Express),
    -3 Open airport utility which will detect the Express and will ask you which configuration you wish to proceed with
    -4 Select “Create A Network”
    -5 The Airport Utility may take over. Click next, wait a few moments (depending on your system configuration) airport utility will prompt you that the process is done and that the express will extend your extreme wireless network via ethernet,
    -6 Disconnect Express and place in the room you are going to use it in.
    -7 Plug in Express
    -8 Once Express is powered up, use an ethernet cable to connect the Express WAN port into Ethernet port (e.g wall)

    I found this discussion to be useful, but the other documents you cited are also good.

  2. Bob – thanks for that.

    I didn’t mention: I almost never use the new Airport utilities, I like the old one.

    And I don’t plan on updating my firmware to 7.6.3

  3. You can definitely have a switch connecting the two products. In my house all wall ports lead to a switch in the basement. Both my Extreme and my Express are plugged into those wall ports that lead to the switch.

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  5. Needed some help. I have an AirPort Extreme base station which covers most of the house. I have an airport express which I currently use to extend the network in one corner of the house. I wanted to know if I can use another airport express in the other end of the house to extend the network from the base station (extreme) or do I have to create another network or is it not possible to use 2 airport expresses to extend network from an AirPort Extreme. Thank you so much.

  6. All of the diagrams that I have seen on connecting a roaming network show the additional base stations all connected to the primary. I have a HUGE house and have one Airport Extreme with four Airport Expresses extending wirelessly. I have a lot of brick and stone walls and also tile floors upstairs. This limits communication between the base stations.

    What I would like to do is to link a second Extreme via Ethernet and place it upstairs. I want to then extend a few Expresses, both via Ethernet and wirelessly. Can I do the connections in series, i.e. Extreme 1 – Extreme 2 – Express?

    My IT guy told me that the expresses would connect in a series wirelessly and extend the network from one to the next if one of them couldn’t see the primary base. Apple says that without a WDS setup, the closer one would block the far one and no signal will get through.

    Can you provide scenarios that will allow two Extremes both connected via roaming and extended network that will work seamlessly as a single network?


  7. Well, I tried it. My Macs are fine with it, but my new AppleTV cannot figure out whether it is going to connect to the base station (which gives only 3 stars of connectivity) or the express (which gives 5 stars). The express is 20 ft away. The base station is as much as 150 ft. When on the base station, it works. When on the express, it doesn’t.

    Maybe I need to start over, but as far as i’m concerned I followed the steps outlined, but “something” is still broken.

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  12. This has been the best series of comments and options I’ve seen in the past three days that I’ve been pulling my hair out to fix an extended wifi system. I just finished building a large two story home of solid concrete, steel, ceramic tile: I’m retiring in Thailand. I swear by Apple products and decided to purchase all new: TimeCapsule as main router and four Airport Express for extending throughout the house. I was smart enough to hard wire the entire house with 12 ethernet ports. With the thick walls of concrete and steel I cannot get wifi three rooms apart.
    My problems were horrendous when I set it up in “EXTEND AN EXISTING NETWORK”.
    One of the major problems I had was even after getting the system to initially connect, my IOS devices could not connect and all connections cut in and out.
    I just walked from my office across the family room and up the stairs and into my bedroom with my iPad; and full connection strength and no indication of handoff.

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