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2007-05-22

Airport Extreme WDS daisy chain

I've added two airport extreme 802.11n base stations to my WDS network. Mostly this was straightforward. The basic procedure is just as described earlier for the previous Airport models. The UI of the new Airport Utility app is clearer than the previous version.

However, I found the two Airport Extreme base stations got confused when I used DHCP to link them into the network. Instead, I've given them manually assigned IP addresses - in the same 10.0.0.xxx range as I use for DHCP. My Alcatel Speedtouch DSL modem acts as a DHCP server, and I've set it to distribute addresses above 10.0.0.16 — which leaves me plenty of addresses below this to allocate manually.

The network is now something like this (with some base stations running the full range of protocols, 802.11b,g,n, and othersonly one of these, as shown):


     airport(b)  express(g) = speakers
            \    /
    disk = extreme(b,g,n) - airport(g) - express(g)
           /                                 \         
       = extreme(b,g,n) = printer          express(g) = speakers
      |       
router     
      |
       = airport(b,g)

Here, "airport" means an old conical airport extreme; express is the small block airtunes gizmo; extreme is the new 802.11n-capable mini-sized device.

To insert a new base station into my existing network, I first set its MAC address (aka airport ID) as the WDS main value for each of its children; then I configured the new base station with the children's MAC addresses in the WDS remotes list.

To configure the new devices I found it easiest to switch off the other base stations, and connect wirelessly to the new device. If you click on the name of a setting shown under the Summary tab, you are taken directly to the tab where you can edit the value. You want Wireless Mode: Participate in a WDS network. You should also set the Channel: and Network Name: to match the other base stations. Then you can set IP Address:. (As described above, DHCP confuses my two new Express base stations, so I set Configure IPv4: Manually. You can find the subnet mask and router address from the configuration of another base station. You may want to try Configure IPv4: Use DHCP first, as this is simpler.) For WDS relay and remotes you want Connection Sharing: Off (Bridge Mode). This is also correct for the WDS root if your modem acts as a DHCP server; otherwise you may need the WDS root to act as DHCP server (Distribute a range of IP addresses).

9 comments:

Chris Hanck said...

Glad I stumbled on your post Michael. It does appear that the AP Express has trouble dealing with DHCP addresses from the WDS main (Apples docs seem to think this works just fine...) I set a manual IP within the main stations range, synced my WPA2 passwords and was good to go. Finally!!!

slam said...

same for me. DHCP did not work on the remote WDS hub. manual IP addresses fixed the problem.

interestingly enough, after being on manual addressing once, switching back to DHCP worked ok.

Anonymous said...

Guess what. Airport Express units don't work with WPA in WDS/bridge mode.

If you are combining any form of Extreme/Airport with Airport Express units that are not Extreme Express (N) units, you are limited to WEP 128 encryption.

See this:

http://arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/airportexpress.ars/4

Or contact Apple Support directly.

PS. Its NOT mentioned in the Apple's advisory "Designing Airport Networks".

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment above: that link is detailing a bridge network between an AP Express and AP Extreme, rather than AP Extreme to AP Extreme.

The article is also out of date, new firmware is available that supports WPA for WDS:

http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=107791

Anonymous said...

thank you thank you! manually setting the ip did the trick! so glad i found this article after banging my head for 2 hours...

mkoistinen said...

Just a note for anyone tuning in more recently (June 2009). I was able to use Airport Express and WDS to eliminate the poorly performing WAP built into my Internet router/modem.

The router/modem is getting long in the tooth. Its WEP implementation was OK, but when I switched up to WPA, it was very flaky, dropping connections on various clients randomly. Also its range was poor leaving some dead spots in the house.

I've now turned off the Wi-Fi on my ADSL modem, and connected an Airport Express N (AEN) via ethernet to create a bridged WDS wireless network as the WDS main base. I also have an older Airport Express G (AEG) which participates in the WDS network as a remote, extending the range of the network to the other side of the house.

Both the AEN and the AEG act as bridges to the same subnet provided on the Ethernet interface of the internet modem/router. This allows me to continue to manage all the NAT requirements from the one place; on the router and keeps the topology of the network dead simple.

I found this webpage when I was having trouble setting it up and thought that using manual IP was the answer, and it may have been, but my real problem was one of the AE's was set to another wireless channel. I now have both set up on the same wireless channel and I'm using DHCP again, and they work great.

Also, I have AirTunes working perfectly on the AEN and AEG, and, the new AEN allows me to use "Back to my Mac". Sweet.

Compared to other wireless access points and their ilk, the Airport Express is a bit more expensive, but SO much more capable and flexible. Those other boxes ultimately get tossed after about 2 years, but you can always find uses for the Airport Expresses!

If anyone cares, my AEN is v7.4.2 and the AEG is 6.3.

Anonymous said...

@mkoistinen: thanks for your comment and updating this "Tip"

You router/airport configuration is nearly the same as mine, but was unsure if the WDS main could work in Bridge Mode. Good to know it does!

My 6 yr old Airport Extreme Base Station (802.11b/g, UFO-style) is getting re-tasked to supplant Uverse RG wireless at my parents house. I find that Uverse has weak signal strength and is stubborn w/ Macs. (annoying DMZ settings).

I always prefer Airport routers. Those other wireless routers last only a few years.

Anonymous said...

@ mkoistinen:
Your setup is very similar to mine. I set my DSL box as router only (turned off wireless, it was very primitive anyways). I have an Airport Express 11n in bridge mode, so that DSL box distributes the IP addresses. That way my wired computer and all the wireless clients are all part of the same network.

Then, I set my old Airport Express as WDS remote to act as" WiFi to ethernet adapter." My first couple tries with WPA2 security did not work. Then, I changed the security of my wireless network to WEP, everything worked. At first I thought WPA was not going to work and I was really disappointed, but I set the security back to WPA2 Personal and now it works. I am pretty sure I had everything else set correctly during my unsuccessful trials, so it seems you need to get them to join the WDS network once somehow without WPA. Afterwards, WPA is OK.

I also had to enter MAC address (Airport ID) of the old AE into the WDS main as the wireless client and I had to enter MAC address of the n-version of the AE as the main into WDS tab of the old AE. Apple's support article talks about an auto configure option, but I did not see such an option. I don't know whether the new Airport Utility software removed it or whether that is only an option for Airport Extremes.

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