Whether you have a large house, apartment, or office, you may have found that your AirPort network doesn’t reach into the far corners of your property. Of course, it always seems as though those corners are perfect for your Macs, and consequently, you need some way to extend your wireless network to those areas. Luckily, with multiple Time Capsules, AirPort Extremes, or AirPort Expresses, you can do just that. “Remote” or “Relay” base stations can receive Internet signals from a “main” base station and rebroadcast the signals, thus extending the total range of your wireless network. All you need to do is correctly set up the base stations and place them just close enough to each other that they can communicate. Unfortunately, as easy as it can be to set up an AirPort base station, creating an extended network can be quite confusing. This tutorial demonstrates how to set up extended networks using both the “Extend this network” feature of 802.11n-only networks and the Wireless Distribution System (WDS).
If all of the base stations you intend to use for your network are 802.11n, you can simply follow the directions in “Extended 802.11n Networks.” If you have mixed 802.11b/g/n base stations, or you want to be able to use relay base stations, follow the directions in “Creating WDS Networks.” Both tutorials assume you know how to at least create a basic wireless network with a network name and password.
Whether you follow the Extended or the WDS guide, you must follow the steps in order. This ensures that you create your main base station before you create a remote station. I also recommend that you perform a “hard reset” on all your base stations you intend to combine into a single network. While this is not required, you are less likely to face problems by resetting your base stations to factory settings. To perform a hard reset, plug your base station into an outlet and press the reset button on the base station (using a paper clip) and hold it for 5-10 seconds until you see the status button flash rapidly. The base station will then reset.
Extended 802.11n Networks
Creating a Main Base Station
- Open AirPort Utility from the /Applications/Utilities folder.
- If the base station you want to use as your main base station (the one with the Internet connection plugged in via ethernet) does not appear in the list of base stations, select the wireless network from the AirPort menu that corresponds to your base station. After a few seconds, the base station should appear in the list.
- Double click on your main base station to manually edit it. You should see a window like this:
- Click on the “Wireless” tab to create your wireless network. Give your network a name, choose a type of wireless security (I recommend WPA2) and select a good password. Make sure your radio mode has some level of 802.11n, whether it is backwards compatible with 802.11b/g or is n-only.
- Finally, simply check the box that says, “Allow this network to be extended.” You are now done with the main base station.
Creating a Remote Base Station
Now you can set up one or more remote base stations. These base stations can be plugged into a power outlet anywhere in the house, so long as they can pick up a signal from the main base station.
- Follow steps #1-3 from “Creating a Main Base Station.” If you have performed a hard reset on each device, remember that each one will have its own wireless network name, so you’ll have to connect to each network individually to set up each base station.
- Once you double click on the base station in AirPort Utility to manually edit it, click on the “Wireless” tab to add this base station to the main one:
- Under Wireless Mode, select “Extend a Wireless Network.” You must then fill in the name and password of the wireless network you created with the main base station.
- Finally, if you want to allow additional devices to connect to this remote base station, check the box that “Allow wireless clients.” Then click “Update” to save the changes.
Once you have performed the above steps for each remote base station, you should be able to place them in more strategic locations in your house/office. When they reboot, they should connect to your main base station. If you see a solid green light on the remote base stations, you have been successful (assuming you no longer see separate wireless networks for your base stations in the AirPort menu).
Creating WDS Networks
Before you begin, you may want read the previous section, as it documents many of the same steps that are used to create WDS networks. The WDS networks require a few more steps, however. Most importantly, you must take into account the AirPort ID of each base station. You have to tell the main base station the AirPort ID of each remote base station, and you have to tell each remote base station the AirPort address of the main base station. You can highlight and copy the AirPort ID from the main AirPort Utility window, although I recommend you write down the AirPort ID of each remote base station if you have more than one:
Setting Up The Main WDS Station
- Follow steps #1-3 in “Creating a Main Base Station” from the previous section. Basically, you need to set up the basic wireless network, with a network name, password, and encryption.
- This time, however, select “Participate in a WDS network” from the Wireless Mode pop-up menu:
- Now click the “WDS” tab. From the WDS Mode pop-up, select “WDS main.” Then click the “Allow wireless clients” box:
- Finally, you will need to enter the AirPort ID of each remote base station. These IDs will be placed in the “WDS Remotes” box. To add a remote base station, click the plus button (#3) and enter at least the ID number. You can also enter a description to help you identify the number:
- Once you have added all the remote base stations, click the “Update” button to save your changes and reset your base station.
Setting Up a Remote or Relay WDS Station
First, here’s the difference between a remote and a relay station: remote stations allow wireless clients (computers, iPhones, other devices) to connect to them. Relay stations do this, too, but they also allow other remote and relay stations to connect to them to extend the internet signal even further. Hence the name “relay.” To set up a remote or relay base station:
- Follow steps #1-2 from “Setting Up The Main WDS Station.” If you have performed a hard reset on each device, remember that each one will have its own wireless network name, so you’ll have to connect to each network individually to set up each base station.
- In following steps #1-2, you are going to have to put in the wireless name, password, and encryption from the main base station in the “Wireless” tab and select “Participate in a WDS network” from the Wireless Mode pop-up menu.
- Now select the “WDS” tab to add this base station to the main one:
- Under “WDS Mode” select “WDS relay” or “WDS remote.” In the “WDS Main” box, enter the AirPort ID of the main WDS station.
- If you selected “WDS remote” from the WDS Mode pop-up, you’ll notice there is no “WDS Remotes” box below the “WDS Main” box. This is because you cannot connect additional base stations to WDS remote stations. If you selected “WDS relay,” however, the box appears, and you can enter the AirPort IDs of remote or relay stations that will connect to this particular relay station to get its internet connection.
- Once you have entered this information, click the “Update” button to save your settings and restart your base station.
Congratulations! You have now set up a WDS network. You can verify the network is working by moving the remote/relay stations to an area of the home where they are in range of the main or other relay stations. If everything is set up correctly, the base stations will boot up and display solid green lights, indicating they have connected to their main/relay stations.
Did this troubleshooting guide work for you? Have you found an easier way to get multiple AirPort Base Stations configured? Let others know about your efforts in the comments section.