June 21, 2008

Technology moves at a very fast pace. Products are continually updated with new features, and the prices keep dropping as cheaper manufacturing methods become a reality. However, purchasing a new product doesn’t always mean ditching the older one.

In my case, the updated product is the Airport Extreme Base Station with gigabit ethernet. I have used a D-Link wired router in conjunction with an Airport Express base station ever since I got into the wireless networking game, and when Apple came out with the new wireless N router, I knew it was time to upgrade. That got me thinking about what I could do with my older wireless G based Airport Express. As soon as I got my iPod touch, its fate was sealed: both routers would share my network to all areas of my house (I decided to ignore the Wireless N feature of the Extreme so that my iPod could join). But how?

After looking around for a while, I have the solution, and present that here so that others may benefit.


Set up the main base station

You may have heard of WDS before, probably in the fine print of an instruction manual. WDS — or wireless distribution system — allows multiple access points to share the same network and internet connection over a much wider area when compared to single systems. This tactic is often used on university campuses for complete property coverage. It has been a feature of every Airport Extreme model since they first came on the market, and it can only be used with other Airport routers.

Airport Network Settings

To set up the main base station, you likely only need to make one change to your current setup. With Airport Utility (Applications/Utilities) open to the Wireless tab, you will see the box Allow this network to be extended, which needs to be checked. Once you save the settings and restart the router, you will see a new tab called WDS. That’s it for the main station, now you can set up the remote access point.

Set up the remote station

With my particular setup, I’m using an Airport Extreme and Airport Express, but any combination of Airport stations are acceptable, as long as they are using the same frequency (A, B, G, N, etc).

The easiest method for configuring this remote station is to reset it to factory defaults. For instructions about your particular model, have a look at Apple’s instructions for the Extreme, with links to the other stations. Most require you to simply hold the reset button while the station is plugged in.

With the base station reset to factory defaults, you will notice a new wireless network called Apple Network xxxxx. This is the remote station, and you will need to join this network before configuring the router.

Airport Network Settings

​Open the Airport Utility while on this network, and you will be able to use the Setup Assistant to do the dirty work, which I have found to be much more efficient than doing it manually.

Airport Network Settings

​The rest of the setup can be accomplished by following the assistant and inputting the correct options. The screens appear as follows:

  • 1. Base Station details
  • 2. Wireless network condidtions - choose I have a wireless network and want to add another base station
  • 3. I want this router to wirelessly join my current network
  • 4. Extend the range of my Airport Extreme network
  • 5. Choose your original network from the dropdown menu
  • 6. Automatically find the original base station’s address
Wireless Mode

​When the Assistant has completed the setup and restarted the routers, you should see both base stations inside 1 Airport Utility window — much like the photo above. Both routers will show Participate in a WDS network in the Wireless panel.

There you go. Now you can hang on to that early base station and create a network that covers more area than either could do on their own.

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