Extend Wireless Range with AirPort Extreme

by David on September 29, 2008

Is your wireless network area just too small for comfort? Are you always walking your laptop just out of range? If you have an AirPort Extreme router, your problem can be solved by adding another AirPort Extreme to your network.

It is a simple matter of getting the settings right. For reliability and maximum range, I chose to “wire” them together, even though you should be able to extend them wirelessly.

I put my AirPort Extreme base stations at opposite ends of the house, making it easy to use our laptop computers anywhere in the house, with range to spare onto the back patio.

The trick is to make the second one (the one NOT connected to your DSL or Cable Modem) a “bridge” connection.

First, get the “main” base station set up and running correctly. Make sure you have enabled the encryption scheme of your choice (choose the most secure encryption algorithm that all of the computers on your network can connect to).

AirPort Extreme Wireless Settings

AirPort Extreme Wireless Settings

Once your “main” AirPort Extreme base station is running and all of your computers can connect to it, connect the “extension” AirPort Extreme to the first one. Mine are connected through a “Network Switch” (similar to the network “hubs” of a few years ago).

AirPort Extreme Main Base Station Settings

AirPort Extreme Main Base Station Settings

Set up the Internet Connection Sharing to “Off (Bridge Mode).” The Wireless Options should be the same as on the “main” base station.

AirPort Extreme Network Extension Settings

AirPort Extreme Network Extension Settings

 

Note: Name the network the SAME on both AirPort Extreme routers. Also, use the same password for both stations. This way, your computer can connect to either base station with only one “key” in the keychain. It worked for me.

Set up each base to choose its wireless channel automatically. 

When you are at one end of the house and move to the other end of the house, momentarily “turn off” your laptop’s AirPort:

and turn it right back on again:

It will find the base with the highest signal strength automatically:

Any questions?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Hollin May 17, 2009 at 8:11 am

That’s handy. Just what I’ve been looking for. Tried bridging with two base stations as described here and it works a treat. Thanks for the tip.

Juan August 10, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Been looking for this, and found exactly what I wanted. Will try to do this at home at some point this week using an Airport Extreme and an Express (both n’s).
Your text gave me some good insight on how to do this and possibly clarified some questions I had.

Thanks!

Sacha January 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm

would this work with the airport express? we share a connection with our neighbor downstairs and have the airport express upstairs in our area. Should we connect them via a “bridge” as you suggest, instead? Not a techie, so not sure how to do this. Thanks!

David January 4, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Sacha: According to Apple’s web site, you can extend a wireless network with Airport Express. See this description of Airport Express on the Apple site for more information.

Eric June 15, 2010 at 12:23 am

I’ve tried this with 2 airport extremes (older ones)… and keep getting an error on the last step in the Airport Setup Utility. Any Ideas why?
Do I need any other hardware besides the 2 Airports?
thanks

David June 15, 2010 at 12:38 am

As I stated in the post, there is a network switch between the two Airport Extremes. The main Airport Extreme connects to the Switch, which then connects to the wired jacks in the house. The other Airport Extreme is connected to one of the wall jacks at the other end of the house. This configuration works for me.

Do you get an error message? What is the error?

Davy August 30, 2010 at 2:49 am

I have an Airport Extreme Base Station and a Innacomm W3100 modem. Is it possible for them to combine too?

Dennis January 26, 2011 at 2:18 am

What would be the process for adding a 3rd Airport Extreme? Or would it be the same?

David January 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Dennis: Yes. According to the Help pages, the process for adding multiple Airport Extremes is the same. All base stations (except the first one) should be set up in Bridge Mode.

For additional information, check the Help > Airport Utility Help for the entry entitled “Using multiple base stations in an Ethernet network.”

Eric February 11, 2011 at 11:43 am

Can I use the ethernet port of a Airport Extreme in Bridge Mode to connect to a PC without wireless?

David February 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Eric: Yes. I have a desktop computer (iMac) connected to one of the open ports on the Airport Extreme that is in Bridge Mode and it work great!

Eric February 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Thanks David…

I have a Time Capsule as my main router and a AirPort Express as a bridge node in my network.
I’m thinking about to buy a Sony Bravia with a ethernet port to my living room.
So, if I will connect this TV on Airport Express ethernet port, it will work. That’s right?
Regards…

Peter Guyton March 27, 2011 at 6:08 am

This is a a good article. Would you consider updating the screenshots for the latest version of the Airport Utility? The screens have changed slightly under the “Internet” options as “internet connection” and “TCP/IP” are split out on two screens.

One thing which is not clear. On the “extended” base stations, should the “Allow this Network to be extended” option be checked? I know it has to be set on the primary base station, but am not sure it matters on the extended one….

Peter Guyton March 27, 2011 at 6:11 am

… one more thing. The newer Airport Extremes have a “Guest Network” option. Might be good to see if that can be turned on without affecting the extension of the main wireless network.

David March 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Peter… you’re right the screens have changed a bit. If I get some time, I’ll get them updated.

In answer to your question: on my extended base station, I have checked the “Allow this network to be extended” but it won’t do anything until I use another Airport Extreme (or Airport Express) to wirelessly extend the network.

I have done this successfully at a relative’s house, but my own setup is wired together as explained in the post. The wired version works better for me, incidentally.

Forrest June 16, 2011 at 8:55 am

David – thanks a lot for the details note, I think Apple owes you one for this (the current help on configuration in Airport Express section is simplistic to say the least)

I have a lab where I use an Airport Extreme to connect to DSL, I’ve got Airport Express work out-of-box. In my 2nd lab, I’ve got a Wi-Fi/ADSL2 router supplied by my telecom company (called ‘beetel’) and I’m having problems extending it with Airport Express – the Airport Utility doesn’t seem to be able to detect the AE after restart. Here’s what I tried:

1. Had my Wi-Fi up & running (network name: PASTA)
2. Booted Airport Express, chose Manual Setup and went for option “Extend my Wireless Network” and chose PASTA and specified its password
3. Airport Utility restarted the device after saving changes, and AE went invisible.

Just to cross check, I tried connecting an Ethernet cable between AE and the beetel router and went for option “Create Wireless Network” and that was a breeze.

Bottom line – can Airport Express extend only an Airport Extreme WiFi network?

Thanks for your notes & time
Forrest

Ernie September 3, 2011 at 7:18 am

Hi David!
My school has been running a 12 station (extremes and expresses) WDS network that we are changing to a wired network to increase reliability and prevent the downstream base stations from going offline if an earlier station goes down. The cables to all of the downstream base stations come from a switch, like your network. After several frustrating hours of occasional fleeting connections once I had switched over to the cables, I reset all of the base stations to default, got them all to show up, and then started configuring them, then ran into more glitches.

Your set-up looks pretty much like what I was trying to do, but there are a couple of points that I’m not sure of.

1) Is the cable connected to your downstream (extension) base station via WAN or LAN ports? WAN was what I was trying, based on what I remember from way back when I networked 2 silver base stations together, in the days before WDS, but my coworker, who used to do networking in a PC environment says the should input to the LAN port. Given that the Expresses only have the WAN port, I’m pretty sure WAN is correct.

2) You state the wireless options should be the same between the base stations. For clarification, this means that they should be on “create a wireless network,” correct?

Once I get things running, I’ll post again.

Great write-up! Thanks,
Ernie

David September 3, 2011 at 9:24 am

Ernie – answering your questions:

1) Yes, the cable to my downstream (extension) is plugged into the WAN port.
2) Yes, mine is set to “create a wireless network.”

Please let me know how it all works out!

David September 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

Ernie: one more idea that came to me as I was thinking about your glitches…

I ran into trouble when my neighbor set up a wireless access point. I lost connections, got slow connections and generally had lots of problems without warning. I didn’t even know that he had set up a wireless network until my devices displayed his SSID.

What I figured out was that my wireless channel was the same as my neighbor’s wireless channel. I had originally set the stations to select the channels “automatically.” In order to fix my problem, I ended up assigning my wireless channels manually. This solved a lot of problems. My setup is back to trouble-free.

If I were setting up the network you are describing, I would create a location map and assign wireless channels manually so that they do not interfere with each other.

If you still have problems, check for other devices and ad-hoc networks on the same channel as your stations. You might have laptops or desktops sharing their wired connections wirelessly somewhere in the building(s).

Just a thought.

Ernie September 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Thanks, David. All of them were originally set up on the same channel for the WDS, and I hadn’t thought about that, except as Automatic. Unfortunately, we’re running 2 other wireless networks (a B network for some older computers, and a network for the administration that we want to keep separate from the student one.

I’ll hopefully report success later today!

Ernie

Ernie September 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I’ve got 10 green lights on my AirPort Utility panel (someone else did the wiring, and missed a couple of base stations – I’ll put them on “Extend” until the cables get run). Now to check them!

Ernie September 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm

We’re running on 10 cylinders! Everything works, even the printers!

Great article, David. Thanks for the help!

Ernie

David September 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Ernie – that’s great! I’m glad to hear it worked out! And thank you so much for sharing your results with the rest of us.

David

Linda September 26, 2011 at 3:32 am

Hi David,

Came across your blog whilst searching on how to extend my Airport Extreme Wifi coverage.

I have an Airport Extreme Base Station on the ground floor of my home and would like to extend the coverage upstairs where i get only 1 bar signal. I have an extra Trendnet TEW638 APB Access Point. Is it possible to connect that to my Airport Extreme? And wirelessly?

Max June 14, 2014 at 10:28 pm

I bought a Motorola Router/Modem 2 in one, and I was wondering if I could extend it’s range using an airport extreme.

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