Insane frustration setting up multi-AirPort home wifi network - help?
December 8, 2014 7:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to use a couple of AirPort Expresses to extend my home wifi network but am having great difficulties. Please help?

So I'm trying to add a couple of AirPort Expresses to my home network to extend wifi throughout the house, and I'm having incredibly frustrating difficulties doing so. Possibly contributing to the problem is the fact that I bought this house with a lot of networking infrastructure in place and I don't really understand everything about the current setup. But still, this should be doable.

The current setup, working fine, includes the following:

Comcast-provided cable modem, with wired output to a 5th Generation AirPort Extreme. One of the AirPort Extreme outputs goes back to a pair of switches providing wired output throughout the house, which work just fine. The AirPort Extreme is also creating a wifi network, that also works just fine. Set to WPA2 Personal security, and "Allow this network to be extended" is checked.

So that part works great. But then I want to use a couple of AirPort Express (latest edition, just bought this week) units to extend the wireless network. I plug them in to known-good wired network outlets, and power. They show up in AirPort utility. But then when I try to configure them to extend network using the AirPort utility, it just does. not. work. Either through the "wizard"-type thing, or manual setup.

Using the wizard-thing, I select the options to use Ethernet to extend an existing wireless network, and it finds the network to extend, but then it demands that I select the base unit to extend, and it doesn't find it. Using the manual setup, everything seems to work, it sees the existing network, and it even comes back up in the utility with all green. But then not only does the wireless fail, but it also somehow causes my wired connection to go away, and I have to unplug the new AirPort Express, and reboot the base Airport Extreme.

Any thoughts/suggestions? I know this is vague but I don't know how else to ask. I guess another way to phrase the question would be: what is the exact step by step procedure to add an AirPort Express to extend an existing network set up in the way I have described above?

Thanks for any help, I am losing my mind here.
posted by Perplexity to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I used an Airport Express to extend my wi-fi network on Airport Extreme. The extension is through wi-fi and not Ethernet. My Airport Extreme is also of the older model (the flat like-Apple-TV version, not the current tall and thin version).

I found that I had greater success if I downgraded the firmware on the Airport Extreme to 7.6.1. (Here's a blog post detailing how you can do it.) The firmware on my Airport Express is the latest version, though.

(When I used the latest version of firmware on my Airport Extreme, I also often encounter problems where I can connect to the wi-fi network, but cannot see the Internet, and have to restart the Airport Extreme.)
posted by applesurf at 7:59 PM on December 8, 2014

Any thoughts/suggestions?

As a working netadmin and general PC fixit guy, I loathe and despise Apple networking gear. It's allegedly great when it works. I wouldn't know. I only ever get to see it when it doesn't work, and when it doesn't work its dumbed-down user interfaces make figuring out why not a complete pain in the arse.

For setting up multi-WAP wifi on wired infrastructure, my current go-to line of products is UniFi from Ubiquiti. The UI is horrible. I love them.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 PM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: Yes, you can do this with your existing equipment, but you want to configure a wireless roaming network , not an extended wireless network. Turn off the "Allow this network to be extended" option on the Airport Extreme, you want it to be in "Create a wireless network" mode. Make sure your Airport Express devices are connected via Ethernet cables to your central switch. Configure the Airport Express devices with the same Wireless Network Name, Wireless Security, and Wireless Password as the Airport Extreme. However, two things should be configured differently on the Airport Express devices: the Channel and the Connection Sharing. Set the Channel to be at least 5 channels apart so if your Airport Extreme is set to 1 then set the second one to 6 or higher and so on. This is to prevent the two wireless signals interfering with each other. More importantly, on the Airport Express devices set the Connection Sharing option (under the Internet tab) to "Off (Bridge Mode)". This is because your Airport Extreme is acting as your internet access router.

Now you can take your laptop and "Roam" from one end of the house to the other and it will work just fine.
posted by RichardP at 8:25 PM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Very excited about this response, about to try to implement. One question in case you happen to see it promptly, what "Wireless Mode" should the Express units be in? Still "Extend a wireless network"?
posted by Perplexity at 8:38 PM on December 8, 2014

No, the Express units should be in "Create a wireless network" mode (but with Connection Sharing set to "Off (Bridge Mode)").
posted by RichardP at 8:46 PM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: Wow wow wow this appears to actually be working with the first of the two Expresses I want to add, about to go try the second.
posted by Perplexity at 8:48 PM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: Ok, wow, I'm 100% in business. Totally perfect. You are my hero. Check your memail.
posted by Perplexity at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Network engineer and general sysadmin here. One random chestnut i have to add to that method, which works, is that certain devices get really ornery about that type of network set up that way(just different channels, not multi-ap network with actual handoffs going on the proper way like the unifi's mentioned above would)

Some smartphones, and a lot of roku type devices will HATE that setup. You'll see more than one copy of the network listed and it wont auto-hop, or you'll have to cycle the wifi on and off to get it to hop.

There isn't an awesome solution to this, it's just something to be aware of before you tear your hair out. Especially with roku-type stationary semi-smart locked down set top box type wifi devices. If you're going to move anything like that, nuke the network settings and totally start over with whatever duplicated copy of the SSID shows up that has the strongest signal.

And that's why i usually tell people doing this kind of thing at home to just ebay their stack of routers, buy a big router with external antennas(like an asus), and get a bunch of 1231323dbi omni antennas to strap to the thing so you get monster signal everywhere. I've gotten much more joy out of that setup than i ever did with any kind of multi-ap thing that wasn't some intended-to-be-commercial deal like the unifis.
posted by emptythought at 5:05 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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