Can I make my Airport Express into a repeater?
August 19, 2007 7:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I (can I?) make my Airport Express expand my wireless network?

I am clueless about wifi, but I think I have the equipment to make a good home network for my TiVo and my Wii. I have a cable modem in the bedroom (back of the house) that plugs into a Buffalo WHR-G54S wireless router, which plugs directly into my iMac G5, which has an airport card. I have an Airport Express that is plugged into the wall in the middle of the house (not connected to anything other than my stereo).

Up until now, I have used the Airport Express as a way to play my iTunes music through my stereo, so I have just had it talking to my iMac's airport card and grabbing the music. I have not had it doing any kind of network function. Now, I want it to talk to my Router. I think I should be able to have my router whip the signal to the Airport Express, which will then whip it to my TiVo and my Wii. I want to do this because my router's signal is very weak for TiVo/Wii, which are on the complete other side of the house through some brick and concrete.

Can anyone help me with a straightforward way to do this? I have tried every which way of monkeying with my wireless network settings on the Mac, but I think all I am doing is changing the airport card-to-airport express settings. In the alternative, can someone tell me my Airport Express is not an appropriate tool for the job I am asking of it, so I know to quit wasting my time trying to fit a square airport express into a round wireless expander-thingee job?

I thank you.
posted by Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her! to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could have your iMac share the Internet signal it receives from the modem via Airport? In your Sharing preferences pane, let Airport pump the Internet signal outward via wifi, then use the Airport Express to extend that signal? Your TiVo and Wii might also locate this signal.
posted by Bryan Behrenshausen at 7:57 AM on August 19, 2007

Best answer: Yes, yes you can.

Well, sort of. Apple has attempted to cripple the Airport Express such that it can only work in a WDS scenario with other Apple gear (they want you to only use Airports -- it's the whole "tightly integrated ecosystem over interoperability" thing).

But because the Airport is actually based on Broadcom hardware, you can usually make it work with other Broadcom-based hardware (which may include your Buffalo). Apple will tell you that you can't, and won't support you if you do, but it will work.
posted by toxic at 8:09 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To extend the range of your wireless network with your Airport Express, you need to use WDS (Wireless Distribution System). Fortunately, Google suggests that your Buffalo router has this functionality (some routers don't).

I don't know exactly what steps you need to take with your Buffalo router, but essentially you need to tell it to be a 'WDS main base station'. Then, in the WDS tab of your Airport Express configuration, tell it to be a 'remote base station', and it will prompt you to select the wireless network that your Buffalo router is broadcasting. Then, your Airport Express will extend the range of that network.
posted by chrismear at 8:11 AM on August 19, 2007

I think toxic's right in that it requires a specific brand of software. I spent several hours trying to get it to work with my Linksys running HyperWRT, to no avail.
posted by mkultra at 8:14 AM on August 19, 2007

Best answer: According to the Ars Technica review of the Express, it'll only extend networks spat out by other Apple base stations. (This isn't just Apple being snarky and proprietary, btw - okay, it probably is that too, but the network-extension business isn't part of the 802.11 spec, so it's never actually standardized between chipset manufacturers) There's ways around that, however - and some other googling implies to me that your Buffalo router, if it has the Broadcom chipset it may have, will work (since Apple's routers also use Broadcom chipsets).

Either way, you're going to have to run the Airport Express Setup application that came with your AExpress; it'll have a "connect to existing network" early on that has a "extend this network" setting.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:15 AM on August 19, 2007

Best answer: Picking up on toxic, you can get ApEx + WDS + third-party router to work in some cases, but not with WPA, and possibly not even WEP.

Use the Airport Admin Utility, not the ApEx one, and set up a WDS where the ApEx has the MAC address of the router, and vice versa.
posted by holgate at 10:37 AM on August 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I think I made it work. My Buffalo router has a whole section in the manual about setting up WDS. It showed me the way to a setup page where I told it to use 128 bit WEP security and I got the MAC address.

Then, from the Airport Admit Utility, I told my Airport Express to join an existing network instead of create a wireless network, and picked 128 bit WEP too. So instead of talking to my airport card on the iMac (sucky), it talks to my router (good). Wii is up and running, and looking good.

It was really pretty easy. I was getting tripped up before because I didn't want the airport express to talk to my airport card, but to initially configure the settings on the airport express I (of course) had to use the airport card. Then, once I switched the Airport Express over to the Buffalo router, I switched off my airport card and I was in business.

I thank you and my old-school-Metroid-playing wife thanks you.
posted by Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her! at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2007

Response by poster: I mark four best because each of your answers helped me get there. Thanks again.
posted by Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her! at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2007

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