How to: Extend your Airport network with WDS


If you’re like me, you wait for a while whenever new technology arrives. We didn’t get a DVD player until they had been on the scene for a few months, and we didn’t have high speed internet until the price dropped way down. In fact, there’s probably a Betamax player somewhere in the basement.

I waited until Revision 2 to pick up an Airport Extreme base station. The gigabit feature was the reason I waited. I probably didn’t notice much difference since there are only 2 wired computers on the network, and only 1 has Gigabit ethernet, but waiting for Product 2.0 is generally a good way to go. The router I was replacing is an Airport Express base station that has been my entire wireless setup since 2004, and it has been an excellent solution. With the Airport Extreme, I played around with the settings, and learned that I had better reception for my iPod touch if I used Wireless G with both routers instead of a single Wireless N base station.

With that in mind, here is a tutorial for using two Airport base stations to create a single distributed network.

Steps

  1. Configure Main base station
  2. Configure Remote base station

Configure Main base station

I’m assuming that you already have an Airport Extreme base station set up to connect to the internet directly and create a wireless network. Open Airport Utility (in Applications/Utilities), where you will find all base stations connected to your current network. Choose the base station from the left, select Manual setup, then the Wireless tab, where you will see a screen similar to the image below.

In the dropdown menu labelled Wireless Mode, select Participate in a WDS network, and you will see an additional WDS tab. Click this tab (if it is not available, update the base station, then try again) and you should see the following screen.

Be sure that Allow wireless clients is checked.

With these settings in place, click the Update button and wait for the base station to restart. What you have just done is configure the Main base station to accept other stations to share the signal and distribute it around your house.

Configure remote base station

The best way to configure the remote base station is to use the Setup “wizard”. With an unconfigured station, you will find a wireless network in the Airport menu bar, with the name of either Apple Network xxxxx or the name you’ve previously set up. Join that network, open Airport Utility and you will be able to configure the base station.

This screen shows what you will see at the base station summary panel. Click the Continue button to begin the setup process.

You will just need to carefully read the descriptions, and choose the correct option. After 3 screens, you will see the page above. This option will configure the remote station to distribute the signal.

When you click Next, you will be shown a screen with wireless networks in the area. Choose the name of your network created from the main base station. The next screen shows you the base stations using the original network, and you will find your main base station already selected, like the photo below.

Press OK once again, and Airport Utility will configure both the remote and main station to communicate properly.

After the base station has restarted, you should check the configuration to make sure everything is running smoothly. In an earlier photo, you can see both of my base stations in a single Airport Utility window. You should also see this.

For final checks, select Manual Setup on the remote base station, and you should see a panel that says Wireless Mode: Participate in a WDS network, similar to this photo.

Select the WDS panel of the utility, and if the image there matches this one, you should be good to go.

With a little work and planning, you can turn two separate Airport networks into a single network, and enjoy better reception and coverage.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
9 comments on “How to: Extend your Airport network with WDS
  1. Hi, thanks for the great tutorial about extending network via WDS. Even if the your tutorial is helping me, I didn’t get my Airport Express to work with my Airport Extreme. I get this fault in the log all the time: Deauthenticating with station xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx (reserved 2). Do you got any ideas what my cause this problem? The Airport Express connecting all the time and at the same time loosing the conncetion.

  2. wesg says:

    @Gustaf Lindqvist: I’ve never seen an error like that myself, but I only have access to my own Airport. Are the two base stations using the same protocol? (ie. Wireless G or N). You said that error is in the log, what is shown by the base station software itself?

  3. hexman says:

    I haven’t seen that either. But, if I were to guess, it sounds like it could be one of two things: check under ‘Airport’ and ‘Access’ to see if you have ‘MAC Address Access Control’ enabled. If you have this turned on, you need to make sure the MAC addresses are correct (disable it to see if that fixes the issue, then check them carefully if you want to turn it on). The other thing to check is under ‘Internet’ and ‘DHCP’ make sure you don’t have an IP address reserved that is incorrect (for example, it says for a specific computer and is the address for your airport). This second one seems unlikely, but is worth checking.

  4. John says:

    I got this message when the WDS remote authentication was on WPA and the WDS main was on WEP. Just check that as well.

  5. Vagner Monteiro says:

    Hello, 2 questions:
    1. Is WDS really good? (because it uses half band to talk eachother)
    2. If I have an new Airport Extreme (n) and an Airport Express (g), all the network will be on g ?

  6. wesg says:

    @Vagner Monteiro:
    1. WDS is an excellent to use if you have multiple base stations in the house. It functions to extend the range of the network, not necessarily to increase bandwidth.
    2. To get the Express to talk to the Extreme, you’ll have to set the Extreme to include G networks (that’s what mine uses). From what I’ve experienced, devices connected to the Extreme use N, while devices connecting to the Express use G regardless of N compatibility.

  7. DUBS says:

    Hi,
    My main base station is a Belkin Router. I do not have an Airport Extreme.

    I have an Airport Express I would like to use to extend my network range.

    Is this possible?

    Thanks.

  8. wesg says:

    @DUBS: I know that some Linksys routers allow 3rd party (essentially hacked) firmware, but I’m not sure about the Belkin. If you can’t flash the device, I think it’s unlikely that it can be extended.

  9. Sam says:

    I have both an airport extreme and an express, how can I make them mesh and extend the same wireless network through the ethernet port? As opposed to one remote just repeating the network of the main controller.