AirPort everywhere with Wireless Distribution System (WDS)

I have been using Wireless Distribution System (WDS) between Time Capsule (TC), AirPort Extreme (AE) Base station, and AirPort Express (AX) to extend my network all over my home. The Time Capsule is the main with the AE and AX as "supplicants". The configuration is such that it appears as one wireless network with one SSID. I get between 80% and 90% signal strength from anywhere in the house. As long as I use the AirPort Admin software ( either on a Mac or on Windows ) setting up the WDS network is a breeze. All I needed was the MAC address of each device.

The AX is connected to the stereo for use with AirTunes from the Mac mini ( which is hooked up via HDMI to the TV ). My stereo and TV are not in the same room. The AE is just a repeater and also connects the Series 2 TiVo to the network.

I had configured a LinkSys WRT54G with the DD-WRT firmware but never got around to testing it in WDS mode with the TC. I'll have to dust it off.  I was going to write up details on what I had done to accomplish this when I received the following email from a colleague in response to an email from another colleague.  I think he says it better than I could.

Both the main base station and the relay/remote base stations have to know they are participating in WDS. I know the old Linksys routers are not capable of WDS right out of the box. You have to reflash them with alternate firmware. On the Apple gear, you have to tell each device what role it plays in WDS and tell it the MAC address of the other devices so someone doesn't just join your WDS network with their router. I would imagine other branded devices would be similar. (You kow, Ting, it might be time to buy that TimeCapsule afterall, lol)

As an aside, I went into the Apple Skunkworks lab last night (my house and production network- lol). I was able to get my TimeCapsule and Airport Express to talk WDS (I need a better hobby for my free time).

The TC is cabled to my cable modem and served as my main base station.

My AE served as a remote base station. I set LEDs on both to flash on activity so I could see which router I was talking to. I've found:

  • Close to the main base station, data would fly (testing speed against's speed test). If I went to the AE, throughput would be halved but was not unbearable. It worked as the WDS spec advertized.
  • I could see the AE start to flash as I got closer to it. It transferred the connection seamlessly (and back again when I got close to the TC). I didn't have to kick anything to get it to flip back and forth between stations.

  • I kept the same IP address no matter where I went. The AE would just relay the traffic to the TC.

  • An added benefit is that you can use the WAN port on the AE as a regular LAN port. I shut off my PowerBook wireless and plugged in an ethernet cable from the PB to the AE. I was able to talk wired to the AE which then spoke wireless back to the TC. (Hmmm, maybe a good way to get an wired remote machine to network without having to run cables


  • No complicated setup on the AE. It honored all of the MAC address filtering and IP address ranges of the TC. All I had to do was tell it the TC's MAC address and duplicate the SSID and security settings

(WPA/WPA2 Personal).


AirTunes and WDS

Earlier this year I decided that my home did not have enough Apple products, that my network and home data center design was not stable, and that my cable bill was too high.

I decided that I wanted better range on my wireless home network, backup solution that worked without much work from me, and a home entertainment system that allowed me to enjoy music and movies from anywhere in the home on any device.

Some of the pieces are starting to fall into place. In April, I purchase Time Capsule (TC), Apple's simple but effective combination of a Wireless Access Point (WAP) and a Network Attached Storage ( NAS ). I already had a NAS that I setup by installing BSD based FreeNAS on an old Dell Dimension. That setup works ( it works so well that I sometimes forget it's there ) but I wanted something that offered automatic backup. So for about $300, I bought a Time Capsule from Apple that provides me with both. With Time Machine running on both my Macs things just work.

One of the problems I have in my house is that the cable company installed the cable router/VOIP gateway in my basement. This was the easiest place to put the device since it provided a juncture to attach the cable telephone service to the phone wiring in my home. Unfortunately it is also where I have to place the Time Capsule to easily plug it into the cable router. The Time Capsule is off to the far end of the basement so the far end of the second floor of the house gets a very weak signal. My wife kept complaining that she could not get a signal from her laptop and the kids could not get onto Webkinz.

This problem existed before I bought Time Capsule. Earlier this year I tried solving the problem with power-line networking but that solution did not work at all for me. Once I had Time Capsule I learned about Wireless Distribution System (WDS).

A Wireless Distribution System is a system that enables the wireless interconnection of access points in an IEEE 802.11 network. -- via

I was hoping to use my old Linksys WRT54G WAP to go this but then I remembered Apple's AirPort Express (AX). AirPort Express is a WAP that is perfect for frequent travelers or someone with a very simple home network with just a few computers. It is designed like a MacBook power-brick and includes two very interesting features. One of these allows the AirPort Express to extend the range of an existing wireless network using WDS. The other enables the streaming of music from any computer (Mac or PC) running iTunes to the AirPort Express. The Express has an audio jack into which one can plug in any stereo or powered speakers in your home.

I found and 802.11g AirPort Express on eBay that was gently used ( the previous owner had just bought it before Apple debuted the newer 802.11n model ). Within an hour I had extended the range of my network with the AX and the TC in a WDS configuration. Yesterday while eating dinner the family listened to our favorite music send over the network from my Mac mini. Now how cool is that!!

Proposed Home Network and rebuilding the home network

I recently bought a 500GB Apple Time Capsule. The Time Capsule is a wireless access point (WAP) with an embedded hard drive. The Time Capsule replaced my aging Linksys WRT54G WAP. The WRT has worked flawlessly over the last 3 to 4 years but I wanted something for the future ( 802.11n ) and since I plan to completely switch my home over to Macs in the near ( or not ) future I figured I might as well start with the infrastructure.

However, the install and setup did not go as easy as I expect. I ran the Airport Utility and entered all the questions the wizard requested. One thing I did not expect was that the Time Capsule could import the configuration of my current router ( a Linksys WRT54G ). That would make things a lot easier to setup.

I fully expected the setup to take about 15 minutes. Three hours later I was still screwing with the thing. I had disconnected the WRT54G and connected the WAN port of Time Machine to the cable modem. But Time Machine kept coming up with a private IP. When I plugged it into the Linksys it worked fine as a secondary gateway behind the WRT54G. It was not until the second day ( after going to bed around 1 AM ) that I realised that the problem was the cable modem. I do not know what the issue was but after resetting the cable modem Time Machine was able to get a proper IP and I was able to surf the web. And oh ... install the latest Airport update from Apple.

I then configured Time Machine to use Time Capsule as it's backup drive. That was extremely easy as shown here.

I then forced my first Time Machine backup and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I am not quite sure how long it took. I went to bed and in the morning both my Mac mini and MacBook had been backedup to Time Capsule. Using OS X 10.5 ( Leopard ) with Time Machine, the macs on my network are backed up ( differentials ) each and every hour. Very cool.

The WRT still works so I decided to repurpose it. My friend Mike, suggested I re-image the device with DD-WRT. DD-WRT was originally a project to create a modified and enhanced firmware for the Linksys line of WAPs. The project has grown overtime to support other WAP and router brands but the main focus is still the WRT.

I have version 5 of the WRT54G, so I downloaded the micro version of the binary from the DD-WRT web site and followed the instructions from this site. Why? Well... they seemed to be more detailed and provided a back-out plan in case of trouble; something the instructions on the main site did not. Following the instructions I had a new router in less than 15 minutes. I won't go into the features and benefits of the DD-WRT software; there is just too much there. Perhaps another post later this month when I have poked at all the button.

I did notice that DD-WRT supports Wireless Distribution System (WDS). WDS allows for connecting WAP to extend the range of wireless networks. The Time Capsule also supports WDS. I do not really understand how it all works but I am looking to use WDS between Time Capsule and DD-WRT. The Time Capsule is in the basement where the cable company placed the box that provides my internet connection and my telephone service. The wireless signal does not make it to some parts of the house. I can get about 30-40% in my family room; which hosts my mac mini, TiVo, and Nintendo Wii which all happen to be wireless. If I can get WDS working between WAPs then I may be able to provide a more robust signal in the other parts of the house.

Home Network Design 1    

Proposed Home Network, originally uploaded by Khürt on 3rd April, 2008.

Technorati Tags: