no wires

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By: Linus Ekenstam - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

David Dennis on the pros and cons of wireless peripherals.

If in getting rid of your wires it proves to be more effort to use the new system than to just deal with the cables in the first place, then guess which one you're going to go with?


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!!