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Using Airport Express as a range extender/repeater for Linksys Cable/DSL router WRT54G

Posted by inder on October 12, 2004 at 1:20 PM PDT

If you have a wireless network at home, then I am sure this sounds familiar. Even though the advertised range for these products is quite large, in reality, the range does not extend beyond one or two rooms. In the past, I tried using signal boosters, but they did not make much difference. When Apple announced Airport Express, its wireless repeating feature was one of the big draws for me. However, I did not want to buy the expensive Airport Extreme Base Station when equivalent wireless routers can be had for under 50 dollars. Moreover, most of these other routers include a four-port 100mbps switch, which is quite important for big file transfers because in my experience the 802.11g data rates are nowhere close to the claimed 54mbps. A google search revealed that Airport Express uses WDS (Wireless Distribution System) protocol and hence it is possible to use it as a repeater for Linksys WRT54G. This article has the needed information, though probably too terse. It is quite easy in theory, but you need to understand a little bit about how WDS works, and what all you need to do.

Note that the article incorrectly lists that you need to turn off firewall, and "ignore anonymous requests" on WRT54G. Both of which will be bad moves for security reasons anyway. Also, note that you need to setup Airport Express through the airport admin utility, not through the airport express setup tool.

So, here are the steps:

  1. Upgrade WRT54G to use the open-source firmware Sveasoft Satori v4.0 WRT54G.
  2. login to WRT54G admin tool and enable WDS. In the Wireless WDS section, enter the MAC Address of Airort Express and choose its type as LAN. Turn lazy WDS and WDS subnet to off. Ensure that your newly setup wireless connection is working by accessing the Web.
  3. Plug-in Airport Express in a room where you know that you get adequate wireless signal from WRT54G.
  4. Do NOT setup Airport Express to join your main network. Set it up as an independent wireless station, on the same channel that WRT54G is using. Note that if you want to use encryption, you can only use WEP. If you want to enter your WEP key in HEX, do not forget to put a "$" before the key (thanks kp_nine for the tip).
  5. Initially choose a different SSID (say "MyAENet") for Airport Express. This will help in debugging, and ensuring that the Airport Express is correctly working as a repeater. Later, you can use the same SSID as WRT54G for seamless wireless repeating.
  6. Turn off firewall and NAT on Airport Express.
  7. Setup Airport Express as a WDS Remote Station, and make it connect to the internet through WDS provided by the WRT54G. You will need to use the ethernet address of the wireless side (not WAN side) of WRT54G.
  8. Enable the Airport Express to provide music streaming (this was probably the reason you bought Airport Express in the first place). The name chosen here has nothing to do with the wireless setup, so choose whatever name you like.
  9. Use your laptop to first test that your wireless network is up. Then select the SSID of Airport Express (MyAENet), and see if you can still access internet. If so, congratulations. If not, retry all the steps after resetting Airport Express. I discuss some ways to reset Airport Express in another weblog.
  10. Login to the airport admin tool, and change the SSID of Airport Express to the SSID of WRT54G. This will enable a laptop to automatically select WRT54G or Airport Express based on the strength of the signal. Note that the Airport Express will not be accessible through airport admin utility anymore. In future, if you need to access it for reconfiguring, connect it directly through its ethernet port.
  11. Now go out on your patio, and browse the web to your heart's content. You have earned it!
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