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Wi-Fi base stations: Setting up and configuring a Wireless Distribution System (802.11b/g)

This article defines the essential steps required to set up an 802.11g Wireless Distribution System (WDS) wireless network using AirPort Extreme (802.11g) or AirPort Express (802.11g).

If you are using Mac OS X v10.4 or earlier, WDS setup requires AirPort Admin Utility for Graphite and Snow 4.2.5. If you are using Mac OS X v10.5, use AirPort Utility. Instructions for each application are described below.

Components of a WDS – Main, relay, and remote base stations

➊WDS main base station (Primary Wi-Fi base station)
➋ WDS relay base station
➌ WDS remote base station

Configuring a Wireless Distribution System (WDS)

Instructions for using AirPort Admin Utility for Graphite and Snow 4.2.5

Important: AirPort Admin Utility for Graphite and Snow 4.2.5 is designed for 802.11g Wi-Fi base stations.

Start with the base station that will be configured as the main base station, then configure the relay base station (if you are using one), and, finally, configure the remote base station.

Make sure the Wi-Fi base stations will be located close enough to each other so that they each get a good radio signal from the base station they are connected to; the locations will vary according to the building environment and may require some experimentation.

If you have configured your Wi-Fi base stations in the past, it may be helpful to do a Factory Default Reset of each Wi-Fi base station that will be part of the WDS before you begin. Details on how to do this, and the ramifications of doing so, are detailed here.

  1. Power on all Wi-Fi base stations and allow them time to appear in the AirPort Menu Extra.
  2. From the AirPort Menu Extra, select a 802.11 g Wi-Fi base station to configure (starting with the main base station). Wi-Fi base stations may include AirPort Extreme (802.11g) and AirPort Express (802.11g).
  3. Open AirPort Admin Utility for Graphite and Snow, located in Applications/Utilities on a Mac (You can also download and install it from here).
  4. Select the Wi-Fi base station in the Base Station Chooser, and click Configure.
  5. Under the AirPort Network section, create a Wireless network name for the WDS network.
  6. Optional: By default, Wireless Security is set to Not Enabled so that no password will be required to join the network. We recommend you click the Change Wireless Security... button,  select WPA2 Personal, and create a password between 8 and 63 characters long.
  7. From the channel menu, select 1. You may choose a different channel number, but note that it should ideally be three channels away from any neighboring network.
  8. Select Network from the Toolbar.
  9. If you are configuring the main base station, make sure Distribute IP addresses is checked (unless you have another router that is already providing DHCP services). If you are configuring a remote or relay base station, uncheck that setting for that device.
  10. Click WDS in the toolbar.
  11. Check Enable this base station as a WDS.
  12. Choose "main base station," "remote base station," or "relay base station" from the WDS Mode menu.
    • If you are setting up a main base station, click the Add (+) button and enter the AirPort ID or the Wireless MAC address for the remote base stations. It may take a few seconds for the list to appear.
    • If you are adding a remote base station, enter the AirPort ID or the Wireless MAC address of the main base station.
    • If you are adding a relay base station, enter the AirPort ID or wireless MAC address of the main base station, and then click Add (+) to enter the AirPort IDs or wireless MAC addresses of the WDS remote base stations.
  13. Click OK.
  14. Click Update.

By default, the "Allow wireless clients on this base station" checkbox is selected. You should leave it selected for this and other base stations unless you have a specific need to disallow wireless traffic to a particular base station. If you deselect the "Allow wireless clients on this base station" checkbox, and later want to change the settings on the base station, you must connect to the base station's LAN port with an Ethernet cable. You won't be able to connect to the base station wirelessly without reconfiguring your base station.

Instructions for using AirPort Utility 5.5.2 or later

Start with the base station that will be configured as the main base station, then configure the relay base station (if you are using one), and, finally, configure the remote base station. Instructions on how to configure each base station are detailed below.

Make sure the Wi-Fi base stations will be located close enough to each other so that they each get a good radio signal from the base station to which they will be connected; the locations will vary according to the building environment and may require some experimentation.

If you have configured your Wi-Fi base stations in the past, it may be helpful to do a Factory Default Reset of each Wi-Fi base station that will be part of the WDS before you begin. Details on how to do this, and the ramifications of doing so, are detailed here.

WDS is designed for 802.11g, and shouldn’t be used for 802.11n devices. Wi-Fi base stations may include AirPort Extreme (802.11g) and AirPort Express (802.11g).

There are two steps to configuring your WDS main. The first is to configure the Wi-Fi base station settings you prefer so that it is correctly connecting to the Internet without regard to WDS settings. Once this is done, continue with the steps for WDS main.

Connecting a WDS main base station to the Internet

  1. From the AirPort Menu Extra, select an 802.11g Wi-Fi base station to configure.
  2. Open AirPort Utility. AirPort Utility is located in Applications/Utilities on a Mac or in Start > All Programs > AirPort in Windows.
  3. Select the WDS main Wi-Fi base station in the Base Station Chooser (starting with the main base station), then click Configure.
  4. Enter a name for the Wi-Fi base station.
  5. Enter a password to protect the settings of the Wi-Fi base station, and click Continue.
  6. Select I want to create a wireless network and click Continue.
  7. Create a wireless network name.
  8. Optional: To prevent unauthorized persons from accessing your wireless network, we recommend you leave WPA2 Personal as the default security type and create a password/passphrase between 8 and 63 characters long. Select the option you prefer, and click Continue.
  9. Select your Internet connection type and click Continue.
  10. Enter your TCP/IP information as needed and click Continue.
  11. Click Update.
  12. Allow the main base station to restart.

Configuring a WDS main base station

  1. Power on all Wi-Fi base stations and allow them time to appear in the AirPort Menu Extra.
  2. From the AirPort Menu Extra, select the main 802.11g Wi-Fi base station to configure.
  3. In AirPort Utility, select the WDS main Wi-Fi base station in the device list in the left side of the window, and click Manual Setup.
  4. Select the AirPort icon from the Toolbar, and click on the Wireless tab.
  5. From Wireless Mode select Participate in a WDS network.
  6. Click on the WDS tab.
  7. From WDS Mode, select WDS main.
  8. Enable Allow wireless clients (see the first Note below).
  9. Click the Add (+) button and enter the AirPort ID or the Wireless MAC Address for individual relay or remote base stations that are within range (see the second note below), then click OK. WDS remotes that will need to connect to a WDS relay because the WDS main will be too far away can be configured later.
  10. When you have added each of the Wi-Fi base stations, click Update.

Configuring a WDS remote base station

  1. Ensure all Wi-Fi base stations are powered on and allow them time to appear in the AirPort Menu Extra.
  2. From the AirPort Menu Extra, select an 802.11g Wi-Fi base station to configure as a WDS remote.
  3. In AirPort Utility, select the WDS remote Wi-Fi base station in the Base Station Chooser, and click Manual Setup.
  4. Select the AirPort icon from the Toolbar, and click on the Wireless tab.
  5. From Wireless Mode select Participate in a WDS network.
  6. Click on the WDS tab.
  7. From WDS Mode, select WDS remote.
  8. Enable Allow wireless clients (see the first note below).
  9. If not already supplied, enter the AirPort ID of the WDS main, then click Update.

Configuring a WDS relay base station

  1. Ensure all Wi-Fi base stations are powered on and allow them time to appear in the AirPort Menu Extra.
  2. From the AirPort Menu Extra, select a 802.11 g Wi-Fi base station to configure as a WDS relay.
  3. In AirPort Utility, select the WDS relay Wi-Fi base station in the Base Station Chooser, and click Manual Setup.
  4. Select the AirPort icon from the Toolbar, and click on the Wireless tab
  5. From Wireless Mode, select Participate in a WDS network.
  6. Click on the WDS tab.
  7. From WDS Mode select, WDS relay.
  8. Enable Allow wireless clients (see the first note below).
  9. If not already supplied, enter the AirPort ID of the WDS main.
  10. Click the Add (+) button and enter the AirPort ID or the Wireless MAC address for individual WDS remote base stations that are within range, but that are not connected directly to WDS main (see the second note below), then click OK.
  11. Click Update.

Note: You should "Allow wireless clients" for this and other base stations unless you have a specific need to disallow wireless traffic to a particular base station. If you deselect the "Allow wireless clients" checkbox, and later want to change the settings on the base station, you must connect to the base station's LAN port with an Ethernet cable. You won't be able to connect to the base station wirelessly without reconfiguring your base station.

Note: When you set up base stations in a WDS, you need to know the AirPort ID of each base station. The AirPort ID, also known as the Media Access Controller (MAC) address, is printed on the label on the bottom of the AirPort Extreme Base Station next to the AirPort symbol, and on the power adapter side of the AirPort Express Base Station. To make it easier to set up a WDS, place all of the base stations on a table and plug them into a power supply.

Learn more

If you choose to do a manual WDS configuration (as opposed to the automatic feature used in the steps above), be sure that all base stations have the same network name, channel, and security (password). Attempting to give Wi-Fi base stations different network names on a WDS network may render the network inoperable. Returning base stations to the network name of the main should return the network to operation.

When you use WDS, part of each Wi-Fi base station's capacity is used as overhead for maintaining the network. This means that if you were to measure the maximum throughput speed of your network, it would be less than it would be when using one base station by itself.

Last Modified: Jul 14, 2014
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  • Last Modified: Jul 14, 2014
  • Article: HT4262
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