legaleye3000

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Jul 31, 2007
1,340
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I have 2 airport extremes in a large 1 story house (4,000 sq ft). On one side of the house the router is plugged into the modem and on the other side of the house, I have the 2nd AE plugged into an ethernet port in the wall that's connected to the first AE (which is connected to the modem).

In Airport Utility, I have it set up as roaming. This appears to be the same thing as a mesh router network. Is there any benefit to get a mesh network? In one part of my house, I do get weak coverage and wifi seems to be slow at times.

Thanks.
 

techwarrior

macrumors 65816
Jul 30, 2009
1,244
488
Colorado
Mesh is very different.

Roaming networks are simply multiple access points (extremes in your case) connected to an Ethernet network, providing multiple bridges to the network. Data sent and received by clients connected to the remote access point is bridged from the wireless port to the Ethernet port then sent via Ethernet to the router (unless the data is being sent to another client connected to the same access point, either wirelessly or ethernet). Ethernet runs of less than 300 feet should experience virtually no slowdown between access points.

A Mesh network uses WiFi between access points. A mesh device will have a radio dedicated for links between access points, and a second for client connections. The standards for Mesh WiFi are kind of loose and each solution seems to approach things a bit different. But, one thing in common is the two radios.

In WiFi networks, less is almost always better. WiFi is particularly troubled by attenuation (distance and obstacles, interference (from other radio signals in the same frequency ranges), and contention (simultaneous packet collisions at the access point). More radios can increase both interference and contention, though Mesh networks generally self tune to avoid overlaps as much as possible.

To fix the dead spot, consider placement of the Extremes. Your home is likely long and relatively narrow if it is that large on a single level. While placing them far apart helps reduce overlap\interference\contention, it might be leaving a weak signal in the middle of the home. Try moving them closer by a bit so each is centered on respective ends of the home.

Wall construction also impacts signals. Thin wood frame\sheetrock allows signals to pass better than thick, mason or steel frame walls. This would impact Mesh networks even more than Roaming, as the WiFi links between access points would be slowed by the obstacles.

If construction materials or impractical relocation of the access points is troublesome, consider a third Ethernet connected access point such as an AP Express. While the Express doesn't have the faster 802.11ac (it is limited to 802.11n), it could be just the thing to fill the gap in the weak signal location.

If your ISP service is greater than 300 Mbps (not likely unless you have a fibre 1Gbps service), a third Extreme might be desirable if speed is critical in the current weak signal area. Extremes with 802.11ac can achieve up to 1.3Gbps, but 802.11n (express) will max out around 300Mbps. But, if your ISP is 100Mbps for example, all the speed in the world on your WiFi wont speed up internet speeds as the ISP link would be the bottleneck. However, if the greatest need is large file transfers between wireless devices, go as fast as you can with all access points.

Don't over invest. 802.11ax is due to hit the market in the next 1-2 years and will be even faster and less troubled by contention, and with longer range. Not sure how Apple will deal with that given their network engineers have been re-assigned to other products and are not currently actively working on Airport gear. That may change, but for now, it is an uncertainty. Regardless, when the ax standard arrives, new gear will be required to take advantage of it.
 

legaleye3000

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Jul 31, 2007
1,340
26
Thanks for the great response. One more question: I have an airport express but its an older one. I think it only goes up to 802.11(g). If the express is used to "extend" (wirelessly) one of the AE's, will that cause that AE to work at only G speeds or can the AE support the Express with G and still connect to other clients at N and AC speeds? Thanks again.
 

techwarrior

macrumors 65816
Jul 30, 2009
1,244
488
Colorado
Thanks for the great response. One more question: I have an airport express but its an older one. I think it only goes up to 802.11(g). If the express is used to "extend" (wirelessly) one of the AE's, will that cause that AE to work at only G speeds or can the AE support the Express with G and still connect to other clients at N and AC speeds? Thanks again.

So, while Apple describes how to extend wirelessly, it should be avoided. When you extend wirelessly, the Express radio will split time between uplink and client connections. But, so too will the radio on the Extreme that it connects to. So it will cut speed and capacity by about 50% on both on the 2.4Ghz radio. You cannot specify which Extreme it will connect to, it will use whichever has a better signal at the time, which can change as you fire up the Microwave, wireless home phones, wireless keyboards\mice, or Bluetooth devices.

AP Extreme is a dual band access point. If the Express connects via 802.11g, it will do so on the 2.4GHz frequencies and not interfere with the 5GHz radios. The 2.4GHz radios will operate in g mode for all connections, not n (I believe). But, if you can add it as a roaming access point (via ethernet), the only 2.4Ghz signal operating in g mode will be the express, the other Extremes will run in n mode.

So, try relocating the Extremes first and avoid the 802.11g Express. The express that looks like a power adapter for a Mac is the first gen, it came in g, or Draft n models. The one that looks like a white Apple TV is dual band n.

If ethernet is not an option for the Express, consider a MOCA or Powerline adapter to run Ethernet over tour existing Coax (CATV Cable) or Power lines. The newer models can approach, or even exceed 1Gbps speeds, so don't go cheap. Also, if the Express is needed to fill the gaps, and it is in fact a g model, consider a refurb or clearance Express, I just did a Google search and found several for around $50.

My home is about the same size as yours, but on two levels. I have a Time Capsule (ac) in the middle of the ground floor, an Extreme (Dual band n model) in the middle of the upstairs, and an Express n model at the far end of the downstairs where I have a weak signal. My internet speeds everywhere in my home matches my ISP speed of about 70Mbps. I also have a 1st gen Express (dual band) that I use in client mode to enable Airplay to an aux connected speaker on the patio when I want to stream music out there. As a client, it doesn't really interfere with the rest of the access points, so that may be a way to repurpose that express.
 

legaleye3000

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Jul 31, 2007
1,340
26
Thanks again. To follow up on your post, if I eliminate the 1st Gen Express (G) and any other devices running a G, then everything should run at N or AC? Or, if I have the Express (G) connected to one of the Express (AC), will the AC only give the Express the G speeds and all other clients would get N or AC?

What I don't understand is if the use of a G device makes the Extreme operate at G speeds for EVERYTHING or just to the Express... Thank you!

Also, for my set up, I have EVERYTHING operating on 2.4 ghz even though I know 5 ghz is more beneficial because its my understanding that you get better range at 2.4 ghz.
 

techwarrior

macrumors 65816
Jul 30, 2009
1,244
488
Colorado
Thanks again. To follow up on your post, if I eliminate the 1st Gen Express (G) and any other devices running a G, then everything should run at N or AC? Or, if I have the Express (G) connected to one of the Express (AC), will the AC only give the Express the G speeds and all other clients would get N or AC?

What I don't understand is if the use of a G device makes the Extreme operate at G speeds for EVERYTHING or just to the Express... Thank you!

Also, for my set up, I have EVERYTHING operating on 2.4 ghz even though I know 5 ghz is more beneficial because its my understanding that you get better range at 2.4 ghz.

802.11n operates in either 2.4 or 5Ghz frequencies. My understanding is, the radio on Expresses and older Extremes will revert to the lowest common denominator, so if a g device connects, it will connect all clients in g mode @2.4Ghz. There is only one radio in these older models, so it switches based on what connects to it. Newer Extremes actually have 2 radios, one for 2.4, the other for 5Ghz.

Yes, the range on 5Ghz is less, but it doesn't hurt to turn it on. Since it is a different frequency, it wont interfere with the 2.4Ghz signal. The Extreme ac models uses beam forming to identify and focus the signal on the client, which overcomes some of the distance issues. If you want, you can use a different SSID (Network Name) such as NETWORK and NETWORK5G on the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands. Your Macs, iOS and most modern wireless devices that support ac can automatically switch between SSID as you roam, but having it on for devices that can use 5Ghz frees up capacity for devices using 2.4.

To clear something up, AC operates in the 5Ghz frequency, not 2.4Ghz.
 
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