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I have an Airport Extreme and Airport Express connected via an ethernet cable to different parts of my home. Is it preferable to used the same SSID name? Will my devices automatically connect to the stronger signal?

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What do you mean by "preferable"? There are advantages and disadvantages to each setup. –  Daniel Lawson Nov 9 '11 at 4:13
    
I believe no, it won't reconnect to a stronger signal unless absolutely HAS TO. Reconnecting means to disconnect and connect to another, meaning there are times where the connection is lost. And it's particularly bad when streaming or downloading files that can't be resume. –  Shane Hsu Jan 28 '13 at 15:53
    
I will suggest you to give us a picture of what the network setup will be and what are your needs. –  Shane Hsu Jan 28 '13 at 15:54
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Check this out: discussions.apple.com/thread/3959492 –  thatjuan Jan 2 at 19:23

5 Answers 5

Yes, your devices will automatically connect to the stronger signal.

They will not switch between signals if one becomes stronger, they will only make this decision when they are looking for a network. Once on a network they'll stay on it until something causes them to disconnect (user, loss of signal, going to sleep, etc).

The advantage of having the same SSID everywhere is minimising configuration. Users don't need to separately enter the details for each access point. This isn't a big deal for two APs and one or two clients, but in a school/workplace/boarding house/etc you want to keep it simple. This applies not only to new devices being set up, but also changes to the network password. It also makes it easier for novices to use (may or may not be relevant depending on typical residents/guests at your home).

The advantage of having unique SSIDs for each AP is that you can intentionally choose which AP to connect to. Sometimes this is useful, though I tend to think most cases where it's useful are because of a bad network design. Sometimes that design is out of your control, or correcting it is beyond your budget, so it doesn't make it wrong to have unique SSIDs, just a little more fiddly/annoying than if access points were in better places, were more evenly distributed, more evenly utilised, had better antennas, etc.

In either case, it can be helpful to ensure there's an access point very close to the most common places devices are used, and overlap between access points is around places you move through (corridors/hallways) rather than places you use the devices. This can mean, counterintuitively, turning down the power on an access point, or moving it, to intentionally reduce the overlap between APs. That way, the switch will happen automatically (whether SSIDs are unique or not) if you move from one region to the other. Something like NetSpot can help with this.

In either case, the setup complexity is O(NxM) for N = number of SSIDs, M = number of devices. So let's try some examples, assuming 30 seconds to (re-)enter each wifi password.

  • In a typical home network, say 2 APs, 5 devices = 10, it might take 5 minutes to setup/adjust for unique SSIDs, or 1.5 minutes for a common SSID.
  • In a small organisation, say 6 APs, 60 devices (30 users, each with laptop + smartphone), it'd take 3 hours total time to update for unique SSIDs, or half an hour with a common SSID.
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On my ground floor I have an internet connected dsl wifi-router (fritzbox) from my provider with the possibility of wifi on 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz or both. I have both and distinguished them by adding 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz to the ssid names.

On my second floor I have a Time Capsule. I had configured it first with a different ssid names than the machine on the ground floor but then my devices did not reconnect to the stronger signal. They kept as long as possible connected to the machine below. When I changed the ssid names on the Time Capsule exactly to the ssid names below with the same passwords, the switch works perfect.

You can test it by walking with connected device (iPhone) from the ground floor to the second floor. Halfway I saw my wifi reception getting lower but more upstairs it took the stronger signal from the Time Capsule automatically.

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It depends on what you want from your network. If you'd like to have devices/computers connecting on either the Airport Extreme/Express to be on the same network, you can use the Airport Express to extend your network (see this Apple support page for details):

Question: Can AirPort Express act as a bridge?
Answer: AirPort Express can act as a bridge in three different ways:

*  If you have an existing wired network, it can bridge this network to wireless clients.
*  If it is set up as a WDS remote or relay station, it can bridge the wireless network to wired clients.
*  If it is set up as a WDS remote or relay station, it can bridge the wireless network to wireless clients (or "wirelessly extend" the range of the network).

More info from Apple about using Airports to extend your wireless network is available on this article.

If you want your devices to be on separate networks, having different SSIDs on each of your Airports would provide that separation.

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Just my two cents here, but I would suggest the opposite of what Matteo does. I have different names, because in this way I know which one is the strongest, dependent on where I am (the two networks cover the whole house, but not with the same strength).

For a Mac, it connects following the order specified in System Preferences, Network, Wi-fi, Advanced, Wi-fi.

For iDevices, I have no idea, but the problem, at least for me, it that when I move to the part of the house where the other network is stronger, I can manually change the Wi-fi, and I'll immediately know which one I have to choose (not trivial if the names are the same).

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At least with Airport* devices, when you configure the same SSID on all of them you end up seeing it listed only once. The device will connect to the strongest provider of that SSID automatically. –  thatjuan Jan 2 at 19:21

I have a similar setup: same SSID and same password. My devices (laptop, iPhone, iPad) connect automatically. Roaming from one zone to the other is failing from time to time but generally I have no problems.

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