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What are the steps to properly setup a WiFi network with 4 or 5 Airport base stations? I have a mix of Airport Extreme and Airport Express base stations, a switch and a modem/router with VoIP and other features which require to keep the modem configured as a router.

Of course the modem/router is connected to the switch and so should be all the base stations.

Can I get a reliable roaming going between the base stations? What are the things I should configure to make the roaming as seamless and speedy as possible?

  • X1 Airport Express

Airport Express

  • X4 Airport Extreme

Airport Extreme

  • X1 24 ports switch (with some Gbps ports)

Switch Negear

  • X1 modem router

Livebox modem router

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

First, you will not receive adequate routing performance on network by way of the ISP's embedded router.

How to build WiFi 101

Log in to the AirPort devices and configure:

  • Internet set to DHCP
  • the Network to Bridge mode
  • the Wireless to create a wireless network
  • Enable an alternate name on the 5 GHz network (you could simply append "(5 GHz)" to the wireless network name)
  • leave the wireless channels set to automatic
  • Change Radio mode to 802.11a/n - 802.11b/g
  • Change the country to your own to avoid interconnection problems on 5GHz

Place the first AP at centrally in one extremity of the building. Join the AP on the 5 GHz network. Option-Click the WiFi menu to read the RSSI value. Determine the next AP location by by measuring where the signal dips below 65-70.

Once you've placed all the APs join all 5 GHz capable WiFI devices to the 5 GHz WiFi. Join all remaining devices to the non-5 GHz (2.4 GHz) network.

Protip: There's a great tool called WiFi Diagnostics in /System/Library/CoreServices. Check it out.

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Do you think the 5GHz network should be setup with a different name? There are numerous devices already configured for the currently existing network (on old APs) and some of the devices are 802.11n 5GHz enabled. So using a different name seems like a counterproductive move considering the users don't take the time to look into these matters. – Coyote Oct 8 '12 at 22:34
    
Is there nothing else to do in order to get the roaming to work efficiently? – Coyote Oct 8 '12 at 22:38
    
Most models of iPhone won't connect to a 5GHz band, so that's something to consider if you have any of those. They'll need a 2.4GHz signal. Just a small pointer to consider in your endeavor. – soxman Oct 8 '12 at 22:40
    
A 5GHz network should be a different name to ensure that 5GHz enabled device stay off the already cluttered 2.4GHz band. – Jordan Eunson Oct 8 '12 at 22:49
    
I added the step concerning the country selection as without it none of the computers will be able to connect to the 5GHz network (if they were bought in one country and the airport is setup for another). Made the step concerning the renaming of the 5GHz network optional as it is not necessary to the function of WiFi on this band. – Coyote Oct 9 '12 at 9:57

You are substantially complicating your troubleshooting and performance by seeking to have a single wifi network. There's substantial performance penalties for bridging.

There is an alternative. If you make separate wifi networks, as all of the Airport base stations are on the same wired network and DHCP system, file sharing and streaming will work between devices on different wifi networks. Moreover most of your devices will automatically switch between networks when signal is low.

I completely agree with Jordan Eunson about not using your 2009 ISP provided Orange Livebox 2 modem as your main router. Set up DMC zone passthrough on the Livebox 1.2 Modem router. And then pick your best Airport Extremes for your main DHCP router.

Anything you can do to simplify your wifi setup will save you a lot of time in maintenance. Wifi maintenance takes up 80% or more of network maintenance in my experience.

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I agree about the router. Concerning the SSIDs the problem here is the reluctance of the users to setup each new device 5 times (10 if the 5GHz SSIDS are separated). In this situation I don't do the maintenance and the users want to be able to manage their devices on their own. There are few users but they tend to have at least 2 devices. So far the network works well for everyone on 1 SSID, more so since all computers, phones and other multimedia devices have been kept up to date or replaced. Otherwise if all devices were managed through profiles your solution would be the right one. – Coyote Mar 15 at 9:45
    
Hi Coyote, thanks for the additional info. I probably wouldn't offer the second network either. It's unlikely that most people need all the individual routers (most people will need one or two for most devices unless the office is an indoor track). That said, if your users can handle the performance hit and you can handle the additional network maintenance load, it is very seamless for the end users. I like the sound of self-managed users though! – Foliovision Mar 15 at 22:06

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