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I have an Airport Extreme connected to the internet and a handful of Extremes/Expresses extending it wirelessly. It works OK. But when I connect one of the extending devices with an ethernet cable - on the theory that wired is better than wireless - things go awry. (My primary Airport Extreme starts dropping the connection, devices show that they are online, but they are not, etc. Basically, the network stops working.)

Once thing that I do that I'm not sure of is that I plug those devices into a switch as opposed to directly into the primary Airport Extreme. So my question is: Is this OK to do?

Thank you in advance!

  • The following article: support.apple.com/en-us/HT202056 speaks about extending the network by ethernet by plugging it into the base station. So base station is OK, by switch is not OK? That's what Allen seems to be saying, but some of Allan's recommendations are not 100% clear. For instance, there's no mention of "Wireless Access Points" in the settings. – Wynne Jun 7 '16 at 20:03
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If you have them set up as a wireless extender and then connect them with a wired connection, you are creating a network loop.

enter image description here

The drawing is a bit rudimentary, but it makes the point. Whether you are connected over a wire or a radio, you have a connection between one Airport and another. When you make the second (wired) connection, you create a second path back to the Airport.

So, if you imagine a client device connected to any one of the two lower switches in the picture, which path should the switch send data destined for the client?

That's why things go awry.

"Enterprise" grade network switches have something called STP (Spanning Tree Protocol) also known as 802.1d which prevents this from happening. Looking at the Tech Specs page for the Airport Extreme, it appears that 802.1d is not supported; not surprising since it's rarely on consumer grade devices.

To fix it, you need to leave the wired connection in and turn off the "Extender" mode. Set it to be a Wireless Access Point instead.

  • Thank you for your response. There are a couple of things that confuse me. First, is WAP "as good"? Would my computer know to jump seamlessly from one WAP to the other as I move around the house? And second, Apple knows what's plugged in and what's not. Why wouldn't it just manage around this loop? Also, the airport utility allows you to do this and even shows the hard wiring on the diagram without any complaints. – Wynne Jun 3 '16 at 13:14
  • What do you mean is WAP 'as good'? Your computer won't know to jump from one to the next - what you are talking about is called "handoff" and it is handled by the controller software for the WAP. Higher end switches manage around loops like this - it's called "spanning tree protocol" or 802.1D. It's typically not supported on consumer devices – Allan Jun 3 '16 at 13:41
  • So what would manage what WAP my devices are connected to when moving around the house. I'd like my devices to be connected to the WAP with the strongest signal. Will I get that with the WAP arrangement? – Wynne Jun 3 '16 at 14:18
  • you need "enterprise" grade wifi network gear. Ubiquiti has a "zero handoff" feature that seamlessly hands clients from one AP to the next. ubnt.com/enterprise – Allan Jun 3 '16 at 14:25
  • OK, let's forget about "seamless". How about I just want each device to pick up the strongest signal when it comes online? – Wynne Jun 7 '16 at 17:14

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