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Extending Wi-Fi networks (with AirPort Express)

I recently bought an Apple AirPort Express Base Station so that I can hear music without powering up my computer. And since the AirPort Express is a full-fledged Wi-Fi access point, I thought it’d be nice to use it to extend the range of my existing Wi-Fi network.

With Apple’s AirPort Utility, configuring an AirPort Express Base Station is quite easy. There are, however, some pitfalls when trying to extend an existing Wi-Fi network. So I’m going to shed some light on this topic in this blog post. I’ll be using my AirPort Express Base Station to illustrate these pitfalls but the information should apply to any other Wi-Fi access point as well.

Extending Wi-Fi networks over Wi-Fi (repeater)

In the “Wireless” section, the AirPort Utility gives you an option called “Extend a wireless network”. This option allows you to extend an existing Wi-Fi network. (Who would have guessed?)


The catch here is, though, that this will extend your Wi-Fi network over Wi-Fi. So, the AirPort Express Base Station will communicate with your other access point(s) over Wi-Fi. It’ll become a repeater.

The advantage is that you don’t need any cables to extend the range of your network. The disadvantage is that this will reduce your wireless bandwidth (by 50% in the worst case). While this will probably have no real effect on your surfing speed, the speed of copying files from one computer to another will be drastically reduced.

Extending Wi-Fi networks over Ethernet (roaming)

Fortunately, there is an alternative: extending Wi-Fi networks over Ethernet (cables). This is called roaming and has existed since the earliest days of Wi-Fi.

For the AirPort Express Base Station (and maybe other Wi-Fi access points as well) there are three things you need to know:

  1. In “Wireless” section, don’t use “Extend a wireless network”! Instead, use “Create a wireless network” and enter the same SSID and Wi-Fi encryption as the network you’re extending.
    Background info: If a computer finds multiple Wi-Fi networks with the same SSID, it’ll assume they represent the same network. It’ll then pick the one that’s best suited (usually the one with the best signal strength).
  2. bridge-mode.jpg

    In the “Network” section, you need to set “Router Mode” to “Off (Bridge Mode)”.

  3. Image by Fletcher6 (; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

    You need to plug your Ethernet cable into the WAN port – not the Ethernet port.
    Note: I’ve only tested this with an AirPort Express Base Station of the second generation. As far as I understand it, on the first generation you need to plug your Ethernet cable into the (only-existing) Ethernet port instead.

Wi-Fi channels

Most modern Wi-Fi access points can choose their Wi-Fi channels automatically and you should usually let them do this.

However, if you really want to manually select the Wi-Fi channels, use different channels for each access point (if possible). Computers recognize Wi-Fi networks by their SSIDs, not by the channel they use.

The 5 GHz band

Wi-Fi channels are selected from a so called “frequency band”. All access points support the 2.4 GHz band, while most newer access points also support the new 5 GHz band.

The advantage of the 5 GHz band is that it’s (currently) less crowded. So, Wi-Fi speed is usually higher in the 5 GHz band than in the 2.4 GHz band.

Not all Wi-Fi access points can use both bands at the same time. The AirPort Express Base Station (2nd generation), for example, does support this, while my FritzBox 7270 only supports either 2.4 or 5 GHz (but not both at the same time).

If your access point support both bands at the same time, use the same SSID for both (if you have the option to choose). This helps on devices where you can’t prioritize your Wi-Fi networks (like on iOS or Android) to always pick the 5 GHz band.

You should also know that only the newest (at the time of writing) and more expensive devices support the 5 GHz band. For example, only the iPhone 5 supports the 5 GHz band while all older iPhones do not. Also, most cheap notebooks don’t support 5 GHz either.

This article is mostly based on my own experience as well as the following links:

Also, very helpful is the AirPort base station status lights (LED) listing from Apple, if you want to know what the color and state of your AirPort’s LED means.


  1. burton said: ∞

    Thank you for your great post. I have only one main concern: in case of a roaming network, will the dual band facility provided by the airport express still work even if the main router does not support both bands at the same time? In other words, If a dual-band capable device is served by the airport express, will the connection be at 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz? Thank you.

    • Sebastian Krysmanski (post author) replied: ∞

      I guess it depends on the device. Let’s say you have a route with only 2.4GHz, and an Airport Express with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. In this case the device will see three networks. It’ll then (probably) use the network with the best quality, which may either be 2.4GHz or 5GHz. I hope this helps.

  2. Chad said: ∞

    Thanks so much for this! I never knew I could just use the same SSID and encryption to extend a network. I had my poor wife choosing either the upstairs or downstairs network, already wired together, now it just works automatically!

  3. Leeper21 said: ∞

    Hi…good post….when u extended network using the roaming method, where did u physically place the airport express? Another room, another floor in your home?


  4. Jim said: ∞

    Thanks for the great post. In your setup are you using a non Apple wireless router for the main wireless point? I have a linksys wireless router that has etnernet to various rooms in a multi story house. I have read that if the main wireless router is not Apple, that you can’t do much. thanks

    • Sebastian Krysmanski (post author) replied: ∞

      That’s not true. I have a non Apple router and they work together pretty well.

  5. Chris said: ∞

    I have a new house and will use 4 air port expresses to extent my network through roaming (ethernet cat 6 cables to each air port). Assume I walk around in my house, will the wifi signal AUTOMATICALLY switch between my 4 air port expresses depending on where in the house I am (presumably – if intelligent – it will always switch to the air port with the best signal)? Also, someone suggested there are better brands to pick than air port expresses if you want your device to switch seamlessly between them, would you know?

  6. Peter said: ∞

    In step 3 of the roaming mode section, this would not work for me. Otherwise all settings are as described. When I used the ethernet port however, things worked fine. I’d love to understand why!

  7. Karsten Molander said: ∞

    THANK YOU!!!

  8. Pingback: Explanation on repeater and roaming mode of Airport Express | JongAm's blog

  9. James said: ∞

    Thank you very helpful. I have a different set up, and maybe you can help me get it working. I have 2 APEs. 1st APE is the main router (dhcp on) with DSL into the wan port, a switch on the lan port with networked peripherals (printers, NAS…). The second APE (Set up as create a wireless network, Router off bridge mode) is in another room, too far for a wireless connection so the 2nd APE is wired through the switch connected to the 1st APE. I thought it would see the peripherals and connect to the internet through the first APE, but it doesn’t do either.

  10. A Kempen said: ∞

    Great Post, good topic!
    Thank you!

  11. Amish said: ∞


    Is there no other way other than what you have detailed above (connect via Ethernet) to extend a wireless network using a non apple router ?



    • Sebastian Krysmanski (post author) replied: ∞

      I guess this will also work with non-Apple router, of course. And you can also extend your WiFi via WiFi. You’ll lose some bandwidth with this. Whether you non-Apple router supports this, is a totally different story, though.

  12. Alex said: ∞

    Hi nice article thanks. I am setting up something very similar. My primary router is non-Apple but that is no problem. On my primary I have set up MAC filtering. It seems that when someone connects to the access point their MAC address is no communicated back to the primary router. It is probably the access point’s MAC that is seen. This mean that anyone using the access point can bypass the MAC filtering. Ay ideas how to resolve this (without having to set up MAC filtering individually on each access point)?

    • Sebastian Krysmanski (post author) replied: ∞

      I’m not an expert in this but I guess MAC filtering is done even before you connect to your WiFi network by the router you’re connecting to. So I guess, you cannot forward the MAC filtering request to a main router. Maybe there are routers that are capable of this but I don’t think that there’s a standard to do this. (I haven’t come across any, at least.)

  13. Kent said: ∞

    Good primer article Sebastien.

    Just to add to the mix, here is my setup…

    Cable Modem for Internet access
    – Apple Airport Extreme as my main router and 1st floor wireless
    – Apple Airport Express as my second floor wireless connected as a wired connection via a Netgear MOCA (multimedia over coax). There is another MOCA unit at the Extreme. I decided to piggyback on coax as it would be more reliable and would not eat into the wireless bandwidth.
    – Apple Airport Express as my basement wireless connected as a wireless extension. This was not really needed as my basement is well covered by my main floor router. I use it for music streaming.

    So my setup actually use both wired and wireless configurations.

    Everything works well.

  14. Markku said: ∞

    Thanks so much for this! I was struggling extending Wi-Fi over Wi-Fi with Airport Express and Huawei B593S, but roaming over ethernet (using the same SSID and Wi-Fi encryption on both) does exactly what I wanted to do! Cheers!

  15. Brandon said: ∞

    No, unfortunately it will not. That would be the benefit of separate SSIDs, giving you the ability to choose the best signal manually. The wireless device must first lose its signal completely before it will connect to another access point automatically. The feature that automatically determines the best possible signal (wireless client management software) is available in some commercial products.

  16. tripplc said: ∞

    Thanks for this clear article. I have been fiddling with my setup all week because I was losing bandwidth. This answers the questions I had.

  17. Henry said: ∞


    I am wondering could I make this kind of setup working?

    Samsung S3 LTE phone as a WiFi hotspot —> Apple 3.gen A1301 Airport Extreme as a WiFi repeater and with USB hard drive attached.

    Will it work? Can I access the USB hard drive from all of my devices around the network, when Airport Extreme is set up as a Repeater for my 4G WiFi internet?

    ADSL is out of the question where I live, it is too expensive compared to my 4G contract with local carrier… And the ADSL would bee much slower too… ADSL would be 8/1 mbits and my 4G connection is about 40/10

  18. Matt said: ∞

    Hey, I just wanted to say thanks so much for this! I was trying to set up 2 APs in the same office, and could not find any helpful info on how to set up the Airport Express. Then I found this article, and everything worked great! Thanks so much for writing this!

  19. Ian said: ∞

    Thanks, your post was awesome, and provided details that similar ones didn’t. Had my network up and running properly within minutes…after spending the day reading other posts and trying to figure it out.

  20. Marilyn Cameron said: ∞

    I am a novice here but your explanation is easy to understand. Here is my problem, I would be grateful if you could solve. My electronic engineering nephew was floored by it last night! My Airport Express, configured to my Mac and Time capsule downstairs (and a BT openreach router) went wrong and we had to restore factory settings. Since then, we can’t find a password to connect it up, searched the internet, nothing…. we are flummoxed! Can you help please?

  21. K12s said: ∞

    Thank you for this article. I had have 1 Time Capsule router wired to a switch wired to 2 Airport Express devices. Did not work correctly when Extend WiFi was set. Found your article after trying to understand the difference between Extend and Roaming. Works much better now. Thank you.

  22. monga said: ∞

    Thanks so much for clarifying how to extend WIFI using an Ethernet Cable.
    Apple should make it clearer like – Extend a Network (WIFI ONLY). I did find
    in the online manual which port to plug the cable into (WAN) which was not obvious.
    Thanks Much!!!

  23. shawn said: ∞

    Can I have the router’s SSID and extender SSID SAME to same ?so that my CLIENTS can get the best possible signals from 1 network ?


    This is very helping information. Now I can extend my wifi signals easily. Thank you for uploading this post!

  25. Tim said: ∞

    Wow! Thanks so much for the great post! I have been struggling through this set-up (big space, 3 airport express’ off of an ASUS router)…and driving my fam crazy with the stress and the crappy signals! Now I am the hero of the house! Thanks

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  27. Wes said: ∞

    Thank you very much for posting this. I was stumped that I needed to create a new network using the existing SSID when setting up a roaming network. I couldn’t find anything on Apple’s website that explained the difference. Thank you again.

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