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Sticking with AirPort Express for WiFi


miimura
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I have been reading about these new-fangled WiFi mesh systems lately and considered buying a set but in the end I added a refurbished $49 AirPort Express to supplement my existing one.  I couldn't be happier.  Let me explain my situation.

 

I have a custom built house that was completed near the end of 2012.  It has gigabit switched Cat5e everywhere.  The WiFi is only used for portable devices, mostly iPhones and iPads.  We have one laptop that is very lightly used.  The remaining devices are all Ethernet.  In my previous homes I had problems with the various cheap routers from Netgear, D-Link, etc.  Mostly the DHCP would hang every couple months requiring a reboot.  That was real tiresome and I concluded that the problem was that they were not designed and tested for devices like phones that are connecting and disconnecting so often.  So, when I set up the new house, I decided that I would use the router function in an AirPort Express since it was much more likely that Apple had tested their software with the frequent connections required by iPhones frequently joining and leaving the network.  That has worked out very well for me.  I have only ever had to restart the AirPort Express once in more than 4 years, in addition to firmware updates.  Need to change out the Comcast cable modem - no problem.  The client devices don't even notice the change.  The only problem is that it is a Double NAT because I can't find a way to put the Xfinity voice modem in bridging mode.  The only problem so far with that IP topology is accessing the Plex server from outside.  Meh.  If it was important I could make it work.

 

Since all my networking gear is in a 48" structured wiring box, I patched the AirPort Express to a double Ethernet wall plate in the center of the lower level of the house.  One Ethernet goes from the WAN port on the AirPort Express to the Xfinity box and the other goes from the LAN port to the Gigabit switch.  The 2.4GHz WiFi signal is usable throughout the house, but is weak in the furthest room, which I use as my office.  The 5GHz signal is non-existent in that room.  That is the deficiency I was trying to address.  Plugging in the new Refurbished AirPort Express to a spare Ethernet in my office and configuring it to Extend the WiFi Network was a piece of cake.  I told my phone to forget the 2.4GHz network and connected it to the 5GHz network SSID and now it has a strong signal throughout the house and it uses both AirPorts seamlessly.

 

The only thing I would have done differently is to put ceiling Ethernet connections on both floors during construction so that I could have used smoke detector style access points from the start.  That would have addressed this coverage issue by design.

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I hate to give Apple credit for anything, but I agree that AirPort routers are a very good product. We've been using an Extreme and Express in combo for about 5 years and it has worked great. The only problem is that the express that we have was limited to something like 5 connected devices and we have too many wi-fi devices and my daughter's phone keep failing to connect and failing back to cellar data (which ran up a lot of usage). So six months ago I picked up a used Extreme and added it to the setup and moved the access points around a bit and it solved our our problem of too many connections and improved the connectivity in a far comer of the house.

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