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Monday, May 21, 2007

Assembling a Wireless Roaming Network with Airport

When a single AirPort Base Station can't cover the area that you want your wireless network to span — either because of interference, physical obstacles, area size, or a combination of these — you may have to get one or more additional AirPort Base Stations to extend the range of your network. After you have several base stations in play, you can use them to extend the network in several ways. A roaming network is one of those ways.

Understanding roaming networks

In a roaming network, as a client computer moves out of the broadcast range of one base station and into the range of another, the computer remains connected to the network. The client computer locks onto the signal of the strongest base station in the area, similar to the way a cell phone keeps its connection as it moves out of range of one cell tower, into another. Roaming networks, as their name implies, are designed with the peripatetic habits of mobile computer users in mind.

Roaming networks require that each base station in the network have a physical connection to the other. That means you can't just place the base stations anywhere you want: You must place them where they can connect to each other through a wired LAN. Roaming networks are thus well-suited to situations where a wired LAN already exists, and the AirPort Base Stations are used to extend that LAN to wireless computer users. You might, for example, find roaming networks in a business setting, where a LAN already connects a suite of offices, or in a school where a LAN already connects neighboring classrooms.

A roaming network can share an Internet connection to its clients just as an individual base station can. But it doesn't have to: You can choose to establish a roaming network that remains isolated from the rest of the networked world. For example, a roaming network can connect the wireless computers toted around by salespeople at a car dealership, the wired computers used by the dealership's office staff, and the dealership's customer database and inventory tracking system. Nothing, in terms of data transmission, leaves the lot.

Setting up base stations in a roaming network

You don't need to do anything exotic with your AirPort Base Station to assemble a roaming network. Here's what you need to do to configure the AirPort Base Stations that you use to create your roaming network:

1. Connect each AirPort Base Station to the LAN.

Use the LAN Ethernet port if you have a Snow or AirPort Extreme base station. For a Graphite or AirPort Express, you have only one Ethernet port, so use it.

2. Open the AirPort Admin Utility.

You will perform the following steps for each base station that forms your roaming LAN.

3. In the AirPort Admin Utility, in the Select a Base Station window, select a base station.

4. Click Configure.

5. Click the AirPort tab.

6. Give the base station a network name and network password.

For every base station you configure, you will use the same network name and password.

By assigning the same network name and password to the network, the roaming computer regards the signals coming from each base station as all being from the same network.

When you set the network password for each AirPort Base Station, you should also make sure that each base station uses the same security protocol.

7. Under the Network tab, turn off Distribute IP Addresses.

Different model base stations may have some slightly different options under this Network tab. For example, an AirPort Extreme base station always provides a bridge between the wireless part of the network and the wired LAN, and a Graphite base station has an Enable AirPort to Ethernet bridging check box that enables this bridging. In a roaming network you want to have such bridging available, so if your base station provides this check box under the AirPort Admin Utility's Network tab, put a check in it.

8. Set the channel.

To avoid possible interference between adjacent AirPort Base Stations on your roaming network, try to arrange things so that neighboring base stations have channel settings several channels apart. For example, if you set a base station in your roaming network to channel 1, set that station's closest neighbor to channel 4 or higher. Because stations in a roaming network tend to be spaced relatively far apart, you don't have to set their channel numbers to the optimal five channel separation.

9. Click Update.

10. Repeat Steps 3 through 9 for each base station you are configuring on the roaming network.

These steps create a roaming network that extends a wired LAN to wireless computers.

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