I think I’ve finally found a wireless network topology that works at my house. It took a bit more equipment than I think should have been necessary, but in the end, it was a small price to pay for having my increasing array of network-dependent devices running smoothly.
Since my guess is that there are a few other suckers like me out there trying to get this to work, I’ll share my final solution.
Until recently, my home network was plagued by the following issues:
- AppleTV in the living room would fail to stream, seamingly due to lost connections
- Tivo HD in living room would periodically complain of being unable to connect to network
- Nintendo Wii was shockingly slow connecting to network
- Tivo HD in bedroom would be unable to play video from other room
- AppleTV in bedroom would periodically fail to stream
Now, it’s not like the above happened all the time. I never had a problem with an iPhone / iPad / Windows laptop / MacBook connecting to the network. It was largely restricted to my video devices. Unfortunately, it was infrequent enough that I could believe everything was configured correctly, but often enough that deep down, I felt like there were Gremlins in the building.
The culprit turned out to be a circa-2008 Airport Extreme that I was using to drive my 802.11N network from the office. It turns out, the older Airport Extreme can handle either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz frequencies, but not both simultaneously. Since the iPhone / iPod uses 2.4Ghz, for compatibility you are effectively stuck at 2.4Ghz. In addition, my office is literally at one corner of my house from the bedroom. Not ideal, spatially, for the hub of my network. The living room is more centrally located.
I began to suspect that the number of wireless devices that I owned had crossed some threshold, and the amount of interference and cross-talk was leading to unpredictable behavior.
As a solution, I purchased a newer Airport Extreme base station, with dual-band support. However, instead of replacing the old base station, I added it to the living room as a network extension of the existing wireless network. In order to do this, you need to do the following:
- Open up the “Airport Utility” in the “Utilities” folder in “Applications” (on Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard)
- Click the “Manual Setup” button in the bottom left, to configure the base station
- Select “Extend a wireless network” under the “Wireless” tab
It’s a little tricky, but there is no option to extend a network under the default set-up flow.
This provided three benefits:
- All the devices in the living room are now connected via Ethernet to the Airport Extreme base station. Significantly less chatter on the network.
- The newer devices in the house are now seamlessly connecting via 5Ghz when they can to the Living Room base station
- The bedroom devices are selecting the living room base station instead of the office due to signal strength.
Basically, there is a fairly constant 2.4GHz wireless “pipe” between the Living Room base station and the Office base station, and devices through the house are auto-selecting to the best connection. The living room is aggregating the traffic over it’s ethernet switch and wireless endpoints, and then piping to my office network when necessary.
In the office, my iMac (which is my iTunes server) is connected via a Gigabit Switch to the Airport base station, the Infrant ReadyNAS NV+, and the AT&T Uverse Router.
I’m assuming that the bridging implementation between the two Airport Extreme base stations is extremely efficient – more efficient than having a large number of device independently competing for access to the base station in the Office.
I’ve already noticed now that the new AppleTV 2 devices are extremely happy with this setup, and I get 720P HD streaming in both the living room and the bedroom from the iMac with only a few seconds of buffering. Hopefully, this should prove a durable and performant topology for 2011.