I am apparently several months behind on this, but I have finally determined that the latest revision of the Linksys WRT54G supports WDS right out of the box, and it’s compatible with the AirPort Express.
I had expected to spend the weekend putting third-party firmware on my new router to enable Wireless Distribution System, which the AirPort Express uses to extend a wireless network wirelessly. The Linksys documentation makes no mention of WDS, so I assumed it was still not supported. As it turns out, no third-party firmware is needed, because Linksys quietly implemented WDS as an undocumented feature in their own firmware earlier this year.
The recipe calls for all stations participating in WDS to be on the same channel, with the same SSID and the same encryption settings. With older firmware, you may be restricted to 128-bit WEP, but with the newer firmware for each device you can use WPA Personal or leave encryption off altogether.
The following instructions are for enabling WEP, for those of you who may need it. If you won’t be using WEP, just be sure your encryption settings are the same on both the Linksys and the Express. If you’re already using WPA or no encryption, you can skip this part. The rest of this document will discuss the procedure as if you’re using WEP, because WEP is known to work for all routers capable of doing this at all.
To configure your WRT54G to use 128-bit WEP, first make sure you’re connected via Ethernet to your router to minimize hassle. If that’s not an option, make careful note of your WEP key during the following procedure. You (and everyone else connected) will have to reconnect to your wireless network with your new WEP key after you click “Save Settings.”
- Open the Linksys web-based admin utility. This link will probably work if your router is still in its default state.
- Click the Wireless tab, followed by the Wireless Security tab.
- Set “Security Mode” to “WEP”
- Set “Default Transmit Key” to “1″
- Set “WEP Encryption” to “128 bits 26 hex digits”
- Set “Passphrase” to something clever, then click “Generate”
- Make a note of the value inserted into the “Key 1″ field. Write it down by hand if you must. This beast is your new network password.
- Click “Save Settings”
- Click “Continue” at the “Settings Successful” screen. Leave this window open, we’ll be coming back to it shortly.
The security settings are all that will likely need to change. Any functional configuration of the WRT54G should suffice. WDS configuration on the router side is fully automatic.
The AirPort Express is where most of the configuration happens. For the following steps, you’ll want both AirPort Admin Utility and the WRT54G’s configuration page open, so that you can copy details from one to the other. You should also give your AirPort Express a factory reset, especially if you’ve already been futzing with this for a while. After giving it a factory reset, connect it via Ethernet directly to your WRT54G temporarily to prevent disruptions during setup; when you’re finished, you can put it back in the living room.
In the AirPort Admin Utility, under the AirPort tab:
- Set “Wireless Mode” to “Create a Wireless Network (Home Router)”
- Set “Name” to match the WRT54G’s “Wireless Network Name” (under “Wireless” > “Basic Wireless Settings” in the Linksys admin)
- Click “Change Wireless Security”
- Set “Wireless Security” to “WEP”
- In the “Network Password” field, enter a dollar sign ($) followed by the value for the WRT54G’s “Key 1″ (under “Wireless” > “Wireless Security” in the Linksys admin). Do it again in the “Verify Password” field.
- “Encryption Type” should set itself automatically to “128 bit WEP” based on the password. If not, try re-entering the passwords. You should be putting in something like “$AE5F74B05B23239C2861A48AFE”
- Click “OK” to close the Wireless Security window. Click “Continue” to dismiss the nagalog.
- Set “Channel” to match the WRT54G’s “Wireless Channel” (under “Wireless” > “Basic Wireless Settings” in the Linksys admin)
- Set the rest of the options under the AirPort tab as appropriate for your network.
Under the Internet tab:
- Set “Connect Using” to “AirPort (WDS)”
- Set “MAC Address” to the WRT54G’s wireless MAC address (under “Status” > “Wireless” in the Linksys admin). It is very important to get the MAC address for the “Wireless” interface on the router, not the “Router” or “Local Network” addresses.
- Check “Also allow wireless client computers”
- Set “Configure” to “Using DHCP”
Under the Network tab, un-check “Distribute IP addresses”
Under the WDS tab, confirm the following:
- “Enable this base station” is checked and set to “remote base station”
- “Allow wireless clients on this base station” is checked
- “Main AirPort ID is set to the wireless MAC address of the WRT54G
Under the Music tab, set the options as appropriate for your network.
When you’ve finished all of this, click “Update.” The configuration will be applied to your AirPort Express and it will reboot. It should come back up with a nice green light, at which point you can unplug it from the wall and your router, and return it to its location in your living room. When it powers up in there, it should get a green light again, and you’re done!
Documentation from Linksys on this is non-existent. The only reason to suspect that the WRT54G has been endowed with WDS support comes from different Linksys products, including the Wireless Range Expander and the WAP54G. It just so happens that these use WDS and 128-bit WEP behind the scenes, and sure enough, the WRT54G and WRT54GS are listed as being compatible. Putting two and two together, it’s not hard to make the AirPort Express behave similarly, which is what we’ve done here.
I’m thrilled not to have to deal with third party firmware for this. As much fun as it sounds, the fact is that the alternative firmware available for these routers doesn’t support my hardware revision, and I don’t have the funds to support bricking lots of routers as I try things out. But beyond that, I’m impressed that the WRT54G supports WDS without so much as a configuration screen.
Next on my list: finding an Ethernet device or two to plug into my new AirPort Express-powered switch in the living room.
Originally published September 6, 2005.
January 9, 2006
I’ve upgraded the firmware on my revision 3 router to version 4.20.7, as high as is officially supported. While WPA doesn’t seem to work under this arrangement, 128-bit WEP is no longer required. WDS works just as well now with no security set up at all. To use this configuration, just select “None” or “Disabled” when you’d otherwise have selected “WEP” in the instructions above and skip the details for configuring WEP.
My hardware doesn’t support version 5 of the firmware as far as I know, so I have no news about its compatibility with the AirPort Express. Anyone who has a revision 3 router who cares to try the 5.0 line of firmware, feel free to contact me if you have any success.
May 17, 2006
A reader reports that WPA now works with the latest revisions of the firmware. See comments below for details.