Extend your AirPort's range

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Thanks to Apple’s AirPort technology, wireless networking has become affordable and easy to use. And under ideal conditions, Apple’s AirPort Base Station can provide coverage at distances as great as 150 feet in every direction. But walls and other objects can severely decrease that range, and sometimes 150 feet just isn’t far enough—even for a home or small office. You can extend the range of your Base Station by hundreds of feet (or even several miles) by adding an external antenna. Using Base Stations and antennas in each location, you can cover a larger area of your office or home, extend wireless access to a neighboring building, or even put multiple remote facilities on one network.

Although the $249 AirPort Extreme Base Station is Apple’s first AirPort model to include a port for an external antenna, several companies offer antennas that you can add to second-generation (snow) Base Stations. You’ll have to do a little tinkering, and you’ll void what may be left of your warranty.

What You’ll Need:

  • #8 Torx screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers (optional)
  • Project Difficulty: Easy

    Step 1: Open the Base Station

    Extend AirPort Range Picture 1

    Unplug all cords from the Base Station and turn it upside down so that the screws are visible. Use the #8 Torx screwdriver to remove the two screws that hold the plastic shell together ( A ) and the screw that holds the port cover in place ( B ). Turn the Base Station over, remove the top half of the shell, and lift the silver enclosure from the shell.

    Step 2: Disconnect the Internal Antenna

    Extend AirPort Range Picture 2

    The internal antenna is attached to the Base Station’s AirPort radio via a connector on the right side of the Base Station enclosure ( C ). Remove the connector—if you have trouble removing it, carefully use needle-nose pliers.

    Step 3: Attach the External Antenna Connector

    Extend AirPort Range Picture 3

    To close the Base Station, you’ll need to either drill a hole (large enough for the antenna’s cable) in the port cover, or choose not to replace the port cover—we recommend the latter, a much simpler solution.

    Thread the end of your external antenna’s cable through the port opening at the rear of the Base Station’s plastic top. Now plug the connector firmly into the hole where the original connector was (note that you may have to bend the cable a bit before putting the Base Station back together). When you return the Base Station enclosure to the bottom half of the plastic shell, the new antenna cable should lead from the Base Station connector through the port opening at the back.

    Step 4: Reassemble the Base Station

    If you’ve decided to leave the port cover off, you can now reassemble the Base Station by placing the domed half of the plastic shell on top, turning the Base Station upside down, and using the #8 Torx screwdriver to replace the two screws that hold the shell together.—shelly brisbin

    Antenna Basics

    You can’t just use any old antenna to extend your AirPort Base Station. For one thing, the FCC regulates the gain (or strength, measured in dBi) and frequency of wireless-networking antennas and any devices transmitting on the unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum. The best way to ensure that your antenna complies with federal law is to buy it from a reputable dealer whose products operate in the 2.4GHz spectrum and are designed for use with wireless networks. You can choose between directional and omnidirectional antennas, depending on your needs.

    In addition, your antenna must have or support an MC-Card connector—the type that’s compatible with the Base Station. It’s best to choose an antenna with an MC-Card connector soldered onto its cable. Although you can use various types of adapters with a 2.4GHz antenna that has a different connector type, all excess cabling and adapters decrease the strength of your antenna.

    You can buy Base Station-compatible antennas, kits, and connectors from HyperLink Technologies or from vendors including Proxim, whose Orinoco Range Extender Antenna is available online for around $65, and Buffalo Technology, whose AirStation Indoor Omnidirectional Antenna is available online for around $55.

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