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Wi-Fi strength question  


Topic starter

I still use an AirPort Time Capsule — connected to two AirPort Expresses located throughout my home. The Expresses are connected to the Time Capsule via Ethernet. The Ethernet network is working fine and AirPort Utility reports all is well.

My question has to do with the differing strength of the Wi-Fi connection in different locations. Here's the deal: I have my iPad connected via WiFi obviously. When I am in my office (where the TC is located), and I run an Internet Speed check from the iPad (from Xfinity), it gives a great result. No problem.

However, if I take the iPad to a location right next to one of my AirPort Expresses, the Internet speed drops to about 1/3 (or even less) of what it was in the office. I check and can confirm that the iPad has shifted from being connected via the TC to being connected via the Express. And the strength is reported as "Excellent" in both locations. So that is not the issue.

My "common sense" expectation is that the two speed checks should be similar — since both are being done via devices connected to the Internet directly by Ethernet. That's the whole point, after all, of connecting my Expresses using Ethernet instead of WiFi. But clearly it is not working that way.

Is my expectation wrong? If not, what is likely going on?

Things to check
Is the ethernet connection running 10baseT, 100baseT, or 1000baseT. I do not even know what the Airport Express device support.
Is the WiFi connection, 802.11g, 802.11n (did the Express even support 802.11ac?). And I really REALLY hope it is not 802.11b.
Those are additional variables you need to verify.

2 Answers
Topic starter

The TC is 1000baseT. The Express is apparently only 100baseT. But I am not sure that matters here. The input to the Express is 1000baseT. From there it goes out via WiFi.

The WiFi on the Express is only 802.11n. I thought the Express supported 11ac, but apparently not (checking with MacTracker). That could be the source of the slow down. Thanks for suggesting I double-check that.

Because the Express is limited to 100baseT, the fact that it’s connected to a 1000baseT device is irrelevant. It will only run at 100. What exactly is the speed you see when your iPad is connected to the Time Capsule? I assume this is the 2013 model that supports Wi-Fi 5.

I suspect that the combination of 100baseT and Wi-Fi 4 is what’s causing your perceived slowdown. Is it time to switch to a more modern system?

I replied in the post below.

Topic starter

Yes, The Time Capsule was the last version Apple made (2013. supporting 802.11ac). The Expresses are also the last version released (4th, supporting 802.11n).

The good news is that the speed differences don't affect much at a practical level. I get sufficient speed so I can use my iPad for the tasks I use it for (web browsing, email, watching videos) even at the slower speeds.

As to the Ethernet situation, I understand what you are saying. You are probably right. But my initial thought was that I am not using the Express for Ethernet OUT (which would certainly be at 100BaseT). It goes from Ethernet IN (from the TC) to Wi-Fi OUT. I had hoped that this would mean that it would get the benefit of the incoming 1000BaseT. But it seems not.

Finally, the Wi-Fi speed when the iPad is linked to the TC has been as high as in the 200-300 Mbps range. When connected to the AirPort Express, it is more typically down to about 20 Mbps. However, I just double-checked now and the iPad showed a speed of 22.6 Mbps even when linked to the TC (and 21.5 when connected to the Express). I checked with AirPort Utility to confirm which device the iPad was a client for. A few minutes later, it "corrected itself" and showed 281.8 Mbps when connected to the TC.

As I look into all of this more, it becomes clear that the most likely bottleneck is the 802.11n of the Expresses. From what I read, I can expect a drop off in speed anywhere from 1/3 to 1/10 of 802.11ac.