As part of the massive effort to build a new house I started trying to figure out the data network that we needed. As most people know, you end up with a LOT of devices on a network these days. Mobile devices, Whole Home Audio, Laptops, Thermostats, DVR, Televisions, DVD Players, just about everything. Some things in my house were wired and some wireless. The wired network was easy so this is more about the wireless, and SPECIFICALLY the Apple Airport’s dirty little secret about the Guest Network.
For the new house I decided on Apple Airport Extreme devices throughout the house. I liked the performance the reliability and the ease of setup. Most attractive was the fact Apple devices support a “roaming” network configuration that is well documented and easy to set up. That is, until you get to the Guest Network which I will detail in a minute. Below is the basic setup I decided on based on the roaming setup.
- Primary Airport Express – Basement (NAT/DHCP)
- Roaming Airport Express – Kitchen (Bridge Mode)
- Roaming Airport Express – Office (Bridge Mode)
It was incredibly easy to setup and configure. Everything worked great until I got to testing the Guest Network. The nice thing is with a single Airport in DHCP/NAT you can assign a different Network Subnet range for the guests. Come to find out, They are isolated from the other network on a tagged VLAN 1003. I thought this was very cool and having done some reading and knowing I have a managed switch I was able to tag the roaming Airport’s as needed on VLAN 1003 which allowed the guests connected to roaming units to get an IP address. Everything seemed fine….
The Apple Airport Roaming Guest Network Speed Issue
After many hours of testing and reading I was getting horrible download on the guest network. I narrowed the situation down to whenever a user connected to one of the bridge mode Airports. If you connected to the Primary speed was fine, but not on a roaming unit. You got a DHCP address and got online but download was maybe 1/10th of the speed while upload was fine. I began to search more and found many people were having this problem
The issue is that Apple uses VLAN 1003 tagged on the Airport, BUT they actually do NOT support using a managed switch with the same VLAN Tag!! I was seriously baffled at what I found. They have said they only support the roaming configuration with Airports connected to each other via the built-in LAN ports, OR an unmanaged switch. They flat-out do not support using a high-end managed switch tagging and passing the traffic. In fact, in reading the Apple forums they admit the problem and refuse to fix the bug.
The Apple Airport Roaming Guest Network Speed Possible Work Around
Once I figured out the issue I decided myself to only leave the Guest Network active on the Primary Airport for now, but you can resolve this, in a crazy fashion. Essentially you need a dumb, unmanaged switch connected in the following manner, but someone on the Apple Community tried and said the issue still persists
- Primary Airport Running WAN Port —> Internet Connection
- Primary Airport Running DHCP/NAT LAN Port —> Unmanaged Switch
- All Roaming Airport Running Bridge Mode WAN Port —> Unmanaged Switch
- Unmanaged Switch —> Managed switch
According to the Apple documentation this should work, but I’ve not tried it and as I mentioned someone else did and says it’s still a no go. It’s a pretty piss poor obvious bug by Apple they just continue to ignore.