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While diving into the depths of wireless networks I have come across the different address fields in the MAC header of 802.11 network frames. A few thought experiments later I was confused about a certain point concerning wireless repeaters.
Most wireless repeaters work as a wireless client and an access point simultaneously. So the repeater creates a wireless network with the same SSID of the network that should be improved and the clients connect to it. Then the repeater itself connects as a wireless client to the original access point. All the frames the repeater receives from the connected clients are forwarded to the other access point after it has replaced the source mac address with its own (respectively a so-called virtual MAC address).
But how can the repeater distinguish between all the frames it gets as responses from the access point and send it to the right client connected to it?

  • "All the frames the repeater receives from the connected clients are forwarded to the other access point after it has replaced the source mac address with its own (respectively a so-called virtual MAC address)." Are you sure? That is not necessary because the repeater can proxy for all the MAC addresses of the devices connected to it. In any case, businesses do not normally use repeaters because they cut the bandwidth by at least half. – Ron Maupin Jul 29 '18 at 2:20
  • @RonMaupin Yes, a simple proxy would be the most obvious solution. I don't know why it is solved so complicated. – idlmn89 Jul 29 '18 at 17:40
  • That is what it actually is doing. What you described in your question is not what it is doing. What you describe is similar to NAPT, where all addresses are hidden behind a single address, but that is overly-complex, and it requires the maintenance of a translation table. In any case, you really do not find Wi-Fi repeaters in businesses because of the bandwidth penalty. Businesses do not want to cut the bandwidth by at least half, so they properly install multiple WAPs. – Ron Maupin Jul 29 '18 at 17:47
  • Did any answer help you? If so, you should accept the answer so that the question doesn't keep popping up forever, looking for an answer. Alternatively, you can provide and accept your own answer. – Ron Maupin Dec 25 '18 at 9:10
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There are several types of repeaters, my answer will specifically address the ones that match the description in the question, specifically ones where "repeaters work as a wireless client and an access point simultaneously."

All the frames the repeater receives from the connected clients are forwarded to the other access point after it has replaced the source mac address with its own (respectively a so-called virtual MAC address).

Your understanding appears to be incorrect. With 802.11 frames, the source and destination addresses are never changed, no matter the number of wireless "hops" taking place whether these are wireless bridges, repeaters, mesh nodes or some other mechanism.

How does a wireless repeater ascertain the destination MAC address of a wireless client?

and

But how can the repeater distinguish between all the frames it gets as responses from the access point and send it to the right client connected to it?

It is crucial to understanding the answer to this question that while an 802.11 device is transmitting to a receiving device, either one (or both) of these devices may not be the actual source or destination of the L2 traffic. So this can create situations where you need four different distinct addresses:

  • Transmitter Address (TA)
  • Receiver Address (RA)
  • Source Address (SA)
  • Destination Address (DA)

Here are a couple quick summary tables that I took from an IEEE document that will help illustrate the use of the four addresses: enter image description here

enter image description here

So, how does this translate when a repeater is in use between an client and access point (AP)?

client <--> repeater <--> AP

Say the client is sending traffic to a server on the Internet. Since the server is on the Internet, the client sends traffic to it's default gateway. So you have four devices involved in the L2 traffic, the client, the gateway, the AP and the repeater.

The client will send traffic to the gateway through the repeater. The repeater takes this traffic and sends it to the AP and then on to the gateway. Traffic back from the server comes from the gateway and is transmitted by the AP to the repeater. The repeater then sends this to the client. The following table illustrates how the address fields are used in this process:

Direction  ToDS  FromDS  Address1  Address2  Address3  Address4
---------  ----  ------  --------  --------  --------  --------
C -> S      1      0     Repeater  Client    Gateway   n/a
C -> S      1      1     AP        Repeater  Gateway   Client
S -> C      1      1     Repeater  AP        Client    Gateway
S -> C      0      1     Client    Repeater  Gateway   n/a

As we can now clearly see, there is never any point where the AP or repeater do not know the actual source or destination of the frame, no matter how many different clients may be associated nor how much traffic is being generated.

Note: portions of this answer were derived from my own answer already posted on this site.

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After searching the web I have found the answer by myself. Most wireless repeaters don't use only one virtual MAC address, instead they use one virtual MAC address for each connected client.
Let's assume our repeater has the following MAC address e0:46:a1:9b:18:4c. So it doesn't use this address for a direct contact to the access point, instead it derives a virtual MAC address for each client by setting the second bit of the first byte to one (so this MAC address becomes locally administered) and replacing the last three bytes with the last three bytes of the client's MAC address.

MAC address repeater: e0:46:a1:9b:18:4c
virtual MAC address repeater: e2:46:a1:9b:18:4c
MAC address client: 28:7c:af:f0:47:1c
virtual MAC address client: e2:46:a1:f0:47:1c

That's how each client gets a unique identification and the repeater can forward any traffic from the access point to the right client.

  • This may be true for certain types of repeater, but not the type described in the original question. The type specified in the question will use the addresses available in the 802.11 header. – YLearn Aug 28 '18 at 22:32

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