Will cloning an SSID allow Apple devices to automatically switch to strongest signal source?

I’ve been doing a bit of research on networking and am getting conflicting comments on ssid cloning. I use Verizon Fios and just bought the Fios network extender. Some people say if I clone the ssid, my devices, including Apple devices, will automatically switch to the strongest of the two signal sources. Others have said the device will stay at the initial signal, even if it’s weaker, as long as it’s still viable. Anyone know for sure what the truth is? Also do most PC networking cards auto-switch to the strongest signal?

I can’t speak for iOS specifically, but this basic idea of cloning SSIDs is how all the large corporate and school wifis do it. Heck, you know those Xfinity wifis that are everywhere? Same idea. Obviously the devices do switch, I don’t know if they switch the moment the signal is any better or if they wait until they lose signal.

As a side note, a reference implementation of this is Google Wifi. Not whoever made Verizon’s.

SSID doesn’t have a lot to do with it - each access point has its own MAC address, so having the same SSID doesn’t really mean much - except that if you clone SSIDs and keys, then your client device can connect to either (but it would also do that if you had separate SSIDs, separate keys, and just set the client machine up for both of them.

The key question is how the client is configured for roaming, and how the APs are configured to support it - many consumer devices will hang onto a Wifi connection until it is gone and only then look for another - that will result in an interruption to connectivity, which can break some processes such as streamed media, downloads and login sessions.

Industrial kit that is designed to work in a large, multi-AP environment is usually configured for ‘fast roaming’ - when the strength of the current connection drops below a threshold, the client machine seeks other signals - if they’re good enough, it negotiates a connection with them before dropping the existing one - the process is very nearly seamless.

Look for the roaming options on your devices - if there are none, then your kit will likely stay on the connection it starts with, as long as it is at least slightly available - but if you’re not moving about much, that won’t matter.

Can’t say for iOS, but I have a wifi extender with the same SSID and password in my home. My Android phone and MacBook will both switch if they are in sleep mode when I move between areas. If I have them on full operating mode they will remain with the current source until it gets too weak to maintain connection.

My understanding, having discussed with support staff for multi-AP (Access Point) wifi systems…
When you choose to connect to an AP, you will most likely connect to the loudest one with the selected SSID (i.e, the usually closest one).
When your system attaches to a wifi SSSID, the basic functionality is - it remains connected to that AP until it loses the connection, even if you move closer to a different AP.
Fancier systems - Cisco, Trapeze,Meru, etc. - have central management controllers to take care of the problems; since they have full control of which devices connect to which APs through their responses, they can pick and choose connections.
i.e. they will monitor the power level of clients and if they detect the client is louder on another AP, they can force the client to change by stopping response on one AP and replying on the other.

Mind you, this was 5 years ago when G was the most common tech. I have no idea whether newer laptops and iPhones etc. have the same sort of smarts on the client end to automatically switch to an optimal AP. They did not used to.

AP’s have to maintain state, one cannot simply hand off to another AP by cloning the SSID to account for this need.

AP’s need to have dynamic routing and information sharing and the clients need to support handoff. It would take pages to explain why and what, but this is not a trivial technical need and maintaining state among loosely coupled systems is one of the most difficult problems in computer science.

Even the most expensive consumer “mesh” systems are a huge pile of open source service discovery tools and state machines and most resort to simple tunneling to a master node to deal with the hardest problems to solve.

As a consumer you will need to buy a system that advertises this functionality. Some of the ugliest, most terrifying and most elegant and beautiful creations back these systems. Those complexities are generally hidden from consumers but the challenges and solutions truly amount to efforts that are similar to the efforts to send a man to the moon.

This is really overexplaining things for a home or even small business deployment. Simply set up multiple APs with the same SSID. The device will connect to the AP with the strongest signal at the time of connection. It will typically stay connected to this AP. If you happen to roam into an area with a weak signal, the device may reconnect and experience a brief period of connection loss while it reassociates with the new AP. The threshold for this varies by device and driver. In any case, if you happen to move and your connection becomes unstable, manually cycling the wireless connection will reconnect you to the new strongest signal. Most people don’t have to worry about true seamless roaming.

This completely depends on client functionality and iOS/MacOS prefers existing connections and higher security levels lob before it considers RSSI. For newer versions of MacOS and iOS having the same SSID may actually delay handoff in some cases where having autoconnect set to true would not. Post iOS11 having two SSIDs where both are set to auto connect will generally cause less pain and lead to better performance as an example.

Loss of session and lost packets is an issue with legacy client handoff, which in my mind doesn’t meet the OP’s question “will automatically switch to the strongest of the two signal sources” but there is more of a future concern here.

The legacy handoff model of 802.11 has been more and more restricted over time on clients due to the packet loss and long delay but it also is a ticking time bomb with the issues with rogue wireless access point detection and remediation will probably kill this in the near future if a well publicised mitm attack happens.

But the biggest problem this tends to cause is due to the non-standardized, non-published band steering of most modern AP’s. If you don’t mind the issues with the legacy handoff this should be shut off and every radio assigned a unique SSID which could be shared across APs as performance and stability of the client do not typically interact well. Even on devices where you can disable bandstearing among various radios on the same device will tend to place the client on the slowest networking option if they share a SSID.

A slow 2.4Ghz connection will typically always have a higher RSSI as an example. As the cost of wifi extenders or mesh systems that do not suffer as much from bad behavior they are a far better solution than identical SSIDs unless you are fine with the quirks.

Putting two access points in your house on the same network, and using the same SSID and wifi password, but different channels, will mostly do what you want, which is expand the coverage of the wireless to cover dead zones. Devices will mostly move from one to the other seamlessly. Some devices might be stubborn and insist on using a very weak signal instead of switching to the stronger one. You’ll quickly discover if you have a device which is always stubborn, and if you have devices which are sometimes stubborn.

Getting all of the access points on the same network is up to you. I did it by running ethernet between the main router and the satellite access points.

I have a split level house, with four different levels, and used to have three different access points to cover the whole house. Almost all the time, everything worked fine. Sometimes I would have to manually reconnect the wifi on a device if it was being stubborn about switching to a good signal.

I used to use two SSIDs, one for 2.4Ghz and one for 5Ghz. Roaming actually worked better on 5, because of the weaker signal, devices were more likely to move to the nearer access point. 5 is desirable because the maximum throughput is higher than on 2.4.

A few months ago I replaced all three access points with a single Ubiquiti Unifi AC-lite. It covers the whole house with no dead zones. It also has bandsteering, which works pretty well. The way that works is both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz radio use the same SSID, and if the access points sees a device on both 2.4 and 5, with a strong enough signal on both, it bans the device from 2.4, which forces it to connect to 5.

This is with a good mix of iPhones; iPads; Android phones and tablets; and Mac, Linux, and Windows laptops.

No. Unless tech has changed in the last few years (>) your device will stay connected to the AP it connected to.

I assume we are talking of a simple network config - all AP’s on the same subnet. Otherwise, changing AP’s would also involve changing IP address etc.
This is how a home with multiple AP’s, same SSID would work.
You can make a cheap AP by taking a wifi router and turning of DHCP, connect to network via a LAN port.
Thus whichever AP you connect to, usually the loudest/nearest, the same network devices are reachable.
An AP is functionally the same as an ethernet switch, except on port on this “switch” is WiFI
If you move to a new AP, you will be sending signals over the same network, just as if you nplugged from one wired ethernet port and plugged into another. It only takes a moment for the ARP tables to adjust.

But - your device will not automatically switch from a weaker to stronger signal unless you turn it off and on again.

Fancier systems, as I mentioned, have a central controller monitoring connections and their loudness on all AP’s. the will force a device to a new AP by telling satellite AP to stop responding, and instead telling a nearby AP to transmit. As soon as your device realizes the connection is gone, it will seek out a new one - on the intended AP.
Lesser home AP’s don’t have this functionality. The setup is good for covering dead spots, but not for moving around the house.

Years of using the setup the OP describes runs counter to your statement. I use a widget on my phone and tablet to show which AP I’m connected to, and I would routinely see it switch APs when I moved from the office in the basement to the bedroom upstairs. Like I said, this wasn’t 100%, and sometimes I’d have to manually force a reconnect, but most days it worked seamlessly. Usually this would happen with no drama. Videos would stream without pausing, and persistent connections (ssh, etc.) would not drop. This makes sense, as the reconnect would complete in a second or two.