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Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network
Jun 18, 2014
The Author

Glenn Fleishman was trained as a typesetter, received a degree in art, and works as a journalist and programmer. Glenn is a regular contributor to the Economist, where he has filed hundreds of online stories, including a 4-year stint as one of the lead writers of its Babbage blog, and dozens of print features. He also appears regularly in Boing Boing, TidBITS, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, Macworld, and Six Colors. His blog is http://glog.glennf.com, and he overshares on Twitter at @glennf.

Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network

Make your Apple Wi-Fi network fast, reliable, and secure!

Although setting up a simple Wi-Fi network with Apple gear is no longer an especially geeky endeavor, making an existing network work optimally still takes effort, given the numerous possible options and places where problems can crop up.

Wi-Fi wizard Glenn Fleishman helps you create a fast, reliable, and secure Apple Wi-Fi network using 802.11ac or 802.11n AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule base stations. You’ll find plenty of practical directions for working with Apple’s AirPort Utility 6 configuration software (for Mac and iOS), including steps for setting up a base station, swapping in new gear, adding base stations to extend your network’s range, attaching USB drives or shared printers, enabling security, creating a guest network, and more. (For help with older gear or AirPort Utility 5, the book includes a free download of any prior edition, dating back to 2004.)

You’ll also learn about what’s going on behind the GUI in AirPort Utility. If you better understand channels and bands, for instance, you may be able to reconfigure your network to dramatically improve performance. And, Glenn provides advice and directions for coping with tricky IP situations.

example diagram 1    example diagram 2

Yosemite/iOS 8?: This book was published shortly before 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8.1 appeared, and Glenn says it is good-to-go for both of these operating systems. Glenn’s blog entry below discusses the minor differences.

More Info

"If anyone knows about real-world Wi-Fi, it’s Glenn Fleishman."
    —Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of bOING bOING

You’ll learn how to:

  • Create a basic Apple Wi-Fi network, and connect Macs, iOS devices, and Windows 8 computers to the network.

  • Efficiently swap a new base station in place of an old one.

  • Extend the range of a network by connecting base stations with Ethernet or Wi-Fi (or a mix).

  • Print wirelessly to a Wi-Fi or USB-connected printer.

  • Add a USB-attached drive to a Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme, and set up user access.

  • Keep intruders out by setting up reliable and relevant security for your network.

  • Easily put visitors on the Internet with a guest network.

You’ll also find information about how to:

  • Back up to a Time Capsule, and work with its internal drive.

  • Pipe audio through an AirPort Express.

  • Share files the new Apple way with AirDrop.

You’ll find lots of problem-solving help about:

  • Avoiding interference problems.

  • What the icon on your Wi-Fi menu means.

  • What the colored light on your base station is trying to tell you.

  • Dealing with a base station that can’t be found on the network.

  • Making a base station assign an IP address to a client.

  • Finding a MAC address. (Hint, 1 Infinite Loop is not the MAC address that you seek.)

  • Updating the firmware in your base station, and reverting to an older version.

And, on the geekier side, you’ll learn about:

  • Putting computers more directly on the Internet with port mapping or a default host.

  • Setting up Software Base Station.

  • Ad hoc networking.

  • Saving effort and avoiding problems by exporting a copy of a base station configuration.

  • Accessing a base station remotely, whether to get at the contents of its drive or to configure it, via iCloud’s Back to My Mac service.

What's New

What’s New in this Edition

This is a fresh book in some ways, but it has a hoary history that dates back about a dozen years, making it the fourth “edition” in a line of books about wireless Apple networks.

Whenever Apple has made significant changes to Mac OS X, iOS, AirPort Utility, or base station hardware, I’ve first covered those changes by revising the current edition of the book, but sooner or later the changes become so great that I’ve needed to not only thoroughly overhaul the manuscript but also rename the book. (For example, the previous title, Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, was unsuitable once Apple introduced its 802.11ac base stations in 2013.)

In the process of creating a new edition, I’ve swept out details about some older gear and software, so if you’re approaching wireless networking afresh, you aren’t overwhelmed with history.

This 1.0 version of Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network adds content about iOS 7, OS X 10.9 Mavericks, and Windows 8.1, and more fully incorporates Apple’s 802.11ac AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule, both released in early 2013. It still covers the 2012 AirPort Express, and I’ve retained some backward-looking information for the 802.11n base stations from 2008–2012, and have kept details about using Wi-Fi with 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Note: With respect to AirPort networking, 10.10 Yosemite, by all accounts, will be nearly identical to Mavericks. I have noted a couple of exceptions in the text.

Finding an Old Edition

For help with an older version of Mac OS X, iOS, or Windows, with older base station gear, or with an older version of AirPort Utility, you can refer to a previous edition of this ebook—there’s no extra charge. Follow the “access extras” link in Ebook Extras, and look in the blog.


Do you have any ebooks about older Apple base stations?


p>We’ve kept older copies of Glenn’s various ebooks about Apple Wi-Fi networking around, because sometimes they are quite useful to readers. If you purchase this ebook, you can download any of them from the ebook’s blog—look near the beginning of ebook’s “Read Me First” for information about accessing the Ebook Extras.

The older ebooks are:

  • Take Control of Your AirPort Network (version 1.2): First published in 2005, this is the go-to for 802.11b and g gear. Its Mac OS X focus is 10.4 Tiger (and earlier).

  • Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network (version 1.6): Updated in 2009, this ebook includes the simultaneous dual-band 802.11n base stations that Apple released in 2009 as well as older 802.11n base stations and scenarios that include 802.11b and 802.11g gear. Its Mac OS X focus is 10.4 Tiger, 10.5 Leopard, and 10.6 Snow Leopard.

  • Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, Second Edition (version 2.0): From 2011, this title freezes time with AirPort Utility 5.5, which is more fully featured than AirPort Utility 6 (AirPort Utility 6 keeps on catching up, so over time, fewer people should need AirPort Utility 5.5). It’s Mac OS X focus is 10.7 Lion.

  • Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, Third Edition (version 3.2): Published in 2013 just after the release of 10.9 Mavericks, this title focuses on 802.11n and ac. It looks at AirPort Utility 6 for Mac and for iOS. We can’t think of a strong case for reading this over the new Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network, but if you need info from mid 2013, it’s available.

Operating Systems Covered in This Book


p>This ebook gives specific directions for 10.9 Mavericks, iOS 7, and Windows 8.1. The directions often work fine in older versions of Mac OS X, and in some cases the book has specific information about older versions of Mac OS X. The Mac version of AirPort Utility described in this ebook (version 6) works with 10.7 Lion and later.

As for 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8.1, the differences are rather small and this book will work nicely for you. Click the Blog tab (adjacent the FAQ tab above) to read more about what’s new with Apple Wi-Fi networking in these operating systems.

Can I attach a hard drive to an AirPort Express?

P.F. asked: “I have an Airport Express (purchased April 2008). I have tried to mount an external drive as an AirDisc, with no success. Does your book take me through the steps?”

Here is Glenn’s reply: “The AirPort Express can’t handle an external drive. Only the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule can share USB-attached drives. The Express supports a single printer only. See: http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/features/printing.html. Sorry for the bad news. While it seems like Apple might be being petty at not including hard drive support in the Express, I believe that they keep the price low on that unit while including features nobody else does (dual-band support, etc.) by having a quite low-powered processor. That processor likely can’t handle the demands of communicating with a drive while operating as a base station. The processor (or there may be multiples) in the higher-end base stations are more capable.”

Update Plans

November 22, 2014 – We love this book, and have kept it alive for nearly a decade. We last updated it in mid-2014, and we are currently contemplating a 2015 update, perhaps in May. The update would incorporate iOS 8 and Yosemite, add mention of any new AirPort gear that Apple might release in early 2015, and include any new information that might come to light about Wi-Fi networking in Yosemite (we’ve heard of a few oddities, but we are not aware of solutions).

Posted by Tonya J Engst

  1. Wi-Fi Networking Changes in Yosemite and iOS 8

    In case you were wondering if much has changed with respect to this book and 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8.1, the answer is that little had changed. There are some minor cosmetic differences, and one feature improvement.

    You can find a full report in an article that Glenn wrote for TidBITS, but here’s a quick rundown of the differences:

    • Hidden menu: In Yosemite, when you hold down the Option key and click the Wi-Fi icon on the menu bar, the hidden troubleshooting and connection information that appears in the menu is somewhat different. There are more items, which are more useful, including a Disconnect option that lets you stop using the Wi-Fi network to which you’re connected.

    • The death of WEP: The outdated security protocol Wired Equivalent Privacy, which security experts said to stop using in 2003, has been removed from ad hoc (computer-to-computer) and Internet sharing (software base station).

    • Continuity adds Instant Hotspot: If you’re running Yosemite on a Mac and iOS 8.1 on your iPhone or iPad with a cellular data connection, and the devices are all logged in with the same iCloud account, on recent-model Macs a new option appears in the Wi-Fi menu, showing the iOS device. Working from the Mac, you can choose the device and enable its Personal Hotspot feature in order to connect to the Internet from the Mac. (Instant Hotspot works only with an iPhone or iPad that has a Lightning connector; if your iOS 8 device is an iPad 2, iPad 3, or iPhone 4S, you can still use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot, but setup is a little more involved.)

    Posted by Tonya J Engst (Permalink)

  2. How Powerline Adapters and a Software Base Station Vastly Improved a Home Network

    This comment from a reader named Ken is a nice example of how the information in this ebook can be put to work. It has been edited for size.

    Before I started reading this book, I didn’t know a LAN port from a WAN port. So my experience is probably typical of a novice user.

    Unfortunately, when our home was built, the wire to connect to our broadband router was placed at one end of the house. So I connected an AirPort Extreme to the router and used an AirPort Express to create and extend a Wi-Fi network to my home office, which is about as far away as possible from the router. The connection was weak and the speed was greatly below what I was paying for. In the middle of the house, we have an Apple TV, which got decent reception.

    The first thing I learned from your book is that wireless networks generally are inferior to a wired network. The speed is usually slower, and the connection is not as reliable. But then I read in the book about how Powerline adapters can be used to extend a network as though it was wired, provided the house wiring is in good order. So I purchased a relatively inexpensive pair of Powerline adapters for about $70, and went to work. It was easy to connect the AirPort Extreme to one of the Powerline adapters with an Ethernet cable. Then I plugged it in to a wall socket that has no other devices connected to it. Then I went to the other end of the house where my office computer is, connected my computer to an Ethernet cable, connected the other end of the Ethernet cable to the other Powerline adapter, and plugged it in. At first, I didn’t get very good connection speeds, but I think that was because I had the Powerline adapter plugged into a receptacle that had another electrical device plugged into it. So I moved the adapter to another wall receptacle that has nothing plugged into it. After waiting about a half hour, the two devices found each other through the house wiring and I got a perfect connection to the computer in my office at the maximum speed for my broadband service.

    The next thing I did based on tip in the book was to convert the desktop computer in my office so that instead of receiving Wi-Fi signals, it emitted them (i.e., became a software base station). This created a much stronger Wi-Fi signal in my office. In turn, this permits me to use a portable Wi-Fi telephone that my company gave me to use to work from home. When this tiny phone works properly, it looks and sounds exactly like callers are reaching me directly in my office (40 miles from my home). Using my old Wi-Fi network, the calls would frequently cut out or be garbled, but now calls are clear and don’t drop.

    The last thing I did was to move the Airport Express I had used to extend my Wi-Fi network to my office (as best it could) toward the middle of the house to increase the signal received by my Apple TV, which it did quite nicely.

    Before I bought your book, I was going to spend $300 on a new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express to see if my Wi-Fi network could perform better. Now, however, for the cost of the book and the Powerline adapters I have a more reliable, stronger system throughout the house.

    Posted by Tonya J Engst (Permalink)