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Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network
Aug 29, 2013

Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, Third Edition

Make your network fast, reliable, and secure!

Updated for Apple’s latest 802.11ac AirPort base stations (and yes, the title of this book will have to change soon)!

Find real-world advice from Wi-Fi wizard Glenn Fleishman on setting up a wireless network using Apple’s 802.11n- and 802.11ac-enabled AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule base stations. The ebook is packed with directions for enhancing an AirPort network, whether you’re replacing an old base station, adding another base station to extend your range, improving your security, connecting a USB-attached printer or drive, or setting up a guest network.

You’ll find the answers to questions that may otherwise frustrate you, such as how to choose the best band and channel, set up complex Internet addressing, solve a variety of connection problems, and much more.

Glenn explains how to configure an 802.11n and/or 802.11ac AirPort network using AirPort Utility 6 or AirPort Utility for iOS. (AirPort Utility 6 runs only in 10.7 Lion and later.) The ebook includes a free download of the previous edition (version 2.0), which describes using AirPort Utility 5. (AirPort Utility 5 runs on 10.5 Leopard - 10.7 Lion, as well as on Windows computers.)

example diagram 1    example diagram 2

More Info

“This Take Control book is a must-have for anyone who needs to quickly and easily set up an AirPort network.” —Phil Kearney, "father" of Apple’s AirPort product line

If you’re trying to solve a particular problem, you can jump in and read the topics in this ebook in any order, but if you start at the beginning, you’ll learn how Apple’s 802.11n and 802.11ac gear fits into the world of Wi-Fi networking.

With that background, you’ll learn where to position and how to set up base stations, with diagrams showing common network scenarios—see two examples above—and with step-by-step instructions for configuring key Internet sharing and security options and connecting client computers. For those who have funky Internet connections or tricky IP addressing needs, Glenn provides extended advice for creating a working Wi-Fi network.

Glenn provides real-world directions for important scenarios, including how to:

Create a basic (or not so basic) Wi-Fi network, using Apple’s base stations:

  • Set up a wireless network with a single base station, or with multiple base stations - whether you want to extend a network with Ethernet or a wireless connection (or a mix of the two), Glenn examines your options and provides configuration steps. He also touches briefly on powerline connections.

  • Keep your existing network, but replace an older or broken base station with a new one.

  • Export your base station’s configuration, either to make a backup or to create a model configuration to use on other base stations.

  • Connect Macs (10.5 Leopard and later), iOS devices, and Windows 7 and 8 computers to your network.

  • Set up reliable and relevant security for your network. Also, add a guest network that gives your guests Internet access while restricting their access to local resources.

Attach peripherals to your network:

  • Add a Wi-Fi or USB-connected printer, and connect to the printer from Mac and Windows computers.

  • Add a USB-attached drive to a Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme, and configure client access.

  • Connect a 2nd- or 3rd-generation Apple TV to your network

Do more networking:

  • Set up a Time Machine backup to a Time Capsule base station.

  • Expand the capabilities of an AirPort Express by setting up audio streaming, trying Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil media streaming utility, or extending your network with ProxySTA.

  • Share files conveniently and wirelessly between Macs with the AirDrop file-transfer feature, plus understand the type of networking that AirDrop uses.

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

  • Set up Back to My Mac with iCloud in order to access an AirPort or Time Capsule drive remotely, or to configure your base station remotely.

  • Set up a Software Base Station or do ad-hoc networking.

Understand what’s going on and solve problems:

  • Find out what the icon on your Wi-Fi menu means, and discover what the colored light on your base station is trying to tell you.

  • Learn what a MAC address is, plus how to find it. (Hint, 1 Infinite Loop is not the MAC address that you seek.)

  • Read background information about the bands and channels used with Wi-Fi networking, understand how Apple’s Wi-Fi gear fits into the picture, and get ideas for how to create an optimal network that avoids interference problems.

  • Understand the differences among AirPort Utility 6 (for Mac), AirPort Utility for iOS, and AirPort Utility 5 (for Mac and Windows). Find a free download link for the previous edition of this ebook, which covers AirPort Utility 5.

  • Learn how to update the firmware in your base station, and how to revert to an older version of your firmware, if necessary.

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

What's New

What’s New in Version 3.2

This update takes account of several changes that have occurred since version 3.1 of the ebook came out in 2012:

  • New AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule: Introduced in June 2013, these new models feature 802.11ac, a newer (still in progress) version of Wi-Fi that offers higher data transfer rates and better coverage. The shape of the base stations was also changed. 802.11ac is now mentioned throughout the ebook, but see especially Wi-Fi and AirPort Flavors.

  • More support for guest networks: Guest networking can now be set up on all base stations in a network, due to a change in AirPort Utility and updated firmware released in early 2013. (See Set Up Guest Networking.)

  • WPS for Wi-Fi printers: A Wi-Fi–enabled printer can be simply added to a network without entering an encryption key, due to the same early 2013 firmware update. (See Add a Wi-Fi Printer Using WPS.) This method of adding a printer relies on Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), a no-entry system for connecting devices to a Wi-Fi network. (Apple once included WPS to connect computers and some other devices, but removed it in an earlier release. The ability to connect printers is new.)

  • Wireless Diagnostics utility: The Wi-Fi Diagnostics program found in the first release of OS X 10.08 Mountain Lion has been substantially changed yet again. (See Run Wireless Diagnostics.)

  • Windows 8: With Windows 8.1 expected in October 2013, I’ve inserted directions for adding a printer and connecting to a Wi-Fi network with Windows 8.1. (See Add a Shared Printer in Windows 8 and Connect in Windows 8.)

What Was New in Version 3.1

This update was inspired by three events that took place after version 3.0 of this ebook appeared in early 2012:

  • AirPort Utility update: In AirPort Utility 6.1, Apple restored configuration features for IPv6 networking and WPA2 Enterprise security. See Configure IPv6 Networking and Turn On WPA/WPA2 or WPA2 Enterprise.
  • OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: When 10.8 Mountain Lion became available in July, it left most Wi-Fi features and options alone, but has one major change worth calling out. The software base station feature that lets you turn a Macintosh into the equivalent of a hardware Wi-Fi router like an AirPort Extreme now finally includes proper modern security. See Software Base Station for details. Plus, the Wi-Fi Diagnostics app is now easier to launch and has a revised interface. Read Use the Wi-Fi Diagnostics Program.
  • New AirPort Express model: The new AirPort Express has substantial changes in its form, but only minor changes in its features, notably the addition of a second Ethernet port. Where it’s important to note differences between it and the 2008 AirPort Express model, I refer to the new model as the 2012 Express.

I also added advice about troubleshooting your connection if an exclamation-point icon appears at the top of the Wi-Fi menu in the menu bar. See Wi-Fi Network Won’t Assign an IP Address.

What Was New in Version 3.0

The previous version of this ebook made a significant change: it replaced coverage of AirPort Utility 5 in favor of focusing on AirPort Utility 6, which was released in February 2012 and updated to version 6.1 in June 2012. 

AirPort Utility 6 runs on 10.7 Lion or 10.8 Mountain Lion. 

The big new feature in AirPort Utility 6 is a graphical depiction of the layout of an AirPort network. This is terrific for visualizing how parts are connected and seeing where errors lie.

AirPort Utility 6 has many features that are documented in previous editions of this book, but it omits several options designed for mixed 802.11g and 80211.n networks and it can’t configure 802.11b and 802.11g AirPort base stations (any base station released from 1999 through 2006). Further, although AirPort Utility 6.1 can configure the 2012 AirPort Express, AirPort Utility 6.0 cannot.

This ebook also now discusses AirPort Utility for iOS, which has a similar approach to AirPort Utility 6, and makes it possible to configure and manage an Apple base station without a desktop computer. That’s a first for Apple.

Older versions of AirPort Utility remain available:

  • Mac: The latest releases of AirPort Utility 5 for the Mac are AirPort Utility 5.6.1 for Leopard and Snow Leopard and 5.6.0 for Lion and Mountain Lion. However, version 5.6.0 cannot configure a 2012 AirPort Express; only version 5.6.1 can, and 5.6.1 will not install under Lion or Mountain Lion.
  • Windows: AirPort Utility 5.6.1 for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 is the latest version. In the future, I expect that Apple will update Windows AirPort Utility to a feature-identical version 6.

Free download: If you need help with AirPort Utility 5, you can refer to the previous edition of this ebook—there’s no extra charge. Follow the “access extras” link in Ebook Extras, and look in the blog.


Can I attach a hard drive to an AirPort Express?

P.F. asked: “I have an Airport Express (purchased April 08). 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: 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.”

Do you have an ebook that focuses on older Apple base stations?


p>We have two older ebooks that focus on older base stations, but that still might be useful, even though they were last updated some time ago. If you purchase this ebook, you can download either 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 two older ebooks are:

  • Take Control of Your AirPort Network: This is the first of Glenn’s AirPort-related ebooks. It describes networking with 802.11b and 802.11g gear, and its descriptions of Mac OS X are from before 10.5 Leopard.

  • Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network (version 1.6): Last updated in 2009, this ebook covers the simultaneous dual-band 802.11n base stations that Apple released in 2009. Although its core focus is on 802.11n, it also covers scenarios where you are using 802.11b and 802.11g gear, or where you are mixing older and newer base stations on the same wireless network. Its primary Mac OS X focus is on 10.4 Tiger, 10.5 Leopard, and 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Operating Systems Covered in This Book

This ebook gives specific directions for OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, and Windows 7 and 8. Where applicable, 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard are covered in reasonable detail. The Mac version of AirPort Utility described in this ebook (version 6) works only with 10.7 Lion and later. The ebook also covers the use of AirPort Utility in iOS.

Update Plans

June 19, 2014 – We don’t plan to update this ebook again. Because some of the content was aging out and because the actual title didn’t include 802.11ac, we decided to create a new ebook, Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network.

Posted by Tonya Engst

  1. Google Aims to Simplify Wi-Fi with OnHub Router

    Google has entered the Wi-Fi router marketplace with its newly announced OnHub device which purports to make establishing and maintaining a Wi-Fi network simple. If you are wondering whether Google’s device might be a suitable replacement for your router or make a useful addition to your Wi-Fi network, head on over to TidBITS where Glenn has posted his preliminary take on it.

    Posted by Michael Cohen (Permalink)

  2. Use Time Machine with 802.11ac AirPort Extreme Base Station

    Apple has long maintained that a USB hard drive attached to an AirPort Base Station was not a supported configuration for Time Machine backups. That is no longer the case…if the USB drive in question is attached to an 802.11ac AirPort Extreme Base Station running AirPort Base Station Firmware 7.2.2 or later. Adam Engst describes this newly available AirPort Extreme capability in a TidBITS article that walks you through the details.

    Posted by Michael Cohen (Permalink)

  3. 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 Engst (Permalink)

  4. Installing AirPort Utility 5 on a Mountain Lion Mac

    Although Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network focuses on AirPort Utility 6, some readers may want to run AirPort Utility 5 in order to access options not available in AirPort Utility 6, such as options for configuring an older base station.

    It is possible to download AirPort Utility 5.6 for Mac OS X Lion to a Macintosh running 10.8 Mountain Lion and to download AirPort Utility 5.6.1 for Leopard/Snow Leopard to a Mountain Lion Mac. I know this for sure, because I just did it. However, if you double-click on one of these downloaded package icons and run the installer, you’ll get a message about how “the version of Mac OS X on this volume is not supported.” Great… now what?

    To solve this maddening problem, you must extract the utility from the installer package. Chris Breen has written a short Macworld article about this problem and suggests using Pacifist to do the extraction. Several commenters to the article suggest free solutions. And, Frank Tisellano has created a donationware AirPort Utility Extractor that can do the job.

    Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)

  5. Time Capsule Failure Prevention and Resolution

    A recent TidBITS article, Time Capsule Failures: When They Happen and What to Do, discusses a spate of Time Capsule failures, possibly due to overheating. The article makes suggestions for avoiding this problem, and it describes how to best address the problem if it happens. Unfortunately, if your Time Capsule does go belly up, you’ll ideally have another backup of your Time Capsule drive, so if you haven’t looked into setting one up, this article should give you additional incentive.

    Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)

The Author

Glenn Fleishman is a veteran technology writer who has contributed to dozens of publications across his career, including Macworld, the New York Times, Wired, the Atlantic, and the Economist. He has also written dozens of editions of books in the Take Control series. Glenn lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.