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Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network
Nov 20, 2015

Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network

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

Note: This title has been replaced with Glenn’s newer book, Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security. However, owners of the newer book can still download this older title (for free) for details on configuring Apple’s now-discontinued AirPort and Time Capsule devices.

Join Wi-Fi wizard Glenn Fleishman and learn to 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 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 versions of AirPort Utility, the ebook includes a free download of any prior edition, dating back to 2004.)

example diagram 2    example diagram 2

You’ll also learn about what’s going on behind the scenes. 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.

The book also provides directions for setting up a cellular iOS device as an Internet hotspot, and it discusses Apple’s Instant Hotspot feature.

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 to it from OS X, iOS, Windows 10, Android, and Chrome OS.

  • 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.

  • Set up a cellular iOS device as an Internet hotspot and connect other devices to the hotspot with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB.

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 Version 1.2

The motivation for this update was to add information about iOS 9, 10.11 El Capitan, and Windows 10. Along the way, I found a few other details that I wanted to add or change:

  • I found two great tools for graphically mapping Wi-Fi networks and for visualizing a network environment—NetSpot and WiFi Explorer—so I added a run-through of each product in Testing from Client to Base Station.

  • I’ve made several small revisions about 802.11ac waves. Previously, when I discussed the latest flavor of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, it was as a single thing; however, the standard is being rolled out progressively in waves, each with new features. Apple’s two 802.11ac base stations and nearly all the adapters in Macs and iOS devices currently use wave 1. The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus support wave 2, and I expect that Apple’s next flagship base station hardware revision will add wave 2 support.

  • In case you want to adjust or prioritize the way a Mac makes network connections in different locations—and be able to choose a location quickly—I added more detail in Manage Network Locations.

  • I added a sidebar, Wi-Fi Assist Boosts Wonky WLAN, that describes iOS 9’s new Wi-Fi Assist feature, which is enabled by default. Because this feature can burn through cellular data, iOS 9 users should keep it on only if they are aware of this risk.

  • I added steps for connecting to an Apple Wi-Fi network from Android and Chrome OS in Connect in Android and Connect in Chrome OS.

  • Because you may want to buy a base station without paying a premium for an Apple product—or you may want to try a different feature set than what Apple is currently offering—I added the sidebar Two Non-Apple Router Options That May Suit You to draw your attention to a few models that are worth a look.

What Was New in Version 1.0 and 1.1

Version 1.0 of this book was a new edition of a title that has been available in various iterations for over a decade. Version 1.0 focused on Apple’s 802.11ac gear and on 10.9 Mavericks, iOS 7, and Windows 8.1.

Version 1.1 added details for 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8 as well as information about how to Connect with a Personal Hotspot and Share with AirDrop. This version also described new behavior in the hidden Wi-Fi menu, in Use the Wi-Fi Menu, and had various changes because the outdated WEP security option is finally gone; in particular, see Wait, Where’s WEP?!.


Do you have any ebooks about older Apple base stations?

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

This ebook gives specific directions for 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9, with connection information for Windows 10, Android, and Chrome OS. The directions often work fine in older versions of OS X and iOS, and in many cases the book has specific information about older versions of OS X. The Mac version of AirPort Utility described in this ebook (version 6) works with 10.7 Lion and later.

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: 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

March 29, 2017 - At this time, we have no plans to update this book. These plans could change if Apple alters their direction on Wi-Fi products in their product line.

Posted by Lauri Reinhardt

  1. How To Deal with a KRACK Attack

    You may have seen the news about KRACK, a Wi-Fi exploit that can allow a determined invader to sniff traffic on your network encrypted with the latest and greatest WPA2 protection and decipher some or all of it. There’s a reason to be concerned: it affects every Wi-Fi radio ever made that uses WPA2, which is all of them since about 2003. However, in practice, someone has to be close to your network and use cracking software that doesn’t yet exist: the researcher who discovered the set of flaws exercised responsible disclosure, and thus malicious parties still have to figure out how to take advantage of these defects.

    The flaws largely exist on the client side, so operating system and firmware updates on computers, phone, tablets, gaming devices, smarthome switches, and other equipment will take care of the problem. Base stations will be updated, too, preventing misuse of any device (even an unpatched piece of equipment) on updated networks.

    What do you need to do? Apple already has updates in the latest betas for all its operating systems that will prevent these attacks from being used. iOS 10 and earlier users who can’t update or don’t want to will be in an awkward position, however, because their devices will remain vulnerable on networks that have unpatched or non-upgradable access points. Read more about this in my article at TidBITS, “Wi-Fi Security Flaw Not As Bad As It’s KRACKed Up To Be.”

    Posted by Glenn Fleishman (Permalink)

  2. Are Apple’s Airport Base Stations Dead? How Do We Go Forward?

    A customer wrote in recently, asking for Glenn’s take on the state of Apple base station line, and wondering how to go forward with improving his home network. Here’s what Glenn had to say:

    We don’t have a great set of answers yet, partly because Apple hasn’t officially canceled its products. A lot of people like some of the new mesh networking systems, but they can be a steep investment ($300 to $500 to equip a home), and I expect prices will drop significantly this year due to competition among established companies and startups.

    As long as your Wi-Fi hardware keeps working, don’t upgrade! And you can swap in third-party routers that are similar, but about 50% as expensive as Apple’s, if one of them fails. I like the TP-Link Archer C7 (not C8) and bought one for about $90 to replace a dead AirPort Extreme 802.11ac model. It’s worked perfectly and has required almost no administration after setup.

    Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)

  3. iOS 10 Adds Unsecured Hotspot Warning

    October 2, 2016 — Both iOS 10 and macOS Sierra have appeared since the last update of this book, but the portions related to Wi-Fi and networking have changed very, very little. We have no current plans to update the book.

    Apple added a fairly severe warning about using an unencrypted network connection in iOS 10. Select a network that doesn’t have any network security enabled, and iOS displays “Security Recommendation” in the main Wi-Fi view, and then explains further in a details screen, which includes a link to follow to get even more information. The warning suggests that “you” update the network to WPA2 Personal security, but it shows up for public hotspots, including Apple Stores, not just ones you ostensibly control. The warning is well intentioned but the message poorly considered.

    There are a few other very minor changes. Apple changed the icons used in AirPlay for some destinations in iOS 10. And a new release of Airfoil appeared since our last update that gives it a different appearance, but the features we discuss remain the same.

    Posted by Glenn Fleishman (Permalink)

  4. See Exact Cellular Signal Strength for Hotspot Happiness

    If you use your iPhone or iPad to create a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other devices, you should know that a weak cellular signal not only may affect data transfer speed but also requires your your hotspot-supplying device to use more power — and that means your hotspot’s battery drains more quickly. If your device’s five dot signal-strength indicator does not give you enough information about the strength of a signal (“is that 3-dot signal closer to a 2 or a 4?”), you can make your device show you the exact RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) measured in decibel-milliwatts. Josh Centers has written up the steps in TidBITS.

    Posted by Michael Cohen (Permalink)

  5. 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)

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.