a bit a lot of a nerd.
Most people buy a wireless router, plugin it in, connect up their devices then they’re done.
The router gets shoved in a cupboard only to be searched for when something goes wrong – “who broke the internet?” will be the cry!
I recently swapped out one of the original Airport Express routers and opted to replace it with a 2014 Airport Extreme. An investment has been made so next step (as far as I’m concerned) is to configure the life out of the thing so I can squeeze every cent of value from it.
In this post I’ll skim past the setup, the real focus is how to see that your wireless network is working at its best.
Before we get into that, a quick note about the looks.
Pictured below, the 2014 edition of the Airport Extreme is not lacking in visual appeal. When positioned in a living area of your house it certainly is not ugly, in fact quiet the opposite!
As we’ve come to expect the configuration of the device was simple. Apple provides it’s Airport Utility to do the heavy lifting here. It’s available for both Mac OS X or iOS and works pretty much the same on either. Suffice to say the utility does the job of the initial setup, in fact making it a breeze.
Two Airports? What’s going on?
As can be seen in the screenshot here, the network I’ve setup actually has two Airports. There is the main (new) Airport Extreme base station, it’s connected via ethernet directly to the DSL. Then down stairs there is a slightly older incarnation of the Airport Extreme, it’s used to physically connect the office Macs to each other but then it extends the same wireless network.
Think of it as primary and slave setup, you don’t need to do a full configuration on the slave device, it simply extends the network range.
2.4 GHz versus 5 GHz
The Airport Extremes support both frequencies of Wifi.
Newer iPhones (think 5 or 5s) support 5GHz while older iPhone 4s only have 2.4 GHz capability. Mac laptops have supported both for sometime, but we have a range of other devices on the network (just about everything you buy now has wifi right?). The TV connects, Apple TV, Airplay speakers. To provide access to all of these you need to run both frequencies.
The new Airport Extreme makes this a snap. In fact it’s done for you.
It has a number of antennas inside, providing support for different frequencies.
Here’s a tip: name your 5GHz network
The Apple router allows you to give your 5GHz network a different name, this is a good idea.
Firstly, when configuring the router in the Airport Utility, you will find this option by clicking “wireless options”.
While 5GHz networks are generally faster, their range and penetration of walls and floors is not as good. When you’re in close range of the router using the 5GHz network is certainly the best thing to do. If you have a room or area that is a long way from the router ou will find that the 5GHz network can actually be slower than the 2.4GHz option simply because it doesn’t travel as far.
Naming the 5GHz network allows you to be able to choose which to connect to.
Testing your setup
This is where we get to the ‘squeezing every last cent of value’ section.
Chances are, depending on your location that there will be other WiFi networks around. With a little bit of configuration you can jostle for space in your local area and choose the section of wireless spectrum that is going to best serve your network.
For this you’re going to need a WiFi diagnostic tool.
WiFi Explorer is a good option if you’re running Mac OS X. Click the screenshot below for larger view of the main interface.
Choose the best Wifi Channel
The default option in the Apple Wifi routers is to have the channel set automatically. If however the other Wifi networks around you are using the same channel or close to your channel there will be interference.
Take the screen shot below; I’m the middle network TEG Industries but as you can see I’m jammed right in between the close by Wifi networks as we’re all using the lower channels.
This is easily fixed in the Airport Utility.
Inside the Wireless Options section you will see you can set the channel for both the 2.4 and 5 GHz networks.
Fixing the problem illustrated here is easily done by choosing a higher channel. As you can see from the screenshot, both networks allow you to select a specific channel.
Positioning of the router
The more you can have the router (and the antennas inside) out in the open, the better spread of signal you’ll experience.
If you have a tool like Wifi Explorer you can try different locations for the router then visit the far flung corners of your house to see what the signal is like. My neighbours are used to me wandering around the yard and down the street, laptop in hand and a smile on my face.
Don’t settle for good enough!
It’s not hard to tweak the Apple routers, even though the tools are pretty simple there’s is enough there to modify your setup to get the best out of it. If you’re really keen talk to your neighbours and agree which channels you should all use, keeping your networks away from each other.
Hope this all helps, good luck with your setup!