AMITIAE - Thursday 27 June 2013

Apple AirPort Extreme Router in Thailand (2): Installation and Setup with Comments on Limitations

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Airport Extreme Router

The new Airport Extreme Wi-Fi Router announced at the recent Apple WWDC by Phil Schiller uses the IEEE 802.11 ac standard. Announcing this new device in the middle of the MacBook Air presentation sent a signal. With changes to the operating systems for Macs and the portable devices, the hardware is ready for a shift in strategy. I ordered an Airport Extreme Router as soon as I saw it in the Apple Online Store for Thailand and it was delivered this week.

In the first part of this look at the Airport Extreme Router that arrived in Thailand this week, I discussed some of the implications of faster connections and better data transfers that will be possible with the fat pipe 802.11 ac allows, as well as its beamforming that will provide more efficient use of the bandwidth available. I also described the device and made some comments concerning my setup before preparing for its installation.

The point about making tea before setting about such an installation is not an idle comment. It allows a pause that lets me think through what I need and how to go about the process. I am not overly confident with setting up Wi-Fi systems and the thought of multiple browser pages for some of the ADSL Modem Routers I have seen makes me reluctant to attempt any new setup. Once installed, I tend to leave well alone.

Fortunately this was just a Wi-Fi Router that was to be connected to an existing home system and the use of Apple's Airport Utility (in Applications > Utilities) was quite straight-forward. It was done in a few minutes. I had last used Airport Utility in late 2007 when the previous Airport Extreme Router had been set up. It had needed no changes in the interim. The interface of the current version (6.3) is much cleaner and it felt much easier to use.

It is now possible for users of iOS devices to setup the Airport Extreme Router without a computer using the Airport Utility for iOS devices. Times change and the iPad has seen a new type of user who may only have hand-held devices. I am still a computer user so ran the installation process from the Mac.

My normal setup starts with the ADSL modem router provided by the Internet provider (TrueMove) with Wi-Fi and 4 Ethernet ports. I do not use this for Wi-Fi now (although that is still on) and instead connect the old Airport Extreme Router (802.11n) to the Modem router via Ethernet. I also connected the new 802.11ac Airport Extreme Router in the same way, using a CAT5e Ethernet cable, then powered up all the devices together.

Before starting the Airport Utility application, I chose a name for the new router and created a password, to save doing this during the setup. I write this down on paper, set up any other devices I need, then lock it away. I can also access the information using Keychain Access on the Mac. A checkbox in Airport Utility is available to save the password this way. I created a completely random and long password using letters, numbers and symbols that I will never remember. But I do not have to.

Airport Utility gave me several options for WPA and/orWPA2 passwords, including enterprise level settings that would include better encryption.

The new Wi-Fi was recognised by the Mac and when I clicked on this in the menu, Airport Utility gave me several options for the installation. The default was to extend the current network from the older Airport Extreme router. This could be useful in a business environment (or large home) and would allow deployment of other devices without the need for wiring. I was also offered

  • Create a new network
  • Add to an existing netwrk
  • Replace an existing device.

I selected the new network option.


As part of my checking the new setup, I restarted the devices without the older router. Airport Utility still recognised it, but a yellow warning triangle showed it was not connected. I currently have a setup that can use either, or both routers. In this first check, as well as the yellow triangle beside the old router, there was a red circle with a "1" beside the new router. A message showed that a firmware update was available which I installed.

If I want, I can remove the older device, by clicking on the icon and pressing "Forget" in the panel that appears. It stays for the time being.


When it came to the other devices, I tried to type in the password on the iPad first but failed a couple of times. I resorted to copying the password into Notes which syncs via iCloud. I was then able to copy and paste the password into the Wi-Fi panel on the iPad when prompted. I repeated this on the iPhone, then deleted the note.

In the Network panel of System Preferences, I clicked on the Advanced button and in the networks list dragged the new network to the top. I also took a few minutes to clear out some of the connections (public Wi-Fi, hotels, offices) that I had linked to in the last few months and will probably not use again.

Did it make a difference? Probably not (or not much). I tried a backup of iPad data which normally takes ages. It may have been a little faster, but that is probably wishful thinking on my part. Activity Monitor on the Mac showed between 2 and 2.6 MB/second while I was doing this, with a significant speed drop near the end. When the backup was complete, data (apps, music) was transferred from the Mac at similar speeds. Compared with the AnandTech data for the MacBook Air, this was not an improvement.

It is clear that there will be real improvements only when two devices with the new capabilities are linked on this network - and that is only for in-house links. Outside is limited to the speed that the IP graciously allows.

Setting up this new router was really quite painless, especially when compared to other browser-based solutions. After a few minutes configuration I was back working as normal on my computers and devices.

For now, benefits will be small if any. While the iPad can use the 5GHz band, the iPhone 4S that I use can only use 2.4 Ghz. But this is looking to the future - perhaps only a few weeks or months away. All I need now is for those new Macs, iPhones and iPads to appear and those backup times will tumble.

Now, some 24 hours after I installed the new Airport Extreme Router it has not missed a beat. Like its predecessor.


Other Links

While looking through the web for information about the 802.11 ac standard (ac because IEEE ran out of letters: after 802.11z, they start again with 802.11aa, 802.11 ab, 802.11 ac and so on). As well as some solid factual information, there is also some useful speculation:

See Also

Apple AirPort Extreme Router in Thailand (1): New Design and Faster Wi-Fi with 802.11ac

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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