Effectively Using an AirPort Base Station (or Time Capsule)


Here is a collection of tips for effectively configuring and working with Apple AirPort base stations, based upon my research and experience. The Apple AirPort base station is a wireless router, as is the Time Capsule. They are well made, convenient, and rather easy to set up. I've had a progression of these devices, and like them. The Time Capsule isn't much larger than AirPort Extreme, and provides you with built-in backup space, through Time Machine.

Choose the right base station

Consider what wireless clients you will have before you choose a base station. Older computers and older iPod touch devices are only up to 802.11g technology. Modern Macs and the Apple TV box have 802.11n capability. If you intend to only ever service 802.11b or 802.11g devices, you don't need an 802.11n type of base station.

If you intend to have a mixture of 802.11g and 802.11n devices, you need base station technology that can serve both, equally. If you try to drive g and n devices with an 802.11n router, you will be handicapping the router, because communication will be slowed down to the 802.11g level, where the maximum is 54 Mbps. The ways to deal with such a mix: have two base stations, one g and one n; or get a current AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule, both of which provide dual-band support, in essence containing two wireless transmitters and antennas. This will allow the g and n devices to be separately radio-served such that the n devices can enjoy their speed potential.

Plan physical location

You're dealing with radio technology: you have to make allowances in order to achieve best transmission and performance. If you locate your base station at one end of a ranch house and your client device at the other end, you're impairing performance. Try to locate the base station as close as possible to the devices which will communicate with it. And don't have concrete walls or large steel constructs between the base station and the devices. There is relay capability with wireless — you can introduce a second, "midpoint" base station to effectively boost signal power over distance — but you do so at reduced speed because of the propagation delay.

Do not use WEP security

When you set up your AirPort base station, think smart. In employing wireless, you are transmitting all your personal information in the sessions that you conduct. You obviously want your transmissions encrypted, for privacy; but there are lesser and greater levels of protection. WEP is the original encryption. Soon after it came out, it was found to be weak, such that someone capturing your session establishment transmission could rather quickly crack the password used. So, WEP is poor. Amazingly, though, many people use WEP, probably in ignorance. (I have neighbors whose wireless signals are detectable in my home, and all of them — probably dumb Windows computers — are all using WEP. Best of luck to you.)

WPA is the modern security standard for wireless, and should be used. (Apple's AirPort Utility may not even make WEP a choice, which is good.) And formulate a complex password, for added security. Further, formulate a Wireless Network Name which does not divulge your street address. (You can write the password onto a self-adhesive label and stick it under the base station, to always know where it is.) See the next topic for more on the choice.

The security choice can affect speed

As an extension of our security topic... When you set up your AirPort base station, you will see a variety of Wireless Security choices: Many people will just take the first one in the list, WPA/WPA2 Personal. But that's not necessarily the best choice. Why? Because a lesser choice can reduce your wireless speed. Yes...surprise, surprise. I experience that myself. The WPA/WPA2 Personal choice limits your wireless speed to 54 Mbps — the 802.11g max speed. This is documented online on sites like 5 Ways To Fix Slow 802.11n Speed and Apple's Support article TS3361. For home use, choose WPA2 Personal. That substantially boosted my transmission speed to 802.11n devices.
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