Apple Airport failure
July 19, 2012 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Terrible WIfi signal after installing new Apple Airport Express. Help!

Ive always had some issues with the wireless signal in my Brooklyn apartment, even though the router is only about 30 ft from my iMac. It's inconsistent, usually slow and sometimes dial-up style slow. I was told that baby monitors and other devices might be interrupting my signal.
I recently sold the my Linksys Cisco e3000 router and got this Apple Airport Express and somehow it's even worse than before. I've tried everything I can think of in terms the setup diagnostics. Could I have set it up in a way that's making it fail? I've also tried to move it slightly close to my computer room but I cant get much closer, and I don't think the distance is far enough to make it this useless. My last one at least worked 60% of the time, this thing is complete piece of nice looking junk so far. I did recently put an ac in the window of my room , but I don't use it much and the connection is crap whether it's on or off. Could that have made any difference?
I work at home and need a connection. As of now, it's almost completely dead even though it shows 2 bars in strength. Web pages won't load , emails take 15 mins to send , etc. Any advice, or similar problems out there?
posted by Liquidwolf to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Change the channel! It may be saturated with neighboring signals.

1. Open AirPort Utility, located in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder on a computer using Mac OS X, and in Start > All Programs > AirPort on a computer using Windows.
2. Select your base station, and then choose Manual Setup from the Base Station menu. Enter the base station password if necessary.
3. Click AirPort in the toolbar, and then click Wireless.
4. Choose a new channel from the Channel pop-up menu.
posted by bensherman at 4:36 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a decent (though sadly not free) app for seeing what channels are being used in your area:
posted by primethyme at 4:46 PM on July 19, 2012

Thanks for the reply bensherman. But I created my own when I set it up and that's the one I've been trying to use. Shouldn't that work?
Plus, I can't get on any other network anyway since they're all locked.
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2012

Can you borrow a laptop PC? Or have a friend who has one?

If so, get it into your apartment and run InSSIDer on it to see who else in your area is running Wifi. It may be that the frequency you're using is overloaded. Based on that, you may find that another band is less crowded.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:49 PM on July 19, 2012

Ah; those posts were while I was composing. InSSIDer for the PC is still free.

The program shows you a histogram which displays every wifi hub within reach, and shows how strong their signals all are. It updates rapidly, so you can see signals strengthening and fading.

The point isn't to find someone else's hub to try to steal access from. The point is to find a frequency which isn't overloaded.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:52 PM on July 19, 2012

When you guys say "channel" I thought you meant "network". Im trying to change channels now, randomly. Never done this before.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:00 PM on July 19, 2012

Does it work OK with a wired connection? If not, you might consider upgrading the cables. Most of the cheap network cables available are not even shielded. I've also had issues where strain (ie a book leaning on it) was causing the cable to short periodically, which would mess with the router.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:04 PM on July 19, 2012

You might want to read up on how wifi channels work (e.g. and how to choose one that will work well in your environment.
posted by jjwiseman at 5:05 PM on July 19, 2012

Are your speeds normal when you connect directly to your modem? Perhaps the router isn't the weak point in your setup.

Are there a ton of other networks in your building? I can pick up a couple dozen networks from my apartment and they wreak havoc on my wifi signal. Simply too much interference.

Are you connecting to the 5Ghz signal or the 2.4Ghz signal? The former will avoid a lot of the household appliance interference, but the latter has better range.

If you need a good network connection for work, it may make sense to seriously upgrade your network equipment. Airport Express is not bad, but it sounds like you need something more heavy duty, and I'm not sure it represents a huge upgrade over the E3000 in terms of pure networking performance (although the added consumer-friendly features sure are cool--e.g., Airplay).
posted by roomwithaview at 5:17 PM on July 19, 2012

No need to spend money on a diagnostic tool, if you're running Lion on your iMac, as there is a hidden wireless network analysis and diagnostic tool that is part of Lion and will show you local networks in your vicinity, their signal strengths and channels.

This information is useful, because this tool will tell you if an outside wireless network is nearby which happens to have a channel that matches your own wireless network's channel.

If channel-sharing is happening, the two wireless networks will interfere with one another, and you'll experience performance problems.

One solution, as mentioned above, is to manually set your wireless network's channel to something different, so that your network can operate on its own frequency range, reducing interference from the other network.

Another solution is to wait for the other person's network to be reconfigured similarly, but that may take a while. It's easier just to reconfigure your own network, and it only takes a few moments to do.

The important thing is to use a diagnostic tool (either the one I mentioned, or another) to find out what networks are nearby and what channels they are operating on, to identify sources of interference.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:33 PM on July 19, 2012

Thanks for the tips everyone. Not working yet but Im trying and learning.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:43 PM on July 19, 2012

Have you placed the computer next to the router in order to test the connection…including the airport card?
Maybe a solid wall is interfering.
posted by artdrectr at 5:52 PM on July 19, 2012

roomwithaview, I thought the Apple Airport Express connected with both 5Ghz signal and the 2.4Ghz, is that possible? I dont know what channel should be assigned to 5ghz so I have it on automatic.
I havent tried hooking up directly with an ethernet cable because im a couple rooms away and it would be an ordeal trying to hide the wire. But if I Cant get the airport working I guess I will.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:09 PM on July 19, 2012

If you're in North America, then at 2.4 GHz you should only use channels 1, 6, 11, or 14 (if it's supported). The reason is complicated, so take my word for it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:16 PM on July 19, 2012

Liquidwolf: "… I thought the Apple Airport Express connected with both 5Ghz signal and the 2.4Ghz, is that possible? I dont know what channel should be assigned to 5ghz so I have it on automatic."

Yeah, the current Airport Express (a small rounded box that looks like a small Airport Extreme) is simultaneous 5/2.4GHz (but devices will only connect to one or the other). IIRC, the previous Airport Express (looks like an Apple laptop PSU without the cord) was dual band - either 5GHz or 2.4GHz - but not simultaneously. The original ones were 2.4GHz only.

The comments above about checking / changing channels apply to 2.4GHz only. For a start, make sure your iMac is connected on 5GHz (option-click on the Wifi icon in the taskbar) if your particular Airport Express supports &/or is configured for it.

5GHz, while it gets away from the mush that is 2.4GHz (and is also somewhat more tolerant of multiple signals), also tends to have shorter range than 2.4Ghz - especially indoors. That may be part of the problem, so if you report back with the Airport Extreme type & what band your iMac is connecting in we can narrow things down a bit.
posted by Pinback at 7:03 PM on July 19, 2012

I once bought... and promptly returned... an Airport Express. Because my phone connection is on the other side of my house in relation to where my iMac sits, I used it to extend my WiFi network. The signal strength and speed were terrible, no matter what settings I tweaked. Is this what you've set yours to do?

If you are extending your network, do what I did and abandon your Airport Express and just buy a bigger antennae to latch onto your router. I got much faster speed and signal strength from that then from the APE.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:43 AM on July 20, 2012

Pinback, Yeah I'm using the new Apple Airport Express , with the dual 2.4 ghz and 5ghz. And I have a desktop Imac about 4 yrs old running OSX 10.6.8. I've tried switching various channels on the 2.4 ghz and nothing so far s helping . It's crazy, I cant believe this expensive Apple router isn't working ( guess I shouldn't be).

Effigy2000, I haven't tried to "extend" it, if I understand that term correctly ( that's when you set up multiple extensions of network to push the signal further?) . I'm simply trying to pick up the wifi signal from the Airport Express router on my computer a couple rooms away.It's not that far, maybe 25-30 ft. But like I said , I've got a LOT of other signals on the radar since I live in an apartment bldg.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:31 AM on July 20, 2012

I have the previous generation express and it's great, so my guess is that it's your environmental situation.

Why'd you ditch your old router?

Do people near you have similar issues?

Also, try connecting directly with a cable. That will help you figure out if it's your Internet speed or the wireless signal.
posted by reddot at 6:33 AM on July 20, 2012

I live in an apartment building with lots of other networks and one thing that helped my connection (other changing the channels until I found one with less interference) was to put the Airport up high so that there was nothing in front of it. It's now on top of a bookcase.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:13 AM on July 20, 2012

reddot, I ditched the old one because I thought it was the thing causing my weak signal but now I see it wasn't. I dont know if others have this problem.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:09 AM on July 20, 2012

If you go to your iMac and Option-click on the WiFi icon in the menubar, what channel and frequency does it say your using?

If it says something like "Channel: 149 (5GHz)", then changing the 2.4GHz channel in the Airport Express is going to make no difference - the new Airport Express has 2 radios that run simultaneously, and you'll have been changing settings on the one your iMac isn't using.
posted by Pinback at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2012

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