Fixing the family's AirPort

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I’ve just returned from a visit with the family—witnessing the high-school graduation of a pair of beloved nieces. Such occasions mean three things in the Breen clan—gossip, gormandizing, and giving Chris a long list of all the family Macs’ foibles and hiccups. This edition of Chris Takes Troubleshooting On the Road focused largely on AirPort issues.

Specifically, my younger sister was thwarted by an AirPort network that would not extend. Though both the AirPort Admin Assistant and the AirPort Setup Assistant acknowledged the existence of her AirPort Extreme Base Station, neither saw the AirPort Express Base Station that was meant to extend the Extreme’s signal into the family rumpus room.

After clearing up a little naming confusion (hint: Do not name your AirPort Extreme Base Station “AirPort Express” unless you want to earn The Look from your normally sympathetic brother) this is how I proceeded.

I first downloaded two important AirPort updates— AirPort Express Firmware Update 6.3 and AirPort 4.2.1 Update for Mac OS X v10.4.3 —and installed them (I had to wait until my Mac could see the Express to install the Express Firmware Update).

Rather than futz with one computer setting or another in an attempt to find the AirPort Express, I reset it to the factory default so I could reconfigure it with the AirPort Setup Assistant. You do this by unplugging the Express from the power outlet, pressing and holding the reset button, plugging the Express back into the power outlet, and holding the reset button until you see four green flashes (you have to hold the button for about 15 seconds before the Express flashes green).

I launched the AirPort Setup Assistant and pressed Continue on the Introduction screen. Because I’d reset it to the factory default I chose Set Up a New AirPort Base Station on the next screen rather than Change Settings On an Existing AirPort Base Station. The Assistant told me that it had found a new AirPort Express. Continue again.


On the Network Setup page I chose the Connect To My Current Wireless Network because the point was to extend an existing AirPort network. Continue yet again.


On the succeeding screen I was offered the option to Join My Wireless network or Extend the Range of My AirPort Extreme or AirPort Express Network. Extend it was.


On the next screen I chose my sister’s Airport network and named the Express. Continue to continue.


This next screen shot may reflect a setup similar to yours where you have multiple base stations—either Expresses or pods. My sister’s didn’t, but it never hurts to be thorough. Here I choose the Extreme Base Station.


And finally, congratulations to me. Setup was complete and after a few moments the AirPort Express’ status light glowed a confident green and the computers throughout her house (even Uncle Jerry’s lousy PC) could access her Airport network.

Because no good deed goes unpunished, I naturally received a follow-up email this morning.

Hey, Chris, what do I do now that the small airport box is blinking yellow again??? Nobody did anything, didn’t unplug it, didn’t turn the power off…

Technically this means that the AirPort Express failed to establish an IP connection. Non-technically it means that the poor thing is likely on the edge of its range or something has come between it and its mother.

I have similar issues at home where my wife loses the network if she shifts a particular hunk of furniture. That H of F blocks the Express’ reception just enough so that it flashes yellow. Because I can’t change my wife’s tidy habits I simply moved the Express to an outlet a few feet away. Problem solved.

In my sister’s case that interference could be caused by an appliance or wireless phone. Shifting the source of interference or Express will likely fix the problem.

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