I set up a complex new wireless network today built around both an Apple AirPort Extreme base station and a new Apple AirPort Express device. The entire process took about 15 minutes, and that was mostly just time spent finding and downloading new printer drivers.
I bet you were expecting me to complain that it was a day-long process, involved lots of Google searches, and at least a half-dozen curse words about incompatible protocols. But, hurray, it was about as easy as any wiring project I’ve ever done thankjs to Apple’s great WiFi networking prowess.
Here’s what I set up and how I got it all working…
The basic network connectivity is through a Satellite Internet connection called DirecWay (a product of DirecTV, it’s really pretty miserable and I do not recommend it unless your only other choice is a 300 baud acoustic coupler for your phone handset) and we have an Apple Airport Extreme base station for our 802.11b/802.11g WiFi network.
The problem was that we didn’t have wireless coverage throughout the house because it’s a steel beam construction and the walls block signals that aren’t line-of-site (cell phones all go kaput with “no signal” in the house too, for the very same reason). In addition, we wanted to be able to access the USB-based laser printer from any of the WiFi clients.
Fortunately, we received two Apple AirPort Express units today and they’re great gadgets! In a unit that’s about the size of a typical powerline transformer for a laptop, this wireless base station also offers USB printer networking and an audio-out plug that allows you to network your stereo system to an iTunes server elsewhere in the house. Plug it in without anything connected and it automatically becomes a WiFi repeater, offering a way to extend the wireless network without any fuss. Very nice!
So I’m gazing at the AirPort Express unit and realize that if it has a USB port for network printing, it’s possible that the AirPort Extreme base station (which looks more like a flying saucer about 9″ across) does too. I look, and it does! Wonderful. I plug in the printer, reboot the base station, and suddenly there’s a new printer available on the WiFi client units, a Rendezvous printer.
Meanwhile, we’d also plugged in an AirPort Express unit on the floor below the AirPort Extreme base station and while I did have to go into the Airport Express Setup Assistant to do a tiny bit of tweaking, everything just worked the first time we plugged it all in.
Let me say that again because it’s such a rare occurance for a local area network: everything worked exactly as desired once we plugged it all in.
Like I said, the only tasks we had to do were to download the appropriate printer drivers on some of the WiFi clients (which was harder than it needed to be due to Samsung’s broken Web site, but that’s another story) and then add a new Rendezvous printer through the Printer Setup Utility.
My kudos to the engineering teams at Apple. This is clearly a collection of hardware devices that are well designed, well realized, and a pleasure to use. And it’s not often you can say that about a computer!
Have you compared satellite upload/download speeds through the wireless network with speeds achieved when ethernet connected directly? Assuming arguendo that you are using Macs, which make switching from wireless to ethernet quick, easy, and painless, unlike PCs where, at least on my PC, it’s impossible, I would be fascinated to know if you experience any significant difference. I am using Wile Blue satellite, my only other option being dial-up — and there is a dramatic difference between being directly connected to the satellite modem with the ethernet cable and being connected through Airport Express, ethernet is hugely faster, especially on upload. I don’t believe there was nearly this kind of difference when I was using my Airport Extreme with cable, I never experienced enough of a bottleneck to test it.
I’d love to know your results. Also I’d love to know what kind of experience you have with voice chat & video chat. We seem to be able to do outgoing video quite reasonably, but the accompanying audio is very choppy.