• airport,  eero,  networking

    Retiring My Airport Network

    After many years of trouble-free service, I will be retiring my Apple AirPort network next week.

    This was not a decision that I made lightly. Apple quietly discontinued their AirPort Extreme, Express, and Time Capsule devices a several years ago. Since then, Apple did release a few software updates for the Extreme and Time Capsule base stations. With Apple's growing focus on customer privacy, I was hoping against hope that the iPhone maker would have a change of heart when they announced HomeKit Wi-Fi router support during the 2019 WWDC event. The announcement I am optimistically hoping for hasn’t come yet. A year later, with everyone working from home, my poor six-year-old Wi-Fi network is having trouble keeping up with the myriad of devices on the network. And, to keep the peace in the house, the time to act is now.

    The big question on my mind was what company should I turn to for home wireless networking? And what kind of network did I want? Did I want a traditional Wi-Fi network with a single base station? Or would I prefer one of the newer multi-node mesh networks? And, finally, how much was all of this new gear cost?

    eero Pro (Second Generation)

    As it turns out, I knew that I wanted to have one of those fancy new Wi-Fi mesh networks. Netgear was an obvious choice. Synology, best known for their network attached storage devices, also make wireless mesh network gear. D-Link was also an option. I turned to the New York Times’ The Wirecutter crew for help sorting out the best products to look at.

    After much internal debate, I chose erro as the vendor for my next Wi-Fi network. I have to admit, that I am concerned about data being leaking between eero and parent company Amazon. Zack Whittaker has a good write up of Amazon’s purchase of eero and what it means for customers over on TechCrunch. Considering how much purchasing my family and I do on Amazon, I quickly realized that Amazon already has close to two decades of purchasing history for me. The other consideration is that I'm sure my ISP is harvesting every bit of data they can from my connection for marketing insight or to package and sell as a revenue booster. With all of this in mind, shouldn't I maximize my ease of use? I felt that I wanted something as easy to use and robust as my outgoing AirPort network. So eero it is then.

    But, what system should I get? My cable modem is in the basement. The heaviest network consumers, my teenage kids, are two floors away in their bedrooms. Any solution I decide on needs to cover all three floors of our home’s living space. To make sure that I have the best signal possible for all three floors, I took what I hope is the overkill option: three eero Pro base stations, with two acting at extender satellites. I decided on the three eero Pro option because it is rated for more than twice the footprint of my home. The second generation eero Pro also has a dedicated wireless band for data backhaul between the nodes in the network. I also like the modularity of the eero system. It will be easier to include newer eero nodes to the network as needs change and updates are released.

    Satisfied with my decisions, and looking forward to years of trouble-free service, I am looking forward to installing the new Wi-Fi gear. As a tech nerd, who doesn’t love new toys to play with.

    Epilogue

    As I have learned from many years of reading comic books, no one ever really dies in comics. The same is true for my AirPort network. With all of the HomeKit accessories that I have purchased and that I am planning to install in the near future. A repurposed AirPort network seems like a good reuse of my existing equipment.

  • airport,  apple,  eero,  google,  netgear,  networking,  tp-link

    One Last Go With the Apple AirPort Extreme and Express

    apple_airport_extreme_express_time_capsule

    I have been using Apple’s AirPort Extreme and Express Wi-Fi equipment for about two years now.  In a fit of rage over my previous equipment’s constantly poor performance, constant reboots, and dropped connections, I ripped everything out, put in a new Surfboard cable modem and installed a refurbished AirPort Extreme (802.11ac) and Express (802.11n).  I never looked back.

    I never looked back, that is, until Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg Technology (Warning: auto-play video...Grrrr!), last month, reported that Apple has quietly “disbanded its division that develops wireless routers”.  The last time Apple updated their networking hardware was June 2013 for the AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule (for performing wireless Time Machine backups).  The AirPort Express last received an update four years ago, in June 2012.

    Since seeing the report back on November 21, I have been on the prowl for a second refurbished AirPort Express to extend the Wi-Fi coverage in the kid’s bedrooms.  It was one of those things that was on my “I’ll get around to it” lists.  Knowing that the AirPort line of products are on the way out lit the fire I needed to get in my last go around with AirPort.

    Earlier this week, I happened to check the Apple Certified Refurbished store and saw that all the AirPort hardware was in stock.  I hastily purchased another Express.  It should arrive today.

    Some AirPort History

    apple_airport_base_station_graphite_1999
    Apple AirPort Base Station (Graphite) 1999 - via AppleToTheCore.me

    AirPort has been around for a long time.  The original AirPort Base Station (sans Extreme) was released all the way back in July 1999 - the same year Apple released now classic Macintosh machines such as the iBook, the CRT-based iMac, the Power Mac G4, and the PowerBook.

    apple_airport_extreme_2007
    Apple AirPort Extreme 2007 Edition

    Truth be told, my current AirPort hardware is not my first.  I purchased a first-generation AirPort Extreme base station from circa 2007, when CompUSA was closing their brick and mortar retail operations.  It supported 802.11a/b/g, and the draft 802.11n specification.  (For clarification, the previously mentioned ripping out of hardware was non-Apple 802.11n equipment.)

    Oh, What a Mesh!

    If you are looking to replace your existing Wi-Fi hardware, I can’t recommend Apple’s router and Wi-Fi hardware.  While my AirPort hardware has been extreme-ly (I’m not sorry about that pun) reliable for me, there is no point in investing in new hardware now that we have seemingly reached the end of the road for AirPort.

    Besides, mesh Wi-Fi networks are all the rage these days.  At a high-level, traditional Wi-Fi networks that have access points sprinkled around a home or small office.  Each node connects back to a router base station.  As you move between access points, the connection must move (manually or automatically) between the access points (Brain, Wilson, Johnson, 2001).  Mesh network connections, on the other hand, are spread out among satellite nodes.  All of the nodes talk to each other to create a single, larger wireless area network (Roos, 2007).

    eero Web Photos
    eero Home WiFi System 3-pack

    If you are looking to install a new Wi-Fi network in your home or small office, I would suggest investigating mesh Wi-Fi networking equipment from eero, Netgear’s Orbi line, Google WiFi (if you are OK with Alphabet snorting up even more of your personal data), and others.  Jim Salter, over at The Wirecutter (part of The New York Times Company) has a great overview of the current state of mesh Wi-Fi networking equipment.  As of this writing, Mr. Salter last updated his post on November 30, 2016.

    Mesh networks aren’t for everyone.  They can be expensive.  The eero 3-pack, pictured above, is $499.  If you have a small home or apartment, you can very likely do well with a single Wi-Fi Router like the TP-Link Archer C7 (TheWirecutter.com review).  The C7 can be purchased for under $100.

    Looking Ahead

    If you find yourself in a similar situation as I am, and you want to get that one last addition to your home network, you should checkout the RefurbStore website.  It “looks into” Apple’s refurbished inventory and allows you to setup an alert when the part you are interested is back in stock.  For example, two days ago, Apple had AirPort Express units in stock.  Today, they are all sold out.  RefurbStore looks like a good way to keep tabs on what Apple has available over time.  It took me about four weeks to finally find the Express in stock.

    For me, I am sticking with my AirPort Extreme base station and two AirPort Express nodes for a little while longer.  Looking down the road, if I squint, I think I see an eero two or three node mesh network in my future. But for now, I’m


    References

    Marshall Brain, Tracy V. Wilson & Bernadette Johnson "How WiFi Works" April 30, 2001. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/wireless-network.htm, December 30, 2016.

    Dave Roos "How Wireless Mesh Networks Work" June 20, 2007. HowStuffWorks.com.  Retrieved from: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/how-wireless-mesh-networks-work.htm December 30, 2016.


     

  • apple,  mac os x,  mavericks,  networking,  yosemite

    Apple Swaps Yosemite’s discoveryd for Mavericks’ mDNSResponder DNS Service

    Lately, the Mac nerd community has really become fed up with the networking shenanigans around the new Domain Name Service (DNS) networking protocol, discoveryd.

    discoveryd, plays a part in how your Mac can find other devices, like Apple TVs and Apple AirPort networking gear, on your home network, other Wi-Fi networks you might connect to and Internet websites among other things.  As to the trouble discoveryd has been causing, well, you should read Craig Hockenberry's blog post on it [strong language warning].  He's far more knowledgeable about what goes on inside your Mac than I am.

    Some of you may know that I'm a member of the OS X Public Beta program (and for iOS also).  In the most recent OS X 10.10.4 developer and public beta (build 14E26a) Apple replaced the discoveryd DNS service with the mDNSResponder DNS service that was used in OS X Mavericks and earlier.

    Here's a screen shot of my MacBook Pro running the previous beta build of OS 10.10.4:

    As you can see, the discoveryd service is alive and talking to my home network.

    After I installed OS X 10.10.4 Public Beta build 14E26a, you can see that mDNSResponder is back on the beat making sure OS X networking is obeying all the posted traffic signs.

    Just for good measure, after installing the latest beta build, and as discussed in Hockenberry's blog post, I powered down both of my third generation Apple TVs and my Apple AirPort Extreme and Express, rebooted my cable modem, and then, one-by-one, turned everything back on in the following order:

    Cable Modem, Apple AirPort Extreme, Apple AirPort Express, MacBook Pro, Apple TV 1 and then Apple TV 2.

    Since then, I've seen a marked improvement in my home network's performance.  Hopefully, mDNSResponder will be sticking around on OS X for a while and makes it into the official general release version of OS X soon.