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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.