AirPort Wireless a bit slow?

I keep an eye on the most recent Apple technical articles using this link. While the articles may not be interesting or relevant every day, I often find good information for learning more about the hardware and software that we use on our Macs.

I have been setting up a number of Apple Time Capsules and AirPort Extremes in recent weeks and I had wondered which Wireless Security scheme was better. Lets take a look.

Note: The method I am showing supposes that you use an Apple wireless base station of some sort. You will need to refer to the user manual for your wireless device if you are using another brand.

You will need to open the AirPort Utility. My usual method is to click on the magnifying glass in the upper right corner of the screen and enter the first few letters of the thing I am looking for:




This method is convenient because it quickly shows you not only the application, but also a number of items that might be related. Another way to get to the AirPort Utility is to use the “Go” menu in the Finder to open the Utilities Folder:




A third way to get to it is to open a Finder window, open the Applications folder, then locate the Utilities folder and open it. Give the magnifying glass a try--it is definitely the fastest and most direct way!

When you open the AirPort Utility, you will see a list of Apple wireless devices in the left column. If you see more than one, choose the “main” device. You will also want to make similar changes in any other devices.

Click on the “Manual Setup” button:




In the next window, choose the “Wireless” tab at the top of the screen:





Now, click the “Wireless Security” button and choose WPA Personal.




That will cause the Update button to become active. Click it.




You will then see this dialog box. Click the “Continue” to make the change.





I am sure you are wondering what you just did and why it matters. The answer is in Apple’s Technical Knowledge Base article TS3361, but let me try to simplify it.

The rules for how devices and settings work are set up in industry standards. The standard being used in current Apple wireless devices is 802.11n. The standard includes rules for how fast data can be transmitted and rules for security settings. According to that standard, when a wireless device is using WPA or WEP, the fastest speed that data can travel is 54 MBps. While that is fast, 802.11n devices are allowed to transmit data at a much faster rate if the device is using WPA2 Personal.

If you choose WPA/WPA2 Personal, then your AirPort Base Station transmissions are capped at 54 Mbps when there is a device that is using only WPA on your network. If there are no devices present that require WPA, then your wireless speed can increase up to a theoretical maximum of 300 Mpbs.

I have also noticed that web pages open much faster when WPA2 Personal is enabled. That seconds-long pause that frequently happens when a link is chosen is greatly reduced. I cannot find anything definitive in technical literature to support my experience, but Ted Landau also noted it in a recent article at Macworld.com

However, there is one possible “gottcha.” If you choose WPA2 Personal, then devices that use WEP or WPA are locked out of your network.

Since all of the computers in my home are fairly new, and all of them can use WPA2 Personal, I have our network set to do just that. If you have a PC or an older Mac (Intel Core Duo or PowerPC processor), you may need to use WPA or even WEP.

Because my Time Capsule is fairly new, it can be set to allow for a second guest network. While guests can get wireless access, they cannot get to our family’s computers for file sharing or printing. In general, I leave the guest network security set at WPA/WPA2 Personal. However, if a friend has a really old PC, I occasionally have to take all password protection off to allow them to see and use our network.

Apple’s latest Time Capsules and AirPort Extreme Base Stations cost a bit more than generic Linksys or Netgear wireless routers, the ease of setting them up, updating them and being able to set up guest networks make them a real bargain for me.

Just in case you are wondering, I do not get any special prices or deals for my computer equipment. I go to the Apple Store or order it online at regular prices.

If you would like to discuss the information presented here or if you need help to make sure your wireless network is operating at maximum speeds, consider booking a tutoring session with us at Bob LeVitus Consulting. We can use our special software to take a look at your computer and we can advise you on future purchases. The cost is $60.00 per hour. Send us a message at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com or give us a call at 408 627-7577.

--Pat

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