Getting Airport Express to “just work”

By on 10-18-2009 in How-Tos

Getting Airport Express to “just work”

So, I recently installed a wireless network in my home using Apple’s Airport wireless hardware. The Apple web site and the accompanying documentation make wireless networking sound like an amazing invention that’s even more amazingly simple to install. If you use Apple’s gear, then a potentially days-long experiment in frustration is reduced to a few minutes of networking nirvana. Because everything Apple makes “just works.”

Well, if you’re using Windows, that’s not always the case.

It took me about 2 days of near-nonstop futzing to get the Airport Extreme and Airport Express base stations to work (and keep working). The issues I experienced were experienced by many, many others, some of whom documented their resolutions which in turn got me closer to getting things working. I’m writing this article to record my own resolution, paying it forward as it were.

The Purpose

Why install a wireless network? Among other things, I wanted to be able to stream music from iTunes to other rooms in my home. Since I don’t subscribe to a cable or satellite provider, I also wanted to eventually stream movies from my Netflix account to my TV.

The Setup

My Dell desktop computer is fairly recent, but it did not come with a wireless card. As far as setup, I just have a DSL internet connection and run Windows XP.

The Equipment

  • 1 Airport Extreme base station to create the wireless network
  • 1 Airport Express to extend the wireless network to another room and use AirTunes to stream music through iTunes

The Issues

Installing the Extreme (and later, the Express) was a no-brainer: Plug it in. Configuring the thing was something else entirely. My issues:

  • The Airport Utility wouldn’t detect the base stations. I’d rescan and rescan, but they’d never show up. Eventually, the Extreme showed up (yeah, after 3 hours of restarting and rescanning) and configuration was a breeze after that. However, no amount of rescanning or restarting could get the Express detected. I briefly entertained the notion that it might just be a bad unit — after all, there are plenty of people who’ve had the same problem, replaced the unit, and everything worked. I knew my unit was good, though, because it would show up as a generic network (Apple Network 123456) on my iPod touch.
  • The Airport Utility couldn’t communicate with the Express. Once I got the Express detected (more on that later), I had to configure it as an network extender. Unfortunately, the Airport Utility would return Error 6753 or Error 6722 every time I selected the Express and clicked either Manual Setup or Continue.
  • The Airport Utility wouldn’t redetect the Express. Once configured, the Airport Utility needed to restart the Express. However, after the restart the utility couldn’t detect the device again. I could click “Configure Other” and enter its IP address to launch the configuration panel, but it wouldn’t show up as a configured device alongside the Extreme.

The Resolution

  1. I turned off my firewall and antivirus. I use ESET Smart Security in automatic mode, which means it defaults to blocking traffic if there’s no rule allowing it.  When I turned it off, the Airport Utility was able to detect the Extreme and then later, the Express. Update: When I wrote this, I had only my third party security software running on my machine, and Windows Firewall was turned off by default. As one commenter noted, this might not be the case for everyone. So, when turning off your security software, double-check Windows Firewall to make sure it’s well and truly off as well.
  2. After I established the network with the Extreme, I connected the Express to an Ethernet port on the Extreme. After a couple of minutes, the Airport Utility detected the device.
  3. I ensured the security protocols I chose on both the Extreme and the Express matched. I also noticed that if I configured the Extreme as a 802.11n only (5 GHz) network and set the security to WPA2 Personal, the iPod touch couldn’t join the network. That worried me — if the iPod touch can’t join the network, it’s possible other wireless devices I want to use might not, either. So, I set the Extreme up as a 802.11n (802.11b/g compatible) network and set the security to WPA/WPA2 Personal on both the Extreme and the Express.
  4. To resolve the Error 6753 issue, I used the solution in this Apple Support forum article. When I connected the Express via Ethernet, the Airport Utility detected it and displayed its IP address when I selected the device, which I wrote down. I also opened a command prompt in Windows and ran ipconfig to get the IP address, subnet, and gateway of my computer. I changed the computer’s IP to one in the range of the Express’ default IP — voilà, the Airport Utility could connect and let me configure the Express. I configured the Express to use an IP in the range of my computer’s original IP and then restored my computer’s original IP. Voilà encore, the Airport Utility could still detect and connect to the Express.
  5. I fine-tuned my firewall. When I finished configuring the Express and set it up again in the target room, I turned my firewall and antivirus back on. The Express worked for a little while, but then Airport Utility wouldn’t detect it. To resolve this, I switched my firewall to “interactive mode” and used this article to open the right ports.

While I’m glad I got this all working, it was incredibly frustrating. Indeed, I opted for the Apple hardware in the first place because it was supposed to be so easy to set up. I guess it is easy when you’re all-Apple. But woe betide you if you mix makers.

Anyway, hopefully this will be useful to anyone else dealing with Airport issues. If it is, feel free to leave me a comment.