Over the past few days I’ve had appalling performance on my wifi network using the new 5GHz airport.
Having to deal with numerous networking issues over the past week I kinda assumed/wrote it off as yet again my ISP screwing with me. But various tests consistently showed good connections to the interweb.
So I’ve done some research. My mum didn’t complain. And said to have fast internet. But her iMac doesn’t use the Wifi pipe to upstairs. Every computer upstairs was having trouble.
Alright, so it’s something with the wifi… Some Googling later turned up that *many* people have trouble using Apples Airport Extreme using separate SSID’s for their Wifi (an SSID is the wifi network name). Pretty much everyone I found on forums and blogs reported to have “fixed” their slow throughput by removing the separate name for the 5GHz network. Which is an option in the Airport settings.
Some more testing on my own taught me that various options aren’t even shown in Apples latest and greatest Airport Utility 6. I kinda knew this, but if the lack of such settings prevents my network from working… *sigh*.
Turbocharging your Wifi
This is what seems to work for me. You should know that every combination of settings is very dependant on your situation. What works for me does not necessarily work for you. The only constant here being that Airport Utility 6 is not going to help you. Downgrade to Airport Utility 5.6 (download). This “older” version is far far far superior to the new version which simply lacks options, features and assumes that you’re an idiot. Which you’re not.
So here is what I have changed:
Make sure you use the right Radio Mode
Since most devices and stuff in my house is fairly recent I have *no* need to support 11b or 11g networking. Thus I won’t transmit it either. The Airport Extreme supports pretty much every combination. But if you have modern devices. You might just want to use 11n and banish everything else. I use the blue highlighted setting.
Disable the separate SSID name for your 5GHz network and set your multicast rate
Under the tab “Wireless” click “Wireless Network Options” and disable the “5GHz Network Name”. As a sort of quality assurance you might want to raise the “Multicast Rate”.
Disabling the separate name basically merges your 5GHz network into your 2.4GHz one. Leaving the computer/device to decide which to use. And you’re kinda feeling in the dark, hoping it picks the fastest. But that’s alright. Most devices are made to use the best connection and switch when required.
The multicast rate is a bit more vague, but from what I’ve seen, read and learned it basically sets a acceptable speed limitation. Such as – If the device can not meet a bare minimum speed. It’s not getting on the network. The default setting is low. Which pretty much lets anything connect regardless of signal quality. I prefer speed. So I’ve set it a tad bit higher, to medium. This forces the computer to find a better signal.
This is especially useful if you use multiple Airports. So that the iPhone does connect to the one which has a stronger signal and not the one downstairs at the other side of the house when you’re standing next to one.
(Don’t) Use Wide Channels
Wide channels is a mechanic in wifi where a signal may utilize multiple frequencies in order to boost throughput. Basically it opens multiple lanes just for you on the highway. In my experience this doesn’t work. At least not when combining a brand new model Airport and an older one which doesn’t have this option (and thus doesn’t support it?). Obviously I don’t know what this option does between 2 newer models since I only have one. But I’ve disabled it and it’s fast now.
You can disable this option in the tab “Wireless” under “Wireless Network Options” same as the above 2 settings. Untick the box “Use wide channels”.
I have always learned that Wifi needs a pre-set channel. Especially when on the 2.4GHz band this is useful because the Wifi station might pick a crowded channel on automatic selection. To avoid this I’ve *always* used manual channels. I also did this for the 5GHz channel. Even though I am the only one using it in this neighborhood.
Turns out that doesn’t work very well.
However, my method still is true for 2.4GHz. Luckily the airport allows a split setting for this. So I have set a manual channel for 2.4GHz and the 5GHz band is on automatic.
And lastly, Security
If you use multiple base stations like I do (I have 3). Make sure that they are on par with security. Obviously using WEP these days is stupid. Also using Mac Authentication is pretty dumb. So if you use that. Disable it.
- WEP has been cracked years ago and is therefor useless.
- MAC Authentication – Everyone, even a 12 year old, can copy and spoof your MAC Address in seconds.
- MAC Authentication slows down your network. Which is undesirable.
These days using WPA2 (to my knowledge at least) is the way to go. Older base stations also support WPA or WPA/WPA2 (a mix of the two). The latest of Airport Extremes have WPA2 Personal (WPA2) and WPA Enterprise (Using a Radius server). Home users should use WPA2 Personal and make sure every other base station uses that same setting. Not the WPA/WPA2 setting. But WPA2 or WPA2 Personal. This makes sure there can be no communication issue between the 2 stations and thus they work faster.
As mentioned before, these settings seem to work for me. For now. It took me a few days to figure out and get it right. As usual with Wifi of any kind. Every situation is specific and no manual can tell you “do this and it works”. That manual does not have your concrete walls or interference and only assumes perfect conditions.
If you have other ideas, tips or solutions. Let me know below.