Learning the Power of Apple Products – [updated]

Airport Express[update] We checked out of the hotel today to move to my father-in-law's house for the next day or so.  He is doing better. They took him off of the ventilator and his temp is down to 99.  His breathing is labored, but slowing and his white blood count is is still very high but coming down.  We arrived this afternoon and I needed to check email… enter my Airport Express again.  I pretty much repeated the process I went through at the hotel hardwiring into his secured Cisco wireless router.  I went back through the Airport Express hard-restart and bridged into the Cisco network. In less than 5 minutes here is what I saw:

SystemUIServer Network Utility-4   

Unfortunately, yesterday my father-in-law recently fell very ill.  We are still not sure of the cause, but part a contributing factor to the illness was gall stones. However, somehow he got a massive infection which cause his body to go into septic shock.  

At the moment, he is stabilizing but not anywhere out of the woods.  So, yesterday we pulled the family together and drove to St. Louis to be with him.  Opposed to descending on any of the relatives in the area, we chose to go to a hotel near the hospital.  The Hilton Garden Inn, O'Fallon has been wonderful hosts for my family.  With free wifi to all of the rooms, and high-speed broadband access via a cabled connection as well into every room access (which was crucial) we are able to maintain contact with work and family back in Illinois.

Because I did not know where we would be staying, at my father-in-law's house (who has wireless, but it is secured, and I had a strong feeling that his wife would not know the password) in a hotel with/without wifi, etc. I wanted to be prepared so I brought my slightly bigger than pocket sized Airport Express wireless N router.

Finding out that all of the rooms had wifi was a relief until I saw that they were still using unsecured wireless G… nice but unsecured and not so fast anymore.  The positive for the hotel was that they provided a 10/100 hardwired data cable if you wanted to work at the desk they provided. Knowing that I really like to relax… and tinker… when I am writing etc and that I wanted to have a secured wifi connection. I did what any good geek would do… I setup my own little secured wireless N 5Ghz network :0).  

Http___manuals.info.apple.com_en_US_AirPort_Express_Setup_Guide.pdf The first thing that I needed to do to factory reset my router.  So, I plugged my AX into power, and then plugged the ethernet cable into the AX.  This connected my Airport Express (AX) to the hotel network.  Then to allow me to "bridge" my network into the hotel's hardwired network, I decided to perform a hard reset to restore the factory settings of the Airport Express. On the bottom of the AX, is a pinhole reset button.  (see image to right) Then, I opened up the Airport Admin Utility on my MacBook Pro (windows version available) and began reconfiguring the AX to bridge the hotel network.

Basically the AX Admin Utility walks you through the process.  When you first start you have a few choices:

  • Create a new wireless network.
  • Join a wireless network.
  • Replace an old wireless base station with this Airport Express.

What I wanted to do was to create a new wireless network.  Since the hotel routers were going to be handing out the ip addresses (and each of the PC's were going to be required to "authenticate" to the hotel web browser based security) I chose to "Bridge" the networks together and to allow the AX to simply handoff information as opposed to creating a "Shared" access point where the computer I was on would "pretend" to have the same ip address as the AX itself. After selecting "bridge" and clicking next, I enabled a secure password and the Airport grabbed an ip address from the hotel's routers and saved the new configuration by restarting.

Secure-1  Then I went back into the Airport Admin Utility and "manually" re-configured the "Radio mode" under the wireless settings to enable only a 5GHz N radio and poof. Wireless secure network setup.  All is well, I don't have to shared an open 54MB access, I have an N 144/300MB network (144mb running dual N/G radios or 300MB 5GHz N only radios… nice. See below for screens:

Network Utility-1 Network Utility-2 AirPort Utility AirPort Utility - Scott Weidig_s AirPort Express-1     

Now, I am sure that I could have achieved a similar setup with a different wireless N router.  However, I had my Airport Express network up and running in less than 5 minutes. I have worked with Linksys, Cisco, D-Link, and Netgear routers in the past, and they take more than five minutes to configure, especially to bridge a completely different network structure and I am not sure if all of those products could pass through a browser based hotel authorization system as easily.  So, the moral of the story here is: YES, FREE WIFI in a hotel is really a wonderful thing and something that should be a given in this day and age… however, an unsecured connection could create havoc for business people whose need for secure data is a whole lot greater than mine. If you have the need for a new wireless router, or are considering upgrading to N I'd recommend looking at Apple's Airport Express solution.  Yes, it does work with the PC, in fact when I bought mine to act as a wireless "receiver" for AirTunes I only had PC's in the house…

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