Installing the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station

Airport Extreme Base StationI replaced my trusty D-Link 802.11g wi-fi router with a new Apple Airport Extreme Base Station (AEBS).  Part of the reason for the upgrade was to take advantage of the increased performance from moving to 802.11n.  But, the most compelling reason I went with the AEBS was for its ability to make attached USB disks and printers available to clients on the network.

Presently I'm running a Ubuntu server as something of a NAS.  This headless setup is running netatalk to make the hard disks in the Ubuntu box available as Apple shares.  The same machine also runs TwonkyMedia Server to allow streaming video to the XBox360 in the basement family room.  Since adding an AppleTV to the mix and running XBMC, I haven't used the media streaming capabilities of the XBox360 for anything other than NetFlix.  So, I figured now would be a good time to replace this full-blown computer with an Airport Extreme.


Setup with the Extreme is pretty straightforward.  There's a WAN port, 3 LAN ports, a USB port and a power connector.  Following the instructions from Apple, I first connected all the cables.  WAN port to DSL modem, LAN ports to local computers, USB to a powered USB hub which is, in turn, connected to 2 external Hard Drives and an Epson RX680 all-in-one (this will the subject of a future post).

The next order of business was to use Apple's Airport Utility to configure the new wireless router.  The utility automatically detects the base station and walks you through the configuration process.  First you assign a password to the device that will be used for configuration and disk sharing by default.  Next, I created a new network (SSID) to completely replace my existing network.  This meant reconfiguring all the wireless clients, but that's not a big deal.  Next, select the wireless security type.  WPA2 Personal, thank you.  Set the password and continue.

Guest Network

Another feature that sold me on the Airport Extreme was the ability to create a 2nd "guest" network.  This network has a different SSID and password for wireless security.  This means you can share this network's configuration information with your friends when they're visiting.  They'll be able to have Internet access, but the guest network is completely shielded from the primary network meaning they can't access any devices on your network.  This is a great idea.

After enabling guest networking and making the appropriate configuration changes, it's time to select your internet connection type.  The choices are LAN or PPPoE.  Since I'm using DSL, I chose PPPoE (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet).  This is where I encountered my first challenge.  The settings for PPPoE seem simple enough.  Username... check.  Password... check.  Service Name... I assumed this meant the provider, kind of like how you name a connection in Windows.  This was a very bad assumption.

The configuration changes are applied to the AEBS and it reboots.  It rebooted to a blinking amber light.  Airport Utility showed the device had been reconfigured, but there was an error "No PPPoE server could be found".  Not good.

I rebooted the AEBS.  I rebooted the DSL modem.  I rebooted the computer.  Each time I came back to the same PPPoE error.  I did a hardware reset on the AEBS and went through the entire setup process again thinking maybe I missed something obvious.  The result was exactly the same.

This is about when I started laughing to myself about how I tell my friends how much easier Apple equipment is to setup and configure.  The D-Link I was replacing may have been an ugly black brick with not so much as 2% of the style points of the Airport Extreme, but it installed flawlessly on the first try.  This time, however, I was 90 minutes into a 5 minute job.

I tried rebooting everything again.  I left everything powered off for 5 minutes and tried again.  Still the same.  I decided to give AT&T a call to see if they could offer any advice.  It took only a few minutes to get connected to a person, Daniel.  Daniel seemed very nice and like he genuinely wanted to help me.  He also seemed like he had heard of computers before, but wasn't quite sure how or why they were used.  He told me AT&T didn't support wireless routers (as I had assumed), but that he could walk me through the basic troubleshooting steps for the DSL to see if we could find the problem.

About 10 minutes into the troubleshooting, he had me connect the computer directly to the DSL modem (a Speedstream 5360).  I have never connected directly, so I had to setup a new connection on the MacBook Pro.  This was the Eureka moment.  In the PPPoE configuration settings for a new network connection, the settings read like this:

Service Name: (Provided by ISP if needed)

...if needed.  If needed!  Damn it!  Could it really be that simple?  I interrupted Daniel's script reading to tell him I had something I wanted to try before we rebooted the DSL modem for the 5th time.

I reconnected the AEBS and went back to the Airport Utility.  I cleared the Service Name that I had entered previously and rebooted the DSL modem.  Once the DSL modem had rebooted, I rebooted the AEBS.  And?  Voila!  A beautiful solid green light.  Wow... all of that because I put an unneeded value in the "service name" field?  It would have been nice if there had been a note (like on the local connection) that said something to the effect of "If you don't know what this is, don't make shit up".  I still have no idea why this caused the problem, or if it truly did.  Maybe it was just a giant coincidence.

Regardless, I was finally back online... or almost.  I had now lost connection to my wireless bridge in the basement that hosts the XBox360 and the Dish Network DVR.  That would be a task for another day.