Tactical Advice

Review: Go Wireless with Apple’s AirPort Express Base Station

Apple’s wireless access point brings signal strength wherever a road warrior needs it.
This story appears in the Fall 2012 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Review: Go Wireless with Apple’s AirPort Express Base Station
Apple AirPort Express Base Station
Credit: Apple

Apple’s offerings are often thought of as consumer-focused technology, but more companies are taking advantage of devices such as the AirPort Express Base Station to meet business needs. The AirPort offers all the practical and powerful functionality one expects from a wireless router, and a slew of cool features go far beyond the offerings of its counterparts and are hard to ignore.

End-User Advantages

The AirPort Express offers dual-band 802.11n networking, broadcasting at both 2.4 gigahertz and 5GHz frequencies. This lets connecting devices negotiate and transfer data at their native speed, optimizing throughput. Because the AirPort Express supports 802.11a/b/g/n protocols, it is universally compatible with virtually any wireless client.

Users can easily set up concurrent private and guest networks as well. The ability to provide segregated Internet-only access for untrusted machines greatly increases security because it keeps guest devices from communicating with those on the private side of the network. Wired Equivalent ­Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) keys also can be changed on the public network at any time without disrupting clients on the private side.

The AirPort’s print server also converts almost any USB printer into a wireless one. All that’s needed is to simply plug the printer into the device’s USB port, then either browse to it (on Apple clients) or configure it as the local printer (on PCs). This lets the printer go wherever the AirPort goes.

It’s also possible to configure the ­AirPort as a Wi-Fi signal extender. This is particularly useful for clients in sprawling offices, or teleworkers who live in multilevel homes with an existing wireless network. If placed in a relatively central location, users will enjoy the utility of the AirPort’s other features, and also benefit from a stronger wireless signal.

Why It Works for IT

The AirPort Express is a viable permanent solution for clients who want to set up or extend Wi-Fi networks, and it’s also a great travel companion for road warriors looking for added security. Given its dimensions of just under 4 inches by 4 inches by 1 inch and a weight of about 8 ounces, the AirPort Express will go mostly unnoticed in any notebook bag.

Because the Apple AirPort Express offers so many functions in a single deployment — wireless router, print server, audio server and wireless network extender — it satisfies immediate requirements and also carries the potential to fulfill future networking and home office needs. Also, because IT departments can address so many functions with a single unit, the IT staff can standardize equipment and simplify tech support.

If your company is an Apple shop, the decision of whether to purchase the ­AirPort ­Express should not be difficult. Configuration is incredibly simple on Mac and iOS platforms. If Wi-Fi enabled, clients will almost immediately see this device on the network and invoke the AirPort Utility. The system will then present users with a wizard that will offer a few simple options. Once these are set, the device will reboot with the new configuration and be ready for action.

Disadvantages

While configuring the AirPort may be a joy for Mac and iOS clients, PC users will first have to obtain Apple’s AirPort Utility to configure the device. This proprietary software is not included with the device and appeared on page three of available downloads for the unit when I visited Apple’s support site. It is disappointing that PC clients must deal with this inconvenience in a world where most other popular home gateway devices can be configured through a web browser.

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About the Author

Jason Holbert

Jason Holbert

Jason covers desktop applications and help desk utilities, including reviews geared toward the IT end-user support function. Jason is the PC infrastructure manager for Harcros Chemicals, a worldwide leader in chemical manufacturing and distribution. At Harcros, Jason supports over 350 end users at 30 branch locations. In his free time, Jason enjoys reading, motorcycling, competitive shooting and remodeling his starter home with his wife.

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