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AirPort Flakiness is Driving Me Insane

I'm starting to regret re-doing my home network. Don't get me wrong - when things work, they're great. When they don't work, well, not only do they not work but they don't even make sense most of the time.

I'll briefly describe my simplified home setup. My cable modem is hooked directly to the outside cable line where it enters the house and is plugged into a new AirPort Extreme ("Basement"). "Basement" is connected via ethernet through the floor to my first-floor entertainment center (Xbox 360, DVR).

Directly above on the second floor I have another new AirPort Extreme ("Upstairs") that's connected via ethernet to a PS3 and a DVR. In my office, I have a first-gen Time Capsule with no wireless (or ethernet) clients, but hooked up to a USB printer. The Time Capsule ("Einstein") is about 25 feet from "Upstairs," which is in turn about 15 feet from (above) "Basement."

Everything on the network (except for the iPhones) has an IP address I've manually configured and which matches the DHCP Reservations table in Basement's configuration. The radio mode is set to 802.11a/n - 802.11b/g/n and the channels are set to 149 (5 GHz) and 1 (2.4 GHz).

Two major issues persist:

  1. My wife's MacBook and, occasionally, my MacBook Pro will have a dickens of a time connecting to the network.
  2. A random AirPort station will become unavailable to the network from time to time.

Problem One: MacBook Connection Issues
Since getting the two new APEBS, the MacBooks (my wife's more so than mine) have had a hard time connecting. Often, the MacBook will connect briefly and then, seconds later, disconnect. No routine of turning AirPort on or off or removing or adding the network in the system preference seems to help things, but eventually, you get a stable connection that stays up as long as you use the computer. If it doesn't fail inside of a few seconds, it won't fail.

This seems to have been a common problem in both Leopard and Snow Leopard, but more so in Leopard, and several "fixes" have come out from Apple, but my wife still has trouble connecting. If you enter the WPA2 password and press enter, you're immediately "on" the network but the dialog box remains. You can actually hit cancel and you'll be online… because if you wait, you'll often just get a timeout error.

But whatever. This seems to be flaky issue with no actual solution. So it is what it is.

Problem Two: Random AirPort Unavailability
Here's an example. I was using my MacBook Pro, was never disconnected from the Internet, and was the only user on the network actively doing anything:

bordleft What's up with that? Why would my Time Capsule suddenly drop off the network? Why on earth does it take 39 or 96 ms to ping it? Perhaps:

Einstein Slow

A rate of 6? Seriously? That can't be good. And why did "Einstein" (highlighted above in green) connect to "Basement" anyway? If I reboot Einstein it often (though not always) connects to "Upstairs":

Einstein Faster

Oddly - at least as far as I can tell - the signal and noise numbers are exactly the same in both instances. And the first - with "Einstein" connecting to "Basement" instead of "Upstairs" - seems to have occurred randomly. Last I knew it was connecting to "Upstairs." (Oddly, my Mac Pro - eight feet from "Einstein" - connects to "Basement" instead of "Upstairs" as well, but does so at a rate of 130 or so and with a signal/noise set of -63/-93.

The other odd thing - as seen in both graphs - are the bizarre spikes in the signal. This only comes from Einstein - I've never seen another wireless thing do this.

Having rebooted Einstein, for now things look okay. These ping times still strike me as long (below), and I have no idea why my Mac Pro connects to "Basement" instead of "Upstairs." I have no idea why "Einstein" swapped its connection from "Upstairs" where it usually (though not always - look at this screenshot) maintains a rate in the 100s to "Basement" where it gets a rate of 2 or 6 (and, if it did switch, why it didn't switch back).

PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=255 time=10.760 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=255 time=3.129 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=255 time=4.945 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=255 time=4.410 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=255 time=5.388 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=255 time=6.516 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=255 time=5.002 ms

Who knows? Maybe things will suddenly start working again. Maybe some neighbor's WiFi is interfering - but not all the time or under all conditions? (I've checked using KisMAC and both of the neighbor's networks are on channel 6; one uses WPA and the other WEP). And what the heck is this (image shows a rate of 6 but connected to "Upstairs")?

And, of course, I have no idea what could possibly fix the MacBook's issues.

I don't expect anyone to have any answers, but if you have an idea or want to ask a question, feel free. I will likely simply use the comments space here to document anything I discover in the future.

3 Responses to "AirPort Flakiness is Driving Me Insane"

  1. I wish I could offer up more than just a "me too".

    I have a newer dual-band Time Capsule, directly connected to cable, acting as a DHCP server, with 2 airport expresses (802.11N) extending the N network on the TC. I run an N-only network at 5GHZ.

    I also run a second G network from the TC for the iPhone and Wii in the house.

    First off, my 5GHZ network is consistently crap, I pretty much can't use it for anything but web surfing etc. I do a lot of video streaming and I have to use my G network to get 2-3+ MB/sec.

    I have another airport extreme that I've left unplugged, in the hopes that it would improve things, for a while i thought having too many devices was hampering my network.

    About once every 3 weeks, both networks stop letting clients connect, both iPhones and Macs. Nothing can resolve this other than unplugging the TC and plugging it back in.

    I haven't had the time or patience to extensively test solutions, and there are quite a few variables to deal with.


  2. Just a little documentation: for no apparent reason, a Time Machine backup failed. I couldn't restart the base station from AirPort Admin Utility and I couldn't ping it. "Upstairs" reported a rate of "6" again and unplugging and rebooting Einstein seems to have solved the problem: I see a rate of 130 now and the backup is moving along (knock on wood).

    Update: Dropped to 6 while "calculating changes." No idea what caused it to drop. None. Pings don't reach it and I can't restart it again. So much for wood and knocking.

  3. Macbook surely has sometimes connection issues. But after all, we can leave Apple, we are its fan, right?