AirPort: How to communicate with a Base Station that has stopped responding completely

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
January 7th, 2004 • 8:18 am

I’ve just been through AirPort hell and back, and thought I’d share the experience. Based on the feedback I’ve been getting on this blog, I’m not alone…

My setup is the following. In order to provide wireless coverage throughout my entire single-floor house, I have two Base Stations (original Graphite model) both wired to an Ethernet hub in my office. The main Base Station in the office is hooked up to my phone line and provides the Internet connection via dial-up, which is then shared with all other devices connected to the network either through AirPort (wireless) or through Ethernet (wired).

The second Base Station is in the laundry room in the middle of the house and is wired to the Ethernet hub in the office using a long Ethernet cable that runs through the attic. This second Base Station is configured to act as a “relay” for connections to my network in the part of the house that’s not covered by the main Base Station. (You need to give its network the same name as the main network created by the other Base Station, but with a different channel setting.)

All this had been working fine until I upgraded my G4 to Panther. I did an Archive and Install installation of Panther on that machine, but that obviously wasn’t enough to avoid major AirPort problems (discussed previously here, here and here).

I ended up doing a clean install of Panther, and it cleared some of the problems. But things were still not quite right.

For some reason, the AirPort signal I was getting on my G4, which is located in the same room as the main Base Station, was typically rather poor. Unfortunately, as a TiBook owner, I am all too familiar with problems with AirPort reception, but this was definitely strange, especially since my wife’s TiBook, located in another room, was getting a better signal or a signal that was just as good. What should be noted, however, is that my wife’s office located midway between my office (with the main Base Station) and the laundry room (with the other Base Station).

This morning I decided to try and figure out what was going on. I half-suspected that Panther had somehow “corrupted” my main Base Station and that the signal strength I was seeing on my G4 was actually the signal strength coming from the other Base Station in the laundry room. However, the main Base Station was obviously still working, since it was connected to the Internet via dial-up and sharing that connection properly between me and my wife.

So I took the main Base Station down and reset it by pressing on the Reset button using a pin (most paper clips I have are too big to fit in that tiny hole in the bottom of the Base Station). I got the usual dance of red and green signals, and then I was back to the regular single green LED in the middle.

But then I was no longer able to see any base stations on my G4! I tried unplugging it and plugging it back in, to no avail. I was getting increasingly frustrated.

I decided to remove that main Base Station from the network entirely and to try to use the other one (exact same model), after reconfiguring it and setting it up, as the main Base Station, in the office. I did so, and was able to restore our shared dial-up connection. And, surprise, surprise, the signal strength on my G4 with this other Base Station was at maximum level!

Now, this seems at the same time logical and totally nonsensical. If the main Base Station was not providing a proper AirPort signal to the G4, how come it was working as the provider of the shared dial-up connection? I suspect that this was possible through a very complicated procedure, in which the defective Base Station shared the Internet connection properly with devices wired to it, through the Ethernet hub. Since the second Base Station was also wired to the hub, this second Base Station was, in turn, able to share the Internet connection with wireless devices, including my G4 in the office (far away, hence the weak signal) and the TiBook in my wife’s office.

Rather unbelievable, isn’t it?

Of course, at no point did the main AirPort Base Station ever indicate that it was having any problems with wireless connections. The green LEDs were flashing as usual (since the sharing of the dial-up connection with wired devices was working properly). When I tried to access the Base Station with the AirPort Admin Utility on my G4, I was able to do so, but through the second Base Station! So I had no idea (except for the strangely weak signal, which is ultimately what should have clued me in right away) that I was not actually configuring the main Base Station directly, but by going through the Ethernet wires and the second Base Station.

So the puzzle was half-solved. But I still didn’t know how to “revive” the defective Base Station. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t a hardware defect, since the LEDs were still flashing properly and it was still sharing the dial-up connection properly through wired devices. I strongly suspect that the Panther upgrade somehow screwed up its wireless software in a way that made it inaccessible.

But now I couldn’t even connect to it through a wired connection! I tried resetting it again and again. I also tried taking it with the TiBook to a place where I couldn’t receive any signal from the Base Station that was still working and was now being used as the main one in the office. The TiBook simply could not see it in that remote location. It couldn’t see any wireless device.

I did some research in the Apple Knowledge Base and found several articles dealing with AirPort troubleshooting issues. They indicated that I had to configure my computer to get its IP address via DHCP. (I normally use fixed addresses assigned manually to each device on the network.) So I switched my TiBook to DHCP. Still nothing. I actually restarted the TiBook in Mac OS 9, thinking that maybe something was wrong with Mac OS X trying to communicate with the defective Base Station. Still nothing.

I did more research on AirPort troubleshooting. Of particular interest to me were two articles about the IP addresses assigned automatically to computers that are part of a wireless network. One article states that the default Base Station configuration would have an IP address of and assign addresses in the same range via DHCP. When I looked at the IP address in the TCP/IP panel on my TiBook, I saw that it was in the range. I then found another article stating that, when computers trying to communicate with an AirPort Base Station are assigned IP addresses in the 169.254.x.x range, it meant that the communication wasn’t working at all. The 169.254.x.x is used by the computer itself to assign an IP address to itself when it cannot get one from an external device. It was clear that I was not getting anything from the defective Base Station.

Finally, I found yet another article dealing with how to reset a graphite Base Station. And that’s when I discovered that, when you really cannot communicate with a Base Station wirelessly (when something in the wireless software in the Base Station is obviously screwed up), the only way to revive it is to connect to it through Ethernet by connecting both the BS and the computer to the same Ethernet hub. I also found out that I had to actually hold the Reset button down for 30 seconds (which also resets the firmware), and to “catch” the Base Station while its central LED is amber. (Until then, I thought that I had to wait until it turned green.)

After doing all this, I was finally able to see the defective BS in AirPort Admin Utility. It immediately asked to update the firmware, which I did. And then the BS was back from the dead.


The only answered question I have now is: What happened when I upgraded to Panther? Obviously something got screwed up in that Base Station (and not the other one). Why? Was it just a coincidence that it happened when I upgraded to Panther? I somehow doubt it. I suspect that Panther is the guilty party. But I’ll probably never know for sure.

What you need to know if you are troubleshooting problems with Base Stations is that the only way to revive a Base Station that has gone incommunicado is to go through Ethernet, and to do a complete 30-second reset and follow Apple’s instructions carefully.

You also probably need to warn your spouse that you are in the middle of troubleshooting AirPort issues. Because it will surely put you in a very foul mood, if my own experience is any indication.

One Response to “AirPort: How to communicate with a Base Station that has stopped responding completely”

  1. bryan says:

    thanks – you helped better than anything else

    and yes, people should avoid you while trying to fix it

    should note that I never got the station to reset, but remembered the original password and entered that, while connected using 10.3.2 & Airport Utility 3.3 with latest update.

    The utility updated the firmware . . . now I can go to sleep!

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