Apple Airport Express: A WiFi Hotel Room Network.

As I mentioned in my review of the Airport Express, I bought it solely for the purpose of using Airtunes to stream my upstairs computer with my downstairs living room stereo. It does so flawlessly.

However, since I knew I as going on vacation I mentioned that I would bring the AE along and see about using it as a wireless network in my hotel room. I did just that, and here are my thoughts on it.

First, since there’s only one Ethernet jack at the hotel, there’s a sort of “chicken and egg” dilemma. I can’t plug the AE into the jack first because the network is not yet established (have to pay the fee and login). But if I plug the MacBook in then how do I get the AE involved?

The answer is that you’ll plug the MacBook into the AE and configure it as you need to (even though there’s no Internet to share at that point), and then plug the AE into the established Internet connection.

While I did not take extensive notes or screenshots (sue me, I was on vacation!), the process went something like this:

  1. Plug the MacBook into the Ethernet jack and establish the hotel’s connection. In the case of the Disney hotel this involved agreeing to their fee, and then calling the front desk to get the login code required. At this point I have high-speed Internet access, but it’s strictly terrestrial.
  2. Plug the MacBook into the AE and use Airport Utility to find it (via Ethernet) and configure it as a Bridge. You’re establishing a wireless network to the AE whose sole purpose is to “bridge” wirelessly whatever terrestrial network you’ll plug into it. You name the wireless network (I called it “Disney”) and establish a password, but as a Bridge it doesn’t really need any other information than that.
  3. Plug the AE into the Ethernet jack and use Airport Utility to find it again (this time via airport and the “Disney” network). In my case it was flashing yellow and prompted me to either create a new network or use it as a Bridge. I chose the latter and the light went green. I was in business!

This worked flawlessly for the entire week at the hotel with the MacBook, two iPhones and an iPod touch.

While this is a happy story for Apple, it’s not one for Disney. Their “high-speed” Internet was a joke. I had a great EDGE connection on the iPhones and sometimes it seemed to work as well as the WiFi did on the MacBook and iPod touch. This was not related to WiFi, since even when plugged directly into the Ethernet port the speed was the same. And Disney wanted $10 a day for this!

Back at home, I plugged the AE back into my stereo, then had to switch the MacBook to the “Disney” network (it couldn’t find it on my home network), and reconfigure it as I had done in my original review — putting it back on my home network in the process.

There was a time I lived on the road, spending more time in hotels than I did my own place. I don’t do so any more, but taking the AE on any road trip seems a no-brainer to me. I really liked the way it worked.

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12 thoughts on “Apple Airport Express: A WiFi Hotel Room Network.

  1. Thanks to this posting, I was finally able to set up my Airport Express as an access point off a wired ethernet connection. This after having bought it 2 years ago! I’ve figured out Air Tunes and having it work for sharing printing, but the manual was rather vague on configuring it as an access point. A Google search on how to configure it as an access point results in lots of queries in other macforums, but none as clear, and as specific to my situation, as this posting. The step for first connecting the laptop (MacBook Pro) to the AE was the step I have been missing.

    I like the reminder of setting up profiles, too. Many thanks to all!

  2. Pingback: Help with establishing a wireless network in hotel room - Mac-Forums.com

  3. Rus,

    You mentioned that an Airport Express can repeat a wifi signal on your comment. Can you elaborate on that since all the information I’m getting is that it cannot unless you use Airport Extreme for your wifi.

  4. Michael,

    Yes, that’s what I was trying to say. My access point at home is a Time Capsule. The AE is setup in my house with a default configuration as just another network device. It serves in no way as an access point.

    Therefore, in the hotel room it was essentially “lost” until I plugged it directly into the MacBook and reconfigured it as an access point.

    I set it up a few days ago with profiles for ‘Home’ (AirTunes only) and ‘Remote’ (bridge). I don’t travel often, so it’ll be a while before I use the Remote profile, but at least I’m ready.

    Still, I’ll have to remember to switch to the Remote profile before I leave the house (i.e., while I have access to the device on my home network), or I’ll still need to plug it directly into the MacBook before I can select it.

  5. Hey Tom,

    I think (Sam | Bogie | Rus) ‘s comments were based on the fact that they use their AirPort Express as their Wirelesss Access Point at home, as I do. Since that’s the case, it’s not (as you say) “just another device” on *their* networks like it is on yours. I’m assuming that you have an AirPort Extreme (be it one of the newer “draft-n” models or not) that you use as your actual AP, and the Express is just for streaming AirTunes, or whatever, right? With the AirPort Utility, you can set up mulltiple profiles (on the AirPort Express itself, not just on your MacBook), so you don’t have to go through the config process again. Just set one up like you did for “Disney,” call it “Hotel” or something, and then you have that set up to run at hotels as your main AP from their eternet connection, and you have your bridge for AirTunes (just another network device) at home. Are you sufficiently confused now? Good. Glad to help, hehe. Seriously, I hope what I said was at least intelligible, even if it doesn’t help you personally. Maybe it will help someone else.

    Michael

  6. Rus,

    $9.95 per 24 hours. That’s what I agreed to. In fact, I had to agree to this every 24 hours. I’ll check my final Amex bill and see if it was charged or not.

    As for the other comments…

    Sam,

    You have your AE already configured as a Bridge at home, I do not. That would have saved me step #2, and so #1 would likely have not been necessary either.

    Bogie,

    You say you just plug the AE into Ethernet and have the laptop “find” the Express. How does it find it? My AE is setup to join a ‘Home’ network and simply stream music. It neither extends nor bridges that network — in fact it’s just another device on it. In the hotel room the ‘Home’ network is gone, so wirelessly my laptop didn’t see it at all. That’s why I connected the laptop to the AE: To create a wireless network with it (called ‘Disney’) they could communicate on.

    If I’m missing something, by all means clue me in and I’ll try it next time. However, until I plugged the AE directly into my laptop and created ‘Disney’, the laptop could not find it wirelessly. This didn’t surprise me because normally my AE is totally dependent upon ‘Home’, which obviously wasn’t available.

  7. Tom,

    I ALWAYS base my hotel stays on free wifi access … I’ve stayed on Disney property several times and never heard of a charge for wifi access.

    I believe you went to extremes with your extremes when it would have been much easier following what Sam and Bogie said here. The ethernet/wifi connection should automatically take you to the login page. If you are worried about security just hide your SSID. An airport express can also repeat a free wifi signal and add a firewall.

    Furthermore, did you see my way to get 3G on an iPhone? It has the added benefit of giving you 3G for your laptop, therefore you don’t have to worry about hotel networks. Orlando has awesome 3G speed.

  8. Your method sounds pretty complicated. I just plug the ethernet into the Express, have my laptop find the Express, so we’re communicating. Then I just open up a browser window on my laptop, and the hotel sends me to their payment page. Takes about 30 seconds to get to the payment page. This is basically what Sam said above.

  9. Don’t forget you can create profiles. Make a profile for your normal home use. Then when you get back from a trip, you can just click the profiles drop down to be back to normal. A 20 second operation.

  10. When I bought my Express three (or was it four?) years ago, it was specifically because I was stuck in a hotel for a few extra days.

    It should go in every laptop bag, right next to the power adapter. I’ve been going wireless since 1999, and I don’t want to be tethered again.

  11. I used to do the same thing with my express. The last TDY I did though, all the hotels for the 2 weeks had free Wi-Fi, so I didn’t need to bring it along at all. I should mention that it was also good for setting up an ad-hoc network if we wanted to play lan games in a place without wi-fi.

  12. I use my Express for exactly the same thing. Since I use it as a bridge at home, too, for me I just plug it into the Ethernet at the hotel and do the “I agree” web page right over the wireless connection. It works great, and it lets me use my iTouch in the hotel as well.

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