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Alternatives to Apple’s Wi-Fi Base Stations

As the author of “Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network”, you might think that I’d be biased in favor of the fruit company’s products. Yes and no! For Mac and iOS users who need access to specific features and want the simplicity of configuring a base station through native software for both OS X and iOS, or who want to extend a network wirelessly, Apple’s long-in-the-tooth lineup remains the right choice, though it’s currently overpriced for what it delivers.

If you don’t need specific AirPort-only features and are willing to brave Web-based router administration and a steeper learning curve, you have a couple of alternatives that cost substantially less and offer capabilities Apple doesn’t include and likely never will.

The Apple Advantage -- Apple was one of the first companies to incorporate advanced features into its consumer-oriented 802.11n base stations, which have evolved into the current 802.11ac models. (That’s 802.11ac wave 1, which I’ll explain further below.) Apple’s base stations offered relatively affordable simultaneous dual-band networking — data flowing over 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz at the same time — with access controls, radio and channel choices, guest networking, USB printer sharing, hard drive sharing (except the AirPort Express), dedicated backup storage (Time Capsule), and music streaming (only on the AirPort Express).

But those advantages are in the distant past — most of these previously innovative features date to 2009 for the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule and 2012 for the AirPort Express. Especially with the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule models, which have had an identical tall “cracker box” form factor since their update in 2013, subsequent improvements have been solely in radio systems, with additional antennas and the move up to 802.11ac wave 1. But that’s not unusual — nearly every base station you can find has similar radio systems.

The AirPort Express is even further behind the curve. Last updated in 2012, it remains stuck with 802.11n and 10/100 Mbps networking, two Ethernet ports (one dedicated to a wide-area networking — WAN — or broadband connection), and no hard drive or multiple USB printer support. It uniquely sports an audio output (for analog and digital connections) that enables AirPlay streaming. (That audio-only output option was removed from the fourth-generation Apple TV.)

In contrast, the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule have three switched LAN and one WAN gigabit Ethernet ports, and can handle multiple printers and hard drives, although even their USB ports remain USB 2, rather than the ubiquitous and 10x faster USB 3 standard.

So why pick an AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule, or AirPort Express, given how long it has been since Apple has paid them much attention?

  • AirPort Utility remains a relatively friendly and easy way to configure one or more base stations. It runs only in OS X and iOS. (The Windows version hasn’t been updated in several years.)

  • Plugging one or more printers into a base station via USB makes them available to OS X machines. (If a printer supports AirPrint, you don’t need to plug it in to the base station; in fact, doing so disables AirPrint, according to Apple.)

  • You want to use AirPlay to stream music through the audio port on an AirPort Express. AirPlay isn’t found in many third-party receivers or other devices. (A refurbished third-generation Apple TV can be a better deal, though.)

  • Apple’s implementation of extending a network via wireless base station connections — using Wireless Distribution System (WDS) — can work well, but it’s reliable only among Apple’s own devices. (I switched to an Ethernet backbone in my house years ago due to earlier WDS issues, but I know many people who use it, especially when stringing Ethernet is impossible or they’re renting and can’t put holes in the wall.)

  • You want to use Back to My Mac to modify or check a base station’s status or to access attached USB drives.

  • Apple is easy to work with for warranty repair and replacement, and some base stations models were problematic enough that people were able to get free replacements years later. Apple includes base stations as a warrantied accessory when you purchase an AppleCare extended service agreement for a Mac: any base station purchased up to 2 years before the Mac’s date of sale, or bought during the 3 years of AppleCare, is covered till the end of the AppleCare term.

While the term “Apple tax” is often used to ridicule people who prefer a product that works well and costs more to one that is cheap and bad, in the case of Apple’s base stations you’re not getting what you pay for unless one or more of the above factors is important.

Picking an Alternative -- In the past, non-Apple routers suffered from a lack of OS X-compatible drivers and options for services like USB printer and hard drive sharing. Some routers required you to download and run a Windows app to update firmware. Others relied on Java or even Internet Explorer. Most of that nonsense has disappeared, and simple browser-based administration is generally effective. I have seen a few situations where Safari behaves oddly with an admin interface, but in those cases Chrome or Firefox usually works fine.

I recently needed to replace one of the three base stations in my house, because I upgraded my broadband service to gigabit fiber, which required locating the broadband modem in a totally different part of the house. I use Ethernet as the backbone between three Apple base stations of different vintages, and had forgotten that the one closest to the broadband modem was limited to 802.11n, was a single-band-at-a-time model, and topped out at 100 Mbps Ethernet. That would drag down a 1 Gbps symmetrical Internet connection, and it also meant I hadn’t been getting the best use of my LAN, either.

I’m an editor-at-large at The Wirecutter and recently helped in a late-stage edit of its revised guide for the best all-around Wi-Fi router. The reviewer picked the 802.11ac simultaneous dual-band TP-Link Archer C7 (v2), which typically sells for about $90, or half the price of an AirPort Extreme.

I had considered the new Google OnHub routers, one made by TP-Link and one by Asus, but the prices ($200 and $220) are nonstarters and most of the interesting features aren’t enabled or seem awkward (“Google’s OnHub Router Gets Rough Treatment in Early Reviews,” 31 August 2015).

There are literally hundreds of inexpensive 802.11n and 802.11ac routers, but few have consistently outstanding reviews or include as many features as the TP-Link unit. After reviewing what I needed, I opted to buy the Archer C7: it checks off all the Wi-Fi boxes I need and a number of others. While it lacks the AirPort-only features mentioned above (AirPort Utility configuration, AirPlay, and Back to My Mac), I’m not troubled by the omissions, and I suspect many people won’t even notice these features are missing.

Like most non-Apple routers, the Archer C7 has an absurd number of configuration options. Most router manufacturers adapt reference designs made by chipmakers, which includes microcode that runs the router. The manufacturer typically creates a physical case, customizes and extends the software, and packages administrative tools in its own user interface. Because so many options are available in the chipset and reference design, they’re generally presented to the user as equally valuable, though some are hidden in an Advanced section. Most people never need to change more than a few settings, but for those who need extras, you’ll find options in the Archer C7 Apple doesn’t and will never offer.

For instance:

  • Guest networking goes far beyond Apple’s approach, with settings to throttle inbound and outbound bandwidth usage, set different network names and security parameters for 2.4 and 5 GHz guest networks, set access time limitations, and opt to let guests use LAN resources.

  • If you use Dynamic DNS to cope with an ISP changing your publicly facing IP address, the router can log in to several DDNS services to keep the domain-to-address connection up to date.

  • Security controls abound, including options enabled by default to prevent malicious behavior from passing through your router, and other controls that can be turned on to block denial-of-service attacks. The Archer C7 even has a way to restrict actions for devices on the local LAN reaching out to the Internet, and a separate section for fine-grained parental controls.

  • WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Security) is fully supported, whereas Apple offers it in only a limited way. WPS lets you add devices, particularly those that lack a screen or full interface, to Wi-Fi networks without entering long WPA2 passphrases.

If you’re concerned about using Bonjour, AirPrint, or AirPlay over a network that’s not all configured with Apple gear — don’t be. The underlying protocol, mDNS, is now used by companies other than just Apple, and it works in general with modern Wi-Fi routers from other companies.

The worst thing I’ve seen, which isn’t terrible, is that the Bonjour names for network devices don’t appear in AirPort Utility when I’m configuring my two remaining Apple base stations, although the names do appear in the Archer C7’s DHCP Clients’ list.

Even without the extra options, the Archer C7’s price may be right. I’ve messed with a few settings, but I was mostly looking for a strong 802.11ac router that would handle DHCP routing and pass traffic through, while also further extending coverage in my house.

I’ve been using the Archer C7 for several weeks, and haven’t hit any roadblocks or consistent problems. I seem to need to reboot it occasionally, but because of a necessary telco-provided modem, I’m never entirely sure where the fault lies, the modem or the router. When I’ve needed to change settings or look up how I configured a feature, I haven’t been stymied. As with most routers, after an initial configuration, you rarely mess with details — set it and forget it.

As I note above, although there are many competing routers, few truly inexpensive models have gotten decent reviews. But TP-Link makes a super-cheap 2.4 GHz-only 802.11n router, the TL-WR841N, which sells at Amazon for $19 and is generally well liked in over 9,000 reviews, averaging over four stars. It also incorporates a four-port gigabit Ethernet LAN switch plus a WAN port, making it a great spoke end for a network.

What Apple Should Do -- Apple could reclaim the loyalty of its ecosystem in a few ways:

  • Drop the price. Apple likes to maintain high margins, and typically keeps the price the same for given products even as it improves their features. Base station prices have dropped in the past; doing so again by repricing the AirPort Express to $49 (from $99), the AirPort Extreme to $129 (from $199), and the Time Capsule to $199 and $249 (from $299 and $399 for the 2 TB and 3 TB models) would bring prices back into line.

  • Provide more in terms of features and standards support. The AirPort Express should finally move to gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac. The AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule need USB 3 if Apple is serious about hard-drive sharing and Time Machine backups with external drives, and they should include a four-port LAN switch (up from three) like most competitors. And the Time Capsule line should add a 4 TB option.

    Apple could also step up to 802.11ac wave 2, to which I alluded in passing earlier. Nearly every consumer 802.11ac product on the market uses wave 1, which is a huge improvement over 802.11n in the 5 GHz band. But wave 1 was only the first step towards implementing everything in the 802.11ac spec. Wave 2, which is built into the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, allows for more efficient targeting (known as beamforming) of individual Wi-Fi adapters, which in turn allows for simultaneous data streams to multiple devices, thus improving network throughput.

  • Open up base station configuration. If Apple wants to remain native, it needs Android and Windows 10 clients that are as up to date as Mac versions. Or there needs to be a Web-based interface — perhaps it could be part of

  • Add Bluetooth and HomeKit support. Bluetooth would allow the kind of nifty first-stage setup that the fourth-generation Apple TV includes, in which it uses proximity to bypass security hoops. HomeKit is a long-term direction for Apple to support the Internet of Things (smart home devices and other stuff), and its base stations should include solid support for HomeKit, at least in premium models, rather than requiring yet another networked device to act as a hub.

Apple still makes quality Wi-Fi base stations. But its gear is long in the tooth and desperately needs some attention.

If you’re waiting to see if Apple comes up with something new before making a purchase, biding your time until the middle of 2016 seems sensible — the last few AirPort releases have dropped in June. However, if you need a new Wi-Fi gateway sooner and aren’t wedded to AirPort-only features, either of the TP-Link models mentioned will do a fine job while keeping more money in your pocket.


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Comments about Alternatives to Apple’s Wi-Fi Base Stations
(Comments are closed.)

The problem with most cheap routers is that they never receive security updates. At least Apple does update the firmware sometimes.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-22 17:21
Yes, and this one reason I'm comfortable for now with TP-Link. They deliver updates regularly, and they patch security flaws. The Archer C7 has had at least one firmware update since I purchased it and I was able to install it from a Mac without an error. It would be great if it could also notify me of updates, which is another nice ability of Apple’s devices.
gastropod  2015-12-22 17:53
Can the Archer use third party firmware of any sort, or is it locked down?

Also, you don't mention VPN passtrough, maybe because it's become common these days and more apparent by absence? (Yeah, I should just read the manual...)

Still happy with my Time Capsule, but it's probably nearing end of life, so I'm starting to keep an eye out for replacements.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-22 19:46
I've used a VPN on the network without trouble (both Cloak and TunnelBear), but I haven't tested protocol by protocol. I would stunned if there were an issue, but do check the manual.

On firmware, didn't look into that—I tend to avoid third-party firmware, because I haven't found an advantage with my particular needs, which are pretty close to most general consumer needs (i.e., configure something reliable and walk away from settings forever).
Gregory Glockner  2015-12-22 18:00
As routers, you're right that there are better options. As WiFi base stations, the Apple AirPort family works great. They are rock stable, which is more than I can say about a lot of other wireless base stations. If you have a large wired home, you can easily add a bunch of them to get wireless coverage throughout the home. The express models are more than adequate for that, and used ones are a good bargain.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-22 18:03
The Archer C7 is the first in a while that I'm confident about recommending between reviews by many others and my own testing experience.
Gary Dauphin  2015-12-22 18:01
The average home user needs the simplicity (with basic security) of the Apple base stations.

For those of us that are technically-minded, that are better and cheaper alternatives out there.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-22 18:03
That's the very point of this article!
Michael Schmitt  2015-12-22 19:32
Never forget that Apple crippled the AirPort routers with the dumbed-down AirPort Utility 6, which dropped access to many features that the router hardware supports. AirPort Utility 5.6 is increasingly difficult to get to run, since it needs frameworks that are no longer included in OS X. This means that AirPort base station owners have lost access to features of the routers they already own.

Such as: iPv6 firewall exceptions, DHCP client details, wireless client statistics, view logs, SNMP, remote syslogging, control guest access to disks, Windows file sharing workgroup/WINS, control WAN port speed, Wireless netowrk optinos (e.g. "use wide channels"), control time setting, control status light, display current WiFi channel, view MAC address, view AirPort IDs.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-22 19:45
I'm still not happy about that. It's a more technical reason to point people to an Archer C7 or even a more expensive enterprise-oriented Wi-Fi router. The Archer is overkill in terms of features for most consumers, but if you're interested in something above consumer and below enterprise, it's probably the right fit for cost and control.

However, I've found the split is pretty huge these days. In the olden days, an Apple or Linksys or Netgear might have been used in a relatively large business, but those markets are now highly saturated with very custom-purpose equipment that perform well. This means consumer/small-office routers generally became less full-featured because the features weren't needed.
Derek Currie  2016-01-04 22:33
I am now of the opinion that Apple's move to effectively kill off AirPort Utility 5.6 and force users to crippled v6.x is a downgrade of AirPort routers, decreasing them in value. Many of the features thrown out in v6.x were important to we-the-geeks in the Apple user community. The result is that AirPort Utility v6.x is a great reason to abandon Apple's AirPort routers and move on to something more substantial. I have and I've never regretted it, sad to say.
Rob Gendreau  2016-01-05 11:52
Not only that, but once 5.6 became unusable (after Lion? can't remember) it meant my older Express, which until then was working for streaming music to speakers, became a brick. Completely arbitrary. Why then don't use a web browser like everyone else is beyond me, but it as bye bye Apple networking after that.
Dale Skrien  2015-12-23 05:34
I purchased a TP-Link Archer C9 instead of a C7 because it has a USB 3.0 port. I wanted to use it to back up to an external drive using Time Machine. However, it appears that Time Machine can't find any external drive connected to the C9 via USB. Does anyone know whether Time Machine work with the C7?
David Gerlits  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-12-26 20:09
I need to ask how you can make a non AirPrint printer available for iOS printing. I have tried plugging in the printer via USB, but could not find it on my iPad or iPhone. Is this covered in your book? How do I do this?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-12-26 20:24
I managed to that entirely backwards. I'll update the article to explain the issue better! (Printopia is the best way to share printers over AirPrint that don't have it built in.)
Michael Paine  2015-12-30 02:04
Another irritation I have with Time Capsule is the abysmal hard disk access speeds (even with ethernet cable). I prefer to use USB3 external hard disks directly connected to the iMac for backups and video processing - defeating one of the intended uses of the Time Capsule.

DS - your usb3 woes are not good news.

MS - The other feature deleted from the Airport Utility (before 6 ) is the ability to create/edit splash screens for users loggng onto my network.
Jon White  2016-01-04 20:51
I'm interested in your setup with fiber Internet. I'm facing a similar issue and have my new connection coming into my home at a point where wireless would be unhelpful. I was considering a wired router then using a couple AC routers in access point mode. Is this similar to your setup?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-04 23:08
I have a weird setup, b/c the CenturyLink modem has some fiber network specific features, so I can't plop the Archer C7 or an AirPort router in there. Fiber optic comes into the basement, passes through the terminal, which goes to the CL router, which is then plugged into the Archer C7.
Dale Steele  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-01-06 17:14
Great article Glen.
You mention BB modems with fiber network features. I'm looking at setting up a new home network in PDX where some fiber is available and Google may arrive. I'm still looking at ISP options including CL and see modem costs can be add-on costs now. Does that mean I should shop for my best modem option? Are there any Apple specific solutions?

I see lots of changes & am glad I have your Wi-Fi Tidbits book. Thanks, Dale
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 17:18
Thank you! You'll probably be stuck with a modem from your provider, because the optical terminal they install in your house can have wacky networking provisioning options that normal base station can't handle. So I have a weird CenturyLink branded modem I'm using as a passthrough, because it's not a great device in terms of features. (I got it "free" by signing up online, so I get a full rebate.)
Derek Currie  2016-01-04 22:04
WPS has been proven to be very insecure technology:

"WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Security) is fully supported, whereas Apple offers it in only a limited way. WPS lets you add devices, particularly those that lack a screen or full interface, to Wi-Fi networks without entering long WPA2 passphrases."

Many in the security community suggest disabling WPS and ignoring its existence. Here is one article on the subject:

"Using WPS on your Wi-Fi router may be even more dangerous than you think"
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-04 23:09
Depends on proximity, so I always advise making choices relative to what's around you and who has access to your systems.
mike sanders  2016-01-04 22:49
Good and interesting article Glenn but I wouldn't want that ugly puppy anywhere in my house
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-04 23:05
It's in my basement [emoticon]
mike sanders  2016-01-06 21:43
I live in a high rise in Hong Kong so my signal has to negotiate some serious concrete. I use an AP Extreme and extend it with an AP Express which is pretty good for streaming to ATV 4.
If I were to add another AP Extreme to the 1Gb modem via ethernet could they all be configured to the same network?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 21:58
Yes, you'll have to organize the topology correctly so one goes to the next. I have (ahem) some information on that in my Take Control book, but it's also in Apple's AirPort manual—they cover topology reasonably well.
Gustavo Domínguez  2016-01-05 04:41
If you're looking into some serious networking gear you should try Ubiquiti Networks' UniFi series, they're very fast, very stable, and have very advanced stuff built into them. It is enterprise-level networking stuff but it is very affordable.

You can get several access points working in the same SSID and channel and they will kick a sticky client to another AP with a better signal automatically. The technology is awesome.

After my old Time Capsule was acting up—it didn't work as a router anymore but only as a switch and as an AP—I tried several brands but they all were either unstable or died on me, TP-Link was actually great but after sometime using a couple of their top-of-the-line routers I started noticing some slowdowns—serious slowdown and then I came across Ubiquiti and ever since I upgraded my whole network to Ubiquiti gear.

The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite is also extremely good, that way it can manage your network while your existing routers can work solely as APs.
My biggest problem concerning ac Airport stations: you cannot mount them to the wall!

TP-Link C9 has same problem. How about C7?
David Blatner  2016-01-05 11:13
I just want an easy and inexpensive way to extend my network to a room that doesn't have good reception. I have an Apple Base Station and an old apple airport express (the kind that looks like a square deck of cards plugged directly into the AC). Would that $19 doohickie help? I don't really need a full-on router, do I?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-05 13:53
If you can run Ethernet to it, it's probably a good solution—more base stations is better than a stronger signal in a central location.
Chuck La Tournous  2016-01-06 12:20
A Powerline adapter might be a good solution if you're just looking to network a computer in that room and running Ethernet isn't viable. These adapters use your home's electrical wiring to create a wired network. I reviewed one such set for The Mac Observer recently. . Note that this won't help if you're trying to connect wireless devices like phones or tablets.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 12:28
Yes, and the current generation equipment is very fast, relatively cheap, and no longer has the same tweaky problem about "power phase," which made it harder to configure across a home.
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-01-07 23:31
Glenn, you left out another thing in Apple's favor: their design (well, except for the current AEBS). Those from other companies are down right UGLY! They look like a stylized Medusa head.
Rob Gendreau  2016-01-05 11:55
And Airports are typical form over function.

A router has radios in it, and reception and transmission can be improved a great deal with better antennas. But that option doesn't even exist cuz it would look too trailer parky I guess.

I recommend the Netgear Nighthawk R7000. Speedier, reliable, configurable, good support, etc. It's been easier to attach disks for DLNA use, and use with ATT's rather lame residential gateways.
I also would recommend the UniFi gear. A pair of basestations and a router still comes in around $200 and is way more flexible than a single ABS.

Re 3rd party firmware: The only thing I'm looking into that for is to use an iPhone in USB tethering mode as my internet connection. Whether I'm traveling or just having another TWC outage, that feature would be a great boon. DD-WRT appears to support that, and I've got a Netgear on order ($60 refurb, but I can check things out and then get a newer/better model if things work successfully). The USB will power the phone, and because the phone isn't crushing its wifi radio the phone shouldn't experience as much heat or battery drain (I've had iPhones drain faster than the chargers can top them off when sharing over wifi).
Gregory Koster  2016-01-05 16:20
I use a pair of Apple basestations to get the signal from the basement (where the Verizon and one printer live) to the second floor (where the other printer lives). This way I can plug each printer directly into a basestation and not have to fool with wifi printing. Is there a third-party solution that would let me do this?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 12:27
Wi-Fi printer may work better, because the printer only has to make a Wi-Fi connection. What isn't working for you where you need a different solution?
Matt Green  2016-01-06 12:15
There's one additional feature (barely documented) of the Airport line that I've not seen on any other router or access point: Bonjour Sleep Proxy. It allows a device that advertises services via Bonjour (like file shares, printers, AirPlay, etc) to go to sleep while the router transparently keeps the Bonjour advertisement alive. If a device tries to connect to the advertised service, the router sends a Wake-on-LAN to the sleeping device and hands back the Bonjour registration for the service in question. Handy for sharing files/iTunes libraries etc from a Mac acting as a media server while still allowing it to save power when no one's around to use it.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 12:27
That's a good point, though I'm really uncertain how many people use any aspect of this service. It's set by default, so many people may not even realize they use it. Bonjour Sleep Proxy has also resulted in some really strange behavior, notably on early-generation Apple TVs!
Chris B  2016-01-06 13:26
You mention that Wave 2 has beam forming, this is a feature that is outlined on the Airport Extreme site already, is this a different technology?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 13:33
The version in Apple's gear and nearly all Wi-Fi routers on the market is a single-user version of beamforming—it's not that wave 1 routers don't have it, but the beamforming feature in wave 2 allows targeting multiple devices simultaneously (MU-MIMO), which has a much greater impact on throughput than wave 1 single user (SU-MIMO) beamforming.
Chris B  2016-01-06 13:51
Thanks for clarifying that Glenn!
Colin Jensen  2016-01-06 13:28
Would be nice if the AppleTV could act as a base station. It's often located next to a cable modem, so a short length of ethernet to connect the two would give you a quick AC wireless router.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 13:34
It's silly that it can't, as it has plenty of power, even if it was more of an AirPort Express device.
Glenn - I know you're on fiber now too. I found moving to the top end Archer C7 (3200?) my wifi speeds shot up for new Apple devices. My new Apple TV gets 500Mbps over wifi now, the ethernet port is a 100mbps port. My iPhone 6+ (not a 6s+) got 6x faster. My iPad Air (first Air model) did NOT get a better connection.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 17:08
The iPad Air should see a network boost, because it support 802.11n in 5GHz. I wonder if it's connecting to the 2.4GHz network preferentially? You might try naming 2.4 and 5GHz networks separately, and then only associating it with the 5GHz network. Or have you already tried that?
my old wi-fi router (google fiber hub) did 802.11n better than the old Airports I have so I think that's why the Air didn't get better
Andrew Laurence  2016-01-06 23:54
Do the non-Apple units support NAT-PMP these days? UPnP is old hat, but my older Netgear router has never supported it particularly well. The current unit serves our needs quite well, but better Back-To-My-Mac results (thus NAT-PMP) might be motivating.
the docs for the archer c3200 i have makes no mention of NAT-PMP nor are there options to control it in the interface. UPnP is listed in the docs and can be controlled in the interface.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-06 18:10
NAT-PMP seems to have never been adopted really at all by anyone by Apple, and it has some significant security problems, apparently. I'm surprised Apple hasn't given up and move to DLNA certified UPnP, because they're not giving up anything by doing so. I mean, Bonjour and NAT-PMP work together, but they could certainly made Bonjour and UPnP work fine as well.
Andrew Laurence  2016-01-07 00:03
Per the NAT-PMP wikipedia page, it has been implemented by several third-party firmware:

If memory serves, BTTM works with both. I think my issue is more that my Netgear unit does UPnP poorly.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-07 00:29
Goodness, Andrew, most of those links and projects are out of date or dead. That's my point! I haven't tested the Archer C7 rigorously for UPnP compliance, but I'm using LAN-based UPnP stuff (not remotely accessible) and the discovery part works.
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2016-01-07 05:45
Great article Glenn (as usual!). One question, though. You say “AirPlay isn’t found in many third-party receivers or other devices.” Are there any third-party hubs/routes/base stations that support AirPlay? This is a very useful feature for me and while my AirPort Express serves my needs well at the moment, I'd be interested to know if there are other options in case I have to replace it one day. I was under the impression that the Express was the only game in town if you want AirPlay streaming.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-01-07 22:31
You all asked and here's the answer! AirPlay-enabled…lightbulbs!
I like how those AirPlay light bulbs have a list price of $199, but if you buy three it's only $599. Very hip.