I have a really old A1088 Airport Express plug, which I believe is one of the first. The latest version of the Airport Utility for Mountain Lion doesn’t work with the A1088, and requires you to install version 5.6 from Apple. I’ve had this version installed since Lion so when I updated to Mountain Lion it was already on my system, but I’ve read that installing it fresh onto ML is problematic.

This article is not about that installation issue, but if you’re having problems with this step I’ve read that this post by Frank Tisellano will solve those problems for you with an Automator script that will extract the utility onto your ML system with the minimum of fuss.

My issue was coaxing the Airport Express back onto my network after I had to get a new router recently. It was much trickier than I’d expected, but then I’ve always found the AE plugs a little bit flakey so perhaps I was expecting it after all, and just hoping it would be easier.

The flashing amber light of mystery

What I had was a blinking amber light and no idea what it meant. Turns out it means there are error messages waiting to be reviewed, and the only way you can review them is to get the Admin page for the plug up in Airport Utility 5.6.

Problem: I couldn’t get Airport Utility 5.6 to see the plug.

Solution: Hard reset the plug.

This is achieved by unplugging it and pushing down on the tiny grey button visible underneath the plug where all the sockets are, using the tip of a pen or paperclip. While still holding that down, plug it back in, and keep that button held down until the AE plug flashes a light at you. I’ve read it should be amber and flash rapidly, but mine was green and flashed more slowly.

Release the button and the AE plug should restart in due course, and eventually become visible in Airport Utility 5.6. It shows a yellow dot on the Summary screen and clicking that reveals any errors. I had two: it couldn’t detect an ethernet cable, and it was running on Default Settings which needed to be changed. I ignored the first as I intended to run on a wireless network, not cabled.

The problem I encountered was this: no matter how many times I reset or hard-reset the plug and entered all the correct information (that I wanted to use it for AirTunes; a custom name for the plug, and a password; and my existing wifi network and password) and Airport Utility updated the device and let it restart, it would not be able to connect to my network and would become inaccessible via the Utility again, requiring another reset. I got really familiar with that flashing amber light.

At least one of the next two steps will probably fix it

In the end, I got it all working after having made two changes at once to the settings I was entering; I know, I know, you’re only supposed to change one thing at a time when troubleshooting, but I was getting bored and lazy at this point.

1) I made absolutely certain the plug was on the correct channel when attempting to connect to my wifi…

2) … and I changed my password mode from WPA+/WPA2 to just WPA2. This required also changing the password settings on the router to match, but having read that some people isolated a WEP issue with the same model of AE, I thought it might be worth a shot.

I only caught the channel issue by accident when I reviewed the Summary page for the AE before confirming the update, and it’s a sneaky one. The plug had stored all the correct details except for the channel. I hadn’t seen an option to change the channel anywhere in either the automatic nor manual setup pages for getting the plug onto my own wifi network, so I dug around in the other options.

In the settings for extending an existing wireless network (as opposed to just joining that network) there is an option to change the channel. I set it to the correct channel then switched the setup mode back to ‘Join a wifi network’ – the option to change the channel disappeared but switching back to the Summary page revealed that the channel change had stuck even though I was set to ‘join’ and not ‘extend’ my network.

And this time when the device restarted it flashed amber for a few seconds and then switched to a much more pleasing solid green. Success!

tl;dr

So in summary, if you’re having these issues with an A1088 Airport Express plug (or a similarly decrepit model) and Airport Utility 5.6:

  • first check the channel it’s searching on
  • and then check the password type (just in case that does make a difference)
  1. first check the channel it’s searching on
  2. and then check the password type (just in case that does make a difference)

A couple of people have got in touch to say it worked for them, so maybe it will for you too. Good luck, and thanks for stopping by!

Update: I first wrote this post in late 2012 – it’s now summer 2013 and my Airport Express is still going strong, even surviving a full house move and new network setup!

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40 thoughts on “How I got my old A1088 Airport Express plug to work on Mountain Lion

  1. I failed after hours of work, to get my old airport express working, and your technique worked in 5 minutes. You are awesome, I want to have your baby! (Which is awkward , since I’m a guy . . . ) Ha!

  2. Tried everything last night – really annoying, just got the 1088 as a hand-me-down and having to do the whole backdoor installation of 5.6 etc was starting to get real narked – but, found this page, did the WPA & channel setting at the same time in a manual setup and viola!
    I’m cooking.

    Thanks, saved me throwing it out!

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for writing your solution regarding the Apple Express. All I want to do with mine is create a network print server with my old USB printer.

    I just wanted to add that if you the other folks out there use MAC Filtering, they need to add the MAC address found on the summary of the Airport Express.

    I followed your suggestions and it did not work for me, until I remembered to add AE to my MAC filtering. Then it worked fine!!…Including the printing.

    Cheers

  4. I have done the hard reset (twice, and got the flashing green) and still will not show up.
    The Express is a A1084 (not A1088)
    Airport Utility is 5.6.1 (not 5.6) on OS 10.5.8
    I would think that would be okay still.

    In fact, I have a Macs with 10.4, 10.5 and 10.8
    With Airport Utilities of 5.4.2, 5.6.1 and 6.2 respectively.
    Any ideas would be appreciated.

  5. Hi Mookster, good tip, maybe that will help someone else – remember to make sure you’re actually allowing new devices onto your network as well!

  6. Hi John, I’m afraid my experience and expertise is limited to my own setup. Can you confirm you’ve looked at the other things mentioned, particularly the channel it’s broadcasting on? Also, someone’s just posted they needed to check their MAC address settings (note that MAC and Mac are different things… 😉 ). I would also double check that your router is set to allow new devices on the network.

    Sorry I can’t be of more specific help 🙁

  7. Chiming in to say thanks! Worked wonderfully.

    Man I’m glad I decided not to throw the old airport out.

  8. Hi, and thank you for taking time to write this guide!
    I have a Airport Express model # A1088, and a Mac Mini with Mac OS X 10.8.4. So far, they don’t seem to want to be talking to each other after the initial setup wizard.
    When the guide restarts the AE at the end of the wizard, my Mac can’t detect it again, and the AE just keeps on flashing the amber light.
    I have installed the Old Airport Utility (v. 5.6.1) and gone through the setup wizard quite a few times now, and also done quite a few hard resets on the AE.

    I feel that I might be missing something with the channel thing – how do I know which one is the right one? In the dropmenu I can see channels 1 through 12, and ’13 (Auto)’ at the very end.
    Finding the right one through trial and error would be very time-consuming. Is there a way I can see which one would be the right one?

    Thank you for your time and help!

  9. Hiya,

    When you’re setting up the channel on the Airport Express, it’s so you’re setting it to the same channel that your WiFi is broadcast on, from your router. The router is the box that connects to your cable or phone line to receive the internet. You need to check what channel that is broadcasting on and make sure the AE is set to match. So, you need to go to the Admin page of your router and log in. Then look for Network Settings or Wireless Settings, or something like that, and see what channel you’re on.

    Most routers have an admin page on 192.168.0.1 but you’ll need your admin username and password. If you’ve not changed these from the default, it’s usually printed on the label underneath your router.

    Hope this helps!

    Owen

  10. Hi Owen,

    I’m having the same problem. A flashing green light on the AE 1088. I did a hard reset a several times but it didn’t work. Now i tried to install Airport Utility v5.6. on my 10.8.4. but i cannot install it. Not possible!

    Thanxx for your help.

    Greetz,

    Joost

  11. Hi Joost,

    Resetting it won’t do anything if it’s on the wrong channel – that was my issue: I was resetting over and over and getting nowhere until I sorted out the channel issue. Unfortunately fixing the channel issue does require the old Airport Utility. Have you read the link at the top of the article suggesting how to install it on Mountain Lion? It does seem to have worked for a lot of people.

    Cheers,
    Owen

  12. Hi Owen,

    I have installed the 5.6 but i don’t understand the channel thing. My AE is still flashing green after several tries with the paperclip. Can you help me.

    Greetz Joost

  13. Okay if you have 5.6 installed, first you need to get into the admin page for the device. Assuming you are there, when you set it up you will see an option to set it up to EXTEND an existing network.

    Even if this is not what you want to do, select this setup option and then look for the option to set the channel. Set the channel to the same channel that your household wifi runs on. If you don’t know what channel you’re on you need to log into your router and check the wireless setup.

    Once you have set the correct channel on the Airport Express admin page, you can go back and change the setup mode back to ‘Join an existing wireless network” and this time it should all work.

    Hope that helps.

  14. I think that you have to connect to the temporary “wi-fi” SSID that the reset AirPortExpress should provide after a hard factory reset. Alas, mine will not get to that point at all. I am sick to death of crApple’s crap. I have about 50 Apple products and even they won’t work together! Never again. I’m buying open source from here on out. Thanks for nothing, crApple. 🙁

  15. Thanks for the tip although I’m not sure about that as I don’t recall needing to do the same. Thanks all the same.

    As regards your other comment, I’ve been using Apple tech since 1987 (I was 10 at the time) and while nothing in this world is perfect, I have rarely had any issue that would lead me to deride the company as a whole, I think they make very high quality products. But, if you genuinely do have “50 Apple products” and genuinely do have issues with them all, then by all means try something else and the best of luck to you. I’ve (almost!) always been happy enough with the interoperability of their products but everyone’s needs are different.

    But to be honest I don’t really care because you repeatedly used the word “crApple”, which I’m afraid I associate with over-exaggerated flame-baiting internet arguments about Apple versus MS etc. These are dumb and I don’t want any part of them.

    Best of luck with your future tech purchases!

  16. You are the man!!

    Spent about two hours last night trying to get the damn thing to connect to my new wifi router. Found this post & had it cracked within 10 mins. Lifesaver!!

  17. Thanks so much! This was so helpful. I’d been trying for hours! Making the small change to the router settings worked!

  18. I was struggling with this today myself. Took an old Airport Express to work to see if I could set up an airplay base for music streaming. Tried everything except choosing the same channel as the original wifi. I’ll try that tomorrow. Meanwhile, sounds like some people are confused about trying to discover the channel their wifi is broadcasting on. Other than logging into your wifi router setup page, there is a free utility I’ve ben using for years called iStumbler (for Mac). Provides info on all the wifi routers broadcasting in your area. If you expand the columns of the main window in the app wide enough, you can see the channel each router is broadcasting on. http://istumbler.net

  19. I think i have the same problem with the channel thing.
    I have 2 APX, one A1264 (works perfect, and one older A1088 that failed one day. After opening it and changing 3 elco’s it seemed to work again but refused to connect to the Mac and Wifi. After installing APU 5.6.1 AND connecting the APX A1088 with ethernetcable to the Imac, i was able to see it’s configuration.
    I checked my local Wifi channel using Istumbler and found out it was “1”. So changed the setting of the APX to “1”.
    and changed the security to WPA2. Unfortunately it can’t find the existing network so i add that manually. Stilzit refuses to connect to the wifi. Strangly enough i had it working two times and was able te stream music.

  20. Hello,
    I found another work-around to this problem; basically I connected with an ethernet wire my “old” airport express to my airport extrem.This way I was able to make it appear in the Airport Utiility and get it configured

  21. My A1088 is dead – no light flashing at all. Resetting didn’t work, connecting it to the router via an ethernet cable didn’t work… just dead. Perhaps I will have to throw it away 🙁

  22. Just to say this also worked for me:

    – Synced channel with wifi router (not Apple, TP-Link)… AE didn’t connect
    – WPA2 AES encryption on router and AE … still no connect
    – WPA2 switched to Automatic encryption … Success!

  23. This took a few tries for me to get this right, but I am back in business thanks to you. I really appreciate the help — this did the trick when nothing else worked.

    FYI — I didn’t reset the WPA/WPA2 password settings on my router/Airport Express. Changing the channel was all it took.

    Thanks!

  24. I have an A1084 with the new Airport Extreme as the main base station. I’m trying to use the A1084 just to stream music but I’m getting this error message: Te AirPort Express name “Apple Network*****” cannot be set up by this software. Go to apple.com/support/airport for more information. Any ideas?

  25. Hi,
    I have a macbook pro with el capitan. It says I cannot download Airport Utility 5.6 as its not compatible. I have an Airport Express A1088 which won’t connect to my router anymore. How do I change the channel of this unit so that it will connect?

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