Blinking Yellow Light on an Apple Airport– what it means, what to do

Updated October 4th, 2020.

A blinking yellow (Apple calls it “amber”) light is the Apple Airport’s way of getting your attention. It does not necessarily mean the Airport has a problem. Most of the time, it means there’s a firmware update for the Airport. Here’s how you check, and here’s what you do about it.

An Airport with a blinking yellow light may be working absolutely perfectly. Just because Apple has a firmware update for the Airport doesn’t mean there’s something wrong or that your internet service is going to stop working if you don’t apply it right away. Remember, previous to the update being provided, your Airport was working fine. But, since Airport updates almost always provide enhanced security or performance or both, if an update is available, it’s a good idea to apply it.

How to use the Airport Utility on a Mac to update Airport firmware

On your Mac, launch the Airport Utility. This is Apple software, installed at the factory, so it ought to be on your Mac. You can search for it (Spotlight menu), or find it in the Utilities folder (inside the Applications folder). (Easy shortcut: click somewhere on the Desktop, which takes you to the Finder, then Command-Shift-U for Utilities. You’ll find the Airport utility in there.)

Use the Airport Utility to investigate the blinking yellow light.
Airport Utility, on the Mac

You can, alternatively, use the Airport Utility app on your iPhone or iPad. See below.

When you open the Airport Utility you’ll see the Airports that are part of your network. It could look something like this:

Airport Utility

In that picture we see three devices– the devices on the network that our Mac is connected to. The one on the top, the Time Capsule (essentially an Airport with a hard drive inside, for backing up with Time Machine), is blinking yellow. You can see, to the left of the unit’s name, an orange (amber) dot. We will focus on that unit, for now. The steps are exactly the same for any modern Apple Airport, whether an Airport Express, AirPort Extreme, or Time Capsule.

A nice feature of the Airport Utility is its display is very dynamic. If your Airport (or Time Capsule) is blinking yellow, Airport Utility shows you a blinking yellow light also. This is really handy if you have multiple Airports because it means you don’t have to see each unit in person to know whether their lights are blinking or not.

You also see a red circle with the number 2 in it to the right of the Time Capsule’s name. This tells us there are two issues. If we click on it, we see this:

Airport Utility screenshot showing blinking yellow light (Apple calls it Amber) on Time Capsule
After clicking on the picture of the Time Capsule

If instead of this picture you see a message asking you for a password, this can get tricky. Airports have passwords for protection. This COULD be the same password as the one you use when joining your network, but sometimes it’s not. Try the one you use when joining your network. If that doesn’t work, maybe you used a different Mac when setting up the Airport. Typically, the password for the Airport is saved on the Mac that sets it up. So that might be the ticket for you.

The red arrow points to an “Update” button. There’s a software update for the Airport, so we want to click that button. When we do, we get this:

Airport Utility warning that the network will temporarily be unavailable during the update.
Airport Utility warning about network interruption

So now we click Continue, the firmware updated downloads, and then it’s automatically applied to your Airport (or Time Capsule). This involves a restart of the device, also done automatically. It will take few minutes to download and install, and then a few minutes to restart the device. Plan on your network being down for about 5 minutes, all together. Obviously it is good to let other people know you’re doing an Airport firmware update before they get kicked off the network. Tell them it’s for their own good– it’s for the security of the network.

Generally speaking, that’s all there is to it. Quit the Airport Utility. You’re done. Sometimes, however, you’ll get a message like this:

Airport Utility error message while updating firmware.
An error occurred.

In my experience, the error almost never occurs a second time, so try updating again.

Let’s see some other examples (next page).

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How to Fix iMessage “Waiting for Activation” on iPhone

Updated October 8th, 2020.

Is your iPhone stuck “Waiting for activation” when you turn on iMessage in the iOS Settings? Have you tried everything suggested in Apple’s Knowledge Base article, but still iMessage says “Waiting for activation”? Have you been turning iMessage off, turning it back on, restarting your iPhone, and waiting 24 hours, and still iMessage is “Waiting for activation”?

If so, you’re not alone! It seems iMessage is waiting for activation on a lot of iPhones: a Google search for “how to activate iMessage” yields 546,000 entries. I haven’t read them all, but as far as I know none of them suggest the method described here.

In my opinion, you’ve come to the right place.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: turn iMessage OFF, turn FaceTime OFF, sign OUT of iCloud, turn OFF your iPhone. Now, in this order: turn your iPhone ON, turn iMessage ON (signing in there), turn FaceTime ON (signing in there too), and then– and only then— sign into iCloud. Voilá!

  • In Settings, go to Messages and turn off the switch for iMessage.
  • Also in Settings, go to FaceTime and turn that switch off too.

If you were to follow Apple’s instructions, or any of the other articles about this, you’d next switch iMessage back on, or you’d turn your iPhone off, then back on, and then you’d switch iMessage back on… and then you’d still see “Waiting for activation.” Frustrating.

Here’s the magic.

  • After you’ve turned off iMessage and FaceTime in Settings, go to the very top part of Settings, where you see your name, and Airplane Mode, and WI-Fi, and Bluetooth. Tap on your name, leading to the screen with “Apple ID” at the very top, and “Sign Out” at the very bottom. Signing Out is what you’re going to do.

It would be a great idea to have a good look at the iCloud settings before you sign out. It’s likely that your iPhone will remember those settings but just in case, write them down.

  • Now we’re going to sign OUT of iCloud. You’ll have to put in your Apple ID password to do it. When you sign out, you’ll get a big message about saving a copy of the iCloud data onto your iPhone before signing out. Read it carefully. You DON’T want to save a copy on the iPhone.
No, you don't want to save a copy of the iCloud data onto your iPhone before signing out.
No, you don’t want to save a copy of the iCloud data onto your iPhone before signing out.

Everything you’re removing from your iPhone is stored on the iCloud server anyway, and you’re going to be signing back in to iCloud shortly, so you will get it all back very soon. So, sign out, and DON’T keep a copy of the iCloud data on your iPhone. Rest easy, it’s still on the iCloud server. You’ll see a message about “Removing iCloud Data.” Don’t worry you’re removing iCloud data from your iPhone, not from the server. (Don’t save a copy “just to be safe.” If you do save a copy of your iCloud data on your iPhone you’ll end up with duplicates and a big mess when you turn iCloud back on later. So don’t do that.)

  • Turn your iPhone off. Then turn it back on.
  • Go to the Settings. Resist temptation: do NOT “Sign in to your iPhone” at the top of the screen. Instead, scroll down to Messages, and sign in with your Apple ID credentials there. This is made a bit more difficult than it has to be due to there being no place to put your password. That’s OK– put in your Apple ID, then tap the Return key. That’s what produces the password box. Put in your password and then tap Sign In. In a moment– possibly after adding a six-digit two-factor authentication code– your phone should, probably, possibly, hopefully, indicate that iMessage is on, with NO message about “Waiting for activation.”
  • As long as you’re at it, go to FaceTime settings (Settings/FaceTime) and sign in with your Apple ID there too. Like iMessage, FaceTime should turn on without a “Waiting for activation” message.
  • Now go back to the first screen of Settings, tap “Sign in to your iPhone,” and sign in (same as above, you will have to tap Return after entering your Apple ID, otherwise you will never see the password box). Check that your iCloud settings are the same as they were before you signed out of iCloud, and correct them if they aren’t. You’re done!
After turning on iMessage, sign in to your iPhone.
After turning on iMessage, sign in to your iPhone

Just One More Thing

In iCloud settings, you probably want to turn ON Messages. With Messages in iCloud turned on, if you delete a text message from your iPhone, it will also delete from your other devices (Mac, iPad) that have Messages in iCloud turned on. That’s pretty handy.

Messages in iCloud turned on.
Messages in iCloud turned on

This is a new-ish feature– your iPhone has to be on 11.4 or later, and your Mac needs to be on 10.13.4 or later, otherwise the feature isn’t even there for you to turn on. It you have the option, you probably want to turn it on. I have an article about that here.


So, did it work? Let me know in the comments. If it did work, please share this article with your Facebook and Twitter friends. As far as I know, this method has not been published anywhere else on the web, and a lot of people have this problem. Help spread the word. Thanks to my friend Andrea for having faith that I’d figure it out for her when she had this problem.

How I Fixed an iPhone that Couldn’t Get Mail Unless On WiFi

Updated October 3rd, 2020.

Does your iPhone get mail when it’s on WiFi, but not when it’s on Cellular? Here’s a fix for that problem. Hint: It has to do with the iPhone’s Cellular Data settings.

Executive Summary

Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data should be ONScroll down… Mail should be ON

(Thanks, John, for the “Executive Summary” idea.)


The Problem: Mail worked on WiFi, but not on cellular data

My friend Laura dropped her iPhone 6 and cracked the screen. She was going to get a new one, but decided to get the screen replaced and keep using it. Everything seemed fine after the repair.

But Then…

Laura called me (I’m her iPhone and Mac consultant) to say that her email wasn’t working on her iPhone. She kept getting messages like this one:

iOS 10 Cannot Send Mail message (because iPhone is not on WiFi)
Cannot Send Mail

I had her check the settings for Mail and they seemed fine. I tried setting up one of my spare iPhones with Laura’s email settings and I was able to send and receive from both of her accounts– obviously, if I could sign into her accounts, we knew the right settings. And since I was able to send and receive emails from both of her accounts, her email accounts were working fine.

I asked Laura to try sending me an email and to our surprise, it worked. She also received my reply. Problem over, or so we thought.

The next day, I got another call from Laura. “It’s not working,” she said. This time, I asked her where she was. “Florida,” she said (I was in California so I couldn’t fix her iPhone in person). She was on her way to a meeting. In the car. The funny things was, we both knew Mail worked perfectly yesterday.

I asked Laura, “Where were you yesterday, when your iPhone’s Mail worked?”

“In my hotel,” she said. “On their WiFi.” “Aha,” I thought. “Mail works over WiFi, but not on Verizon’s network. Something must be wrong with Cellular Data.” Maybe it was turned off. Laura checked (Settings/Cellular)– it was on.

Cellular Data in iOS-- ON
Cellular Data in iOS– ON

My next guess was that maybe there was something wrong with Laura’s account with Verizon. Maybe she was over her data limit. Laura checked into it– no problem.


A Brilliant Idea (that didn’t work)

Then I had a flash of inspiration. “Try going to web pages with Safari,” I said. My guess was that this would not work and that we would narrow our problem down to something wrong with the network connection (or maybe the antenna) when not on WiFi. But guess what? Safari worked just fine over cellular, in the car.

To recap: when on WiFi, Safari worked, and so did Mail. When on cellular, Safari worked, but Mail did not. We knew we had the right settings for Mail because the accounts worked fine when on WiFi. And we knew the cellular data antenna worked, because we could use Safari and load web pages when not on WiFi.

It wasn’t the phone itself

Laura went to a nearby Apple Store, told them her story, and they sold her a nice new iPhone 7, hoping it would solve her problem. She left the iPhone 7 in the box for me to set up upon her return to Los Angeles.

At this point, the old iPhone still didn’t work right. Actually, the only thing it had trouble with was Mail– the iPhone would not send nor receive email unless the iPhone was on WiFi. Everything else worked fine– Messages, phone calls, Weather, other apps.

The old iPhone was backed up to iCloud, so I set up the new one by restoring that backup to it. Restoring a backup to a new iPhone can be a very lengthy process, as this one was, but I had to wait it out to see if the new phone could get mail when not on WiFi. When the new iPhone was ready I tested sending and receiving email over WiFi, and it worked perfectly (as expected). Then I turned WiFi off and tried doing it over cellular– and it did NOT work.

Now I knew we had a software (or settings) problem, because the new iPhone (a clone of the old one, software-wise) had the exact symptom exhibited by the old iPhone. In effect I’d copied the problem to the new iPhone.


The Fix for the iPhone that wouldn’t get Mail over cellular

I looked at Cellular again. Yes, it was on. But this time, I scrolled down. This revealed a section of Cellular’s settings that I hadn’t looked at. It’s called “Use Cellular Data For:” and here’s how it looked (this is iOS 10– other versions may look a little different).

iOS Settings Use Cellular Data For
iOS Settings Use Cellular Data For

Scrolling down a little more I saw this:

Cellular Data OFF for Mail
Cellular Data OFF for Mail

I was very, very surprised to find that “Use Cellular Data For” was turned OFF for Mail! So many apps were allowed, but not Mail. Naturally I flipped the switch for Mail to “On” and the problem went away.

Note: if, for some reason, you turn “Use Cellular Data For” to OFF for Mail, you’ll get a big warning telling you your mail won’t work right if you do that. Apparently, with Laura’s iPhone, the warning was not shown, or not seen, or not understood– certainly not remembered.

UPDATE: in iOS 13, Mail’s settings include the Use Cellular Data switch. If you turn it on here, it turns it on in the “Cellular Data/Use Cellular Data For” section. One setting, in two places. Looks like this:

Mail settings in iOS 13, with Cellular Data on (yours should be on too!)
Mail settings in iOS 13, with Cellular Data on (yours should be on too!)

Summing it up

As usual, solving this problem started with figuring out what the problem was. We started out thinking the problem involved the iPhone settings for Laura’s email accounts, but that wasn’t it. Then we thought cellular data might be off– but we saw it was on. Then we thought it might be something wrong with the cellular antenna, but we were able to use Safari over cellular, so that wasn’t it either. Then we thought there might be something wrong with Laura’s account with the cellular carrier– but that wasn’t it (Verizon said so, and again we knew we could use Safari, and that uses the same cellular data as the Mail app).

Finally, having looked at the master switch for Cellular data a second time, we had the idea of scrolling down (on a Settings page that doesn’t look as if it has anything to scroll). I think it was just bad luck that the Cellular settings screen fit so perfectly on the iPhone 7– had it been cut off in the middle or something, we probably would have realized that there were more settings below and that we should scroll down to see them. Anyhow, once we saw the “Use Cellular Data For:” section, we zeroed in on the problem, and fixed it right away.

Sliding the switch to let Mail use cellular data was easy. The hard part was figuring out what the problem actually was. Sometimes it’s the other way around– easy problem to figure out, hard problem to correct. Here’s a story about a wrestling match I had with an iMac a few weeks ago (I won).

Bonus: here’s how to forward a voicemail message received on your iPhone.

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