Ahead of its own February ship date, Apple on Tuesday began shipping its recently introduced 802.11n-based AirPort Extreme Base Station . The company has also released a software enabler that will allow most Intel Macs to use the new technology.
"We are the leaders in wireless innovation," David Moody, vice president of Worldwide Mac Product Marketing, told Macworld. "We were the first to roll out wireless networking with the AirPort in 1999 -- a few years later we shipped 802.11g and now we are leading the way into a new generation with 802.11n."
The AirPort Extreme 802.11n Enabler will allow users of the MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo, MacBook with Intel Core 2 Duo, Mac Pro with AirPort Extreme option and the iMac with Intel Core 2 Duo to use 802.11n. The only Intel-based models that do not support 802.11n are the low-end 17-inch, 1.83GHz iMac and the Mac mini.
The software enabler is available for free when you purchase one of the new base stations, or it can be purchased from the Apple online store for US$1.99. Once enabled, the Mac can connect to any 802.11n base station, not just the one sold by Apple.
802.11n is a faster wireless networking standard that works up to five times faster and up to twice the range as its predecessor. The standard also features backward-compatibility with the earlier 802.11g standard, and also works with 802.11b and 802.11a-based devices.
Based on the 802.11n draft specification, Apple said they don't expect any significant changes before it is ratified. If there are changes Moody said it should just be a software update.
The new base station also allows users to plug in hard drives to the USB port. Unlike its predecessor that only supported printing, the new device supports multiple devices through a hub, including printers and hard drives. Apple said you could also have the hard drives auto-mount on your desktop when you join the network.
"We have made it really easy to setup shared storage space on your network," said Jai Chulani, AirPort Senior product manager.