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Apple's 802.11n Transition: The Good and the Bad

Apple's 802.11n Transition: The Good and the Bad

by , 9:55 AM EST, January 16th, 2007

Apple quietly introduced its new 802.11n AirPort Extreme Base Station at Macworld Expo 2007 and officially revealed that many Intel-based Macs already include compatible AirPort cards. If your Mac is on the list, that's good news - assuming you plan on using the new n-compatible Base Station. If you aren't on the list, we'll have to wait and see which vendors take advantage of this opportunity to bring us after market adapters.

To see if your Mac is 802.11n compatible, check Apple's 802.11 Web page. The list of n-ready Macs includes:

  • iMac with Intel Core 2 Duo (except 17-inch, 1.83GHz iMac)
  • MacBook with Intel Core 2 Duo
  • MacBook Pro with Intel Core 2 Duo
  • Mac Pro with AirPort Extreme card option

The software to enable the 802.11n features in your Mac is included with the new AirPort Extreme Base Station. After applying the update, your Mac will still be compatible with the current 802.11g and the older 802.11b standards, so you can jump from network to network just as you always have.

The newer Wi-Fi specification is still in the draft phase, so don't be surprised if Apple releases additional updates as 802.11n develops and eventually reaches its final standardized specification.

The big bonus of an 802.11n Base Station comes in two parts: Greater network range, and better speed. There is an extra bonus, too, in that the n standard also supports the 802.11a standard - something that's been missing from Apple's Base Stations up to this point.

The AppleTV home media center appliance also takes advantage of 802.11n wireless technology, which should offer better throughput for smoother movie streaming from your Mac. And since the n pre-standard is more robust than the g standard it replaces, you should experience less interference from other near by wireless networks.

If you want to unlock the 802.11n features in your compatible Mac, but you aren't planning on buying a new n-compatible Base Station from Apple in February, however, it will cost you. As in cash. Although Apple's Web site hasn't been updated yet, it appears that the installer will set you back about US$5.

The reasoning, iLounge discovered, has to do with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the United States. The law imposed new accounting regulations on publicly traded companies in the wake of several high-profile accounting scandals including Enron and WorldCom, and it looks like Apple would rather err on the side of caution and walk the straight-and-narrow rather than risk additional government scrutiny while it finishes cleaning up its stock option backdating problems.

After speaking with Apple representatives at Macworld Expo 2007, iLounge's Jeremy Horwitz came to the conclusion that "it's about accounting. Because of the Act, the company believes that if it sells a product, then later adds a feature to that product, it can be held liable for improper accounting if it recognizes revenue from the product at the time of sale, given that it hasn't finished delivering the product at that point. Ridiculous."

Apple isn't offering much more information about its 802.11n transition, so it's unclear if Macs shipping after the announcement of the new Base Station will come n-enabled, or if those units will also require the update application.

For those of us that don't have n-capable AirPort Extreme cards in our Macs already, we'll have to wait for a third-party solution. Apple representatives at Macworld Expo 2007 explained to TMO that the company has no plans to develop an n-card for earlier MacBook and MacBook Pro models.

Until Apple ships enough Macs with 802.11n enabled, there is likely to be some confusion while users try to figure out which models are and aren't compatible with the new wireless standard. And some users will likely be upset at the prospect of paying $5 for the opportunity to unlock the feature in Macs the already own.

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