By Michael Singer
June 8, 2004
Apple Computer is bringing the next generation of Wi-Fi to the home.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker unveiled its AirPort Express, the company’s first 802.11g mobile base station that can be plugged directly into the wall for wireless Internet connections, USB printing, or streaming content through a network.
Available to Mac and PC users starting in July for $129, the 6-ounce hub also features analog and digital audio outputs that can be connected to a home stereo, analog speakers or digital 5.1 surround sound systems. The device also comes with Apple’s new AirTunes music networking software so users can stream their iTunes music collection to any room in the house.
The device lets both Mac and PC users share a single DSL or cable broadband account with up to 10 simultaneous users and a single USB printer with multiple users. Apple said its AirPort Express also safeguards the data with support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), 128-bit encryption and a built-in firewall.
As for coverage, AirPort Express provides a range of up to 150 feet, and multiple AirPort Express base stations can be bridged together to send music to extended areas. Apple said AirTunes music is also encoded to protect it from theft while streaming across the wireless music network and uses Apple’s lossless compression technology to insure no loss of sound quality. The company said AirTunes requires iTunes 4.6, which is expected to be available later this week as a free download.
“AirPort Express isn’t just the world’s first mobile 802.11g base station — with the addition of AirTunes users can now play their iTunes music on any stereo in their home — all without wires,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. “This innovative Apple product will appeal to both notebook users who want wireless freedom in their hotel rooms and to music lovers who want to listen to their iTunes music library on a stereo located anywhere in their home.”
As a wireless technology, 802.11g is the hottest thing around. More comprehensive than standard 802.11b, the .11g standard incorporates.11b’s Complementary Code Keying (CCK) to give it bit transfer rates of 5.5 and 11Mbps in the 2.4Ghz band. In addition, 802.11g adopts 802.11a’s Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) for 54Mbps speeds but in the 2.4Ghz range.
According to IDC, 802.11g products accounted for about 20 percent of WLAN shipments in the first quarter of 2003.
Apple’s new product crosses over into both Cisco’s and Creative Lab’s space, but does a much better job at addressing the consumer’s needs, according to Rob Enderle, Enderle Group president and principle analyst.
“I think this is another sign that Apple is becoming more of a cross-platform accessories vendor,” Enderle, told internetnews.com. “I’ve always been convinced that if Apple applied its strengths to the general PC market they could clean up, the iPod demonstrated this opportunity, and this new offering (assuming it works as advertised) should further showcase that. I think we are truly seeing the emergence of a new Apple, one that has less and less to do with Apple PCs and more and more to do with the Apple experience on whatever platform you chose.”