With less fanfare than one might expect, Apple Computer Inc. announced on Tuesday the release of AirPort 2 software and hardware updates, which add features the company hopes will make the 11M-bps, 802.11a-based wireless networking package more attractive to enterprise, consumer and educational customers.
Though many of the technologies have been available in recently distributed versions of AirPort cards (such as those purchased with recent iBooks or PowerBooks), this is the first time existing users could update their products to the new features.
For the enterprise-level customer, AirPort 2 will offer 128-bit (up from 40-bit) encryption, raising AirPort security to a level compatible with some of the most stringent standards. In the past, AirPort 2 has been criticized for use of the relatively easily broken 40-bit encryption. As such, it made AirPort-based wireless networks a less-than-ideal solution for environments in which confidential information was being passed. AirPort 2 will also support up to 50 users, compared the previously recommended limit of ten users.
AirPort 2 is primarily a software upgrade, said Apple spokesperson Nathalie Welch, and the new version should be compatible with all existing AirPort Base Stations. But buyers of new Base Stations will find a new 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet port on the back of the unit. This, said Welch, will enable owners to take advantage of a new built-in firewall feature, which uses NAT (Network Address Translation). Owners of older models, even though they may upgrade the software, will need to use some other firewall solution. This is in addition to the existing RJ-45 10 BASE-T port for area network or DSL connections and the RJ-11 connector for modems.
Also new to AirPort 2 will be support for the open RADIUS (Remote Authorization Dial-In User Service) standard, which, Welch said, will allow administrators of roaming networks (i.e., networks using two or more AirPort Base Stations) to update access control lists and store them on a remote server.
Welch said that the AirPort 2 software will be compatible with Mac OS 9.0.4 and later as well as with Mac OS X; there will be no backwards compatibility with earlier versions of Apples operating systems. The services available for those using AirPort-equipped Power Mac desktops as software-based Base Stations is slightly limited, Welch said, but it will include support for computer-to-computer transfer of files and for use in multiplayer gaming. In addition, Welch said that the entire software-based base station capability may not be available at all for users running Mac OS X.
When asked if Apple was planning to add support for any of the new variants of the 802.11 wireless networking standard, such as the 54M bps 802.11, Welch said that Apple is "always evaluating" new technologies but could not comment at this time.
The software updater is available for free download at Apples Web site.