AirPort is a local area wireless networking system from Apple Computer based on the IEEE 802.11b standard (also known as Wi-Fi) and certified as compatible with other 802.11b devices. A later family of products based on the IEEE 802.11g specification is known as AirPort Extreme, offering speeds up to 54 megabits per second and interoperability with older products.
In Japan, AirPort is known as AirMac due to trademark conflicts.
AirPort debuted on July 21, 1999 at the Macworld Expo in New York with Steve Jobs picking up an iBook supposedly to give the cameraman a better shot as he surfed the web – the applause quickly built as people realized there were no wires. Thus Apple's secret project 42 was announced. The initial offering included an optional expansion card for Apple's new line of iBook notebooks, plus an AirPort Base Station. The AirPort card was later added as an option for almost all of Apple's product line, including PowerBooks, eMacs, iMacs, and Power Macs. Only Xserves do not have an AirPort card option. The original AirPort system allowed transfer rates up to 11 Mbit/s and was commonly used to share internet access and files between multiple computers.
On January 7, 2003, Apple introduced AirPort Extreme, based on the 802.11g specification. AirPort Extreme allows data transfer of up to 54 Mbit/s (though it never actually reaches that speed), and (unlike the competing 802.11a) is fully backwards-compatible with existing 802.11b wireless network cards and base stations. Several of Apple's current desktop computers and portable computers, including the PowerBook, iBook and iMac ship with an AirPort Extreme card as standard. All other modern Macs have an expansion slot for the card. AirPort and AirPort Extreme cards are not physically compatible: AirPort Extreme cards cannot be installed in older Macs, and AirPort cards cannot be installed in newer Macs. The original AirPort card was discontinued in June, 2004.
Although both AirPort and AirPort Extreme cards are available only for Macintosh computers, all AirPort base stations and cards are fully compatible with third-party base stations and wireless cards; so long as they conform to the 802.11b or 802.11g networking standards. Because of this interoperability, it is not uncommon to see wireless networks composed of several types of AirPort base station serving both old and new Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, and even Linux systems.
A second generation model (known as Dual Ethernet or Snow) was introduced on November 13 ,2001. It added a second ethernet port, allowing it to share a wired network connection with both wired and wireless clients. Also new was the ability to connect to America Online's dial-up service -- a feature unique to Apple base stations. This model was based on Motorola's PowerPC 860 processor.
The AirPort Base Station was discontinued after the AirPort Extreme Base Station was announced on January 7, 2003. In addition to providing wireless connection speeds of up to a maximum of 54 Mbit/s, it adds an external antenna port and a USB port. The antenna port allows the addition of a signal-boosting antenna, and the USB port allows the sharing of a USB printer. A connected printer is made available via Bonjour's "zero configuration" technology and IPP to all wired and wireless clients on the network. A second model lacking the modem and external antenna port was briefly made available, but then discontinued after the launch of AirPort Express (see below). On April 19 2004, a third version was introduced that supports Power over Ethernet and complies to the UL 2043 specifications for safe usage in air handling spaces, such as above suspended ceilings. All three models support the Wireless Distribution System (WDS) standard.
The AirPort Express is a simplified and compact AirPort Extreme base station with a new feature called AirTunes. It did not replace the AirPort Extreme base station. It was introduced by Apple on June 7, 2004 and includes an analog/optical audio mini-jack output, a USB port for remote printing, and a single Ethernet port. AirTunes allows an AirPort-enabled computer with the iTunes music player to stream music to speakers connected to AirPort Express. The AirPort Express is often used to extend the range of existing AirPort Extreme networks by using WDS-bridging , which allows AirTunes functionality (as well as internet access, file and printer sharing, etc.) to be extended across a larger distance and multiple wired and wireless clients.
The main processor in the AirPort Express is a Broadcom BCM4712KFB wireless networking chipset. This has a 200 MHz MIPS processor built in. The audio is handled by a Texas Instruments PCM2705 digital-to-analog converter.
AirPort and AirPort Extreme support a variety of security technologies to prevent eavesdropping and unauthorized network access. Cryptography plays a major role since all wireless networks are inherently vulnerable to eavesdropping, unlike wired networks which can, in most cases, be physically secured.
The original family of AirPort base stations, like most other Wi-fi products, used 40-bit or 128-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). AirPort Extreme and Express base stations retain this option, but also allow and encourage the use of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and, as of July 14, 2005, WPA2.
Generally, WEP is considered "broken". In March, 2005, a demonstration by the FBI showed that they could crack a WEP key in 3 minutes using freely available tools from the internet, although as early as 2001 holes were being found in the WEP protocol.
In response to mounting concern over the insecurity of WEP, the WPA standard was made available in June, 2003 as an intermediate solution until a more permanent and secure protocol could be developed. This new standard, known as WPA2, or IEEE 802.11i, was ratified on June 24, 2004 and uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
- AirPort Extreme at Apple.com
- AirPort Express at Apple.com
- AirPort Support at Apple.com
- Designing AirPort Networks (PDF)
- Managing AirPort Extreme Networks (PDF)
- AirPort Base Station Experiences