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AirPort: The Era of Easy Networking

September 15, 1999 - Dan Knight - Tip Jar

It's not hard to network a few computers and a printer in the same room. It's a major logistical nightmare to wire up an existing home and office for ethernet. It involves a lot of planning, pulling wire, and money - especially if you're paying someone to run the wires.

The Home Network

At home, we have a huge tangle of ethernet cabling connecting seven Macs in the same room. All the computers are in one room, but only because it's too much work to run wires from the basement to the first and second floor.

Frankly, I'd rather not have all the computers in one room. I like a little peace and quiet when I write and go through my email, but someone's always playing a game on one of the other computers.

The Office Network

When I started at Baker Book House, we had about a dozen Macs on a LocalTalk network, along with a few LaserWriter printers. It was one long daisy chain of phone wire and PhoneNet connectors. It was slow, but it was cheap and easy to maintain.

Today we have 70-80 Macs, about a dozen printers, and an ISDN router connected to our ethernet network. The building currently has aboutnetwork hub 120 ethernet ports, some not currently in use and others not conveniently located. It costs a minimum of $200 to get the wiring people in to install a new port.

And then there's the network hub, a snake pit of wires almost impossible to trace from port to hub. In fact, each ethernet connection involves three wires: computer to wall, wall jack to ports on our wiring rack, and a third wire from that port the the hub itself.

If any of those are bad, the connection is either flaky or dead.

And when someone decides to rearrange their office, for some reason (Murphy's Law), the ethernet cable they had used isn't quite long enough.

The AirPort Network

All that is about to change, because AirPort isn't just for the iBook. The Power Mac G4/450 and 500 are AirPort ready, and there are rumors the next iMac will also be able to take the AirPort card. Expect it on the next generation PowerBook as well.

First, this means two Macs can immediately network without a hub - great for synching files between your iBook and any other AirPort equipped Mac. Best of all, it's not some slow 1.5 Mbps Skyline or 4 Mbps IrDA link (the latter with line-of-site limitations); AirPort is 10% faster than 10Base-T ethernet.

For the home or small office, a single US$300 AirPort hub will support at least 10 Macs within 150' of the hub. For a lot of us, that means we can visit the neighbors with our iBook connected to your home network!

Steve Jobs even hinted at a 50 user hub during his Seybold presentation.

For all the new Macs, you can drop in a $100 AirPort card for immediate network access. One $300 hub supports 10 users, readily connects to an existing ethernet network, and even provides a shared 56k connection to the internet. Ten users, $1,300 - or $130 per user.

And the 50 user hub will probably be an even better value.

Best of all, no contractors installing wires, no too-short cables when you rearrange an office, and no cables going bad. No rats nest of cables, or at least no more than your network presently has.

Which brings us to an important point: AirPort can be easily added to your existing network. Since there is no AirPort solution for older Macs (yet), this means your existing wiring infrastructure at home or in the office remains in use.

Conclusion

AirPort will slowly change the way we network our homes and offices. Instead of compromising speed for ease of use, as Farallon's Skyline does, we'll have ethernet speed and easy networking.

You'll still want to run busy servers and graphics workstations on 100Base-T ethernet, but for the rest, AirPort provides excellent bandwidth and eliminates the cost of wires and wiring.

And if they come up with a way to use it with older Macs, I can get the kids' computers out of my home office.

Networking has never been this easy.

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