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Home Networks

I love home networks and think everyone who has more than one computer should have one. The “killer application” for a home network is sharing a single broadband connection between several computers. Sharing anything else, such as files or printers, is a distant second for me. In this chapter I’ll give you the basics of setting up a network that can connect both Macs and PCs to a single Internet connection. I’ll focus on a wireless network, since AirPort makes setting one up so easy. I’ll also tell you (again) how to connect a single Mac to a cable or DSL broadband modem.


AirPort is Apple’s brand name for what the PC world calls 802.11b. They’re the same thing. Apple’s AirPort cards are functionally equivalent to other companies’ 802.11b cards. Apple’s AirPort Base Station is functionally equivalent to the 802.11b access points or gateways sold by other companies. AirPort/802.11b networks run as fast as 11 Mbps.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Apple kicked off 2003 by introducing AirPort Extreme, based on the emerging 802.11g networking standard. AirPort Extreme/802.11g networks run as fast as 54 Mbps.

AirPort and AirPort Extreme devices can talk with each other, so you can mix and match (connecting, for example, an 11-Mbps AirPort-equipped PowerBook to a 54-Mbps AirPort Extreme Base Station). However, an AirPort Extreme device communicates with an AirPort device at 11 Mbps. To achieve the higher rate of 54 Mbps, all devices (Macs and base stations) must use AirPort Extreme connections. Another thing to keep in mind when joining an AirPort Extreme network: The transmission range is shorter. Two 11-Mbps AirPort devices can be as far apart as 150 feet and still talk to each other (in a perfect setting); two AirPort Extreme devices must be within 50 feet of each other to talk.

Unless I explicitly say so, when I write about AirPort in this chapter, I am using that as shorthand for both the 11-Mbps and the 54-Mbps versions. I also use here, and you will see it elsewhere, the term Wi-Fi, which is shorthand for wireless networking based on the 802.11 standard.

Just to confuse us, there is another 54-Mbps wireless LAN standard, called 802.11a. Although 802.11b (AirPort) and 802.11g (AirPort Extreme) devices can talk to each other, neither can’t talk with 802.11a devices. The 802.11a adoption rate is slow, so you may never run into one these devices.

Your AirPort-equipped Mac should communicate seamlessly with any 802.11b hardware, regardless of manufacturer. Likewise, your 802.11b-equipped PCs should talk to your AirPort Base Station without any problems.

Although all 802.11b devices should work fine together, 802.11g devices are just starting to appear—and all the 802.11g kinks may not have been worked out yet—so you may come across problems trying to mix and match AirPort and AirPort Extreme devices with 802.11b and 802.11g devices from other companies. Ask the companies about compatibility before buying.



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