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AirPort Extreme Base Station Now Draft N Certified

This might seem like an obscure announcement, but the AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n now has Wi-Fi certification for its underlying and in-progress wireless networking technology. The AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n Firmware 7.2.1 update upgrades the unit’s firmware to a version that earned Apple a certified Wi-Fi mark. (It also fixes an obscure IPv6 problem in the 100 Mbps base station only.)

The 802.11n standard dramatically improves the speed of wireless networks – I’ve seen rates as fast as seven times higher than 802.11g with the latest gigabit Ethernet model of the AirPort Extreme released earlier this month. But the standard is still under development – not quite a standard – having reached a Draft 2.0 milestone in March at the IEEE engineering committee that works on wireless local area networking standards. That draft is seen as unlikely to change much between its acceptance in March and ratification next year.

The IEEE only sets standards; they have nothing to do with whether actual gear performs according to those standards. The Wi-Fi Alliance, a trade group, develops certification tests that allow manufacturers to mark their products as complying with a set of IEEE standards. Wi-Fi certified products also have to work well together.

The Draft N certification offered by the Wi-Fi Alliance should mean that Apple’s base station will allow adapters that also pass the Wi-Fi group’s testing to connect and transfer data at the highest speeds. In testing an Intel Draft N adapter a few days ago, I found it could connect at speeds just a third as fast as Apple’s own Wi-Fi interfaces – all internal – with 802.11n.

Apple hasn’t yet received any Wi-Fi certification for its last two years’ worth of Wi-Fi interfaces, even as the company moved toward including Wi-Fi as an included option on everything but the Mac Pro, where it’s a build-to-order (BTO) choice, and the Xserve, where it has made little sense before 802.11n’s speed improvements. Apple should be releasing separate firmware and driver updates for these adapters to comply with Draft 2.0, but hasn’t provided information on that front.

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