Defying Apple's trend of introducing sophisticated new products ahead of the PC industry and helping to create de facto standards or build markets for 802.11b, USB, and FireWire (IEEE 1394), Apple today released its revised AirPort Base Station and AirPort 2.0 software. (AirPort is Apple's name for 802.11b.)
The gateway features a new LAN 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port in addition to the existing "56K" modem and 10 Mbps WAN Ethernet; the ability to dial-up directly over the modem using AOL version 5.0 for Mac (U.S. only); and 40/64- and 128-bit encryption. Configuration is through Mac-only software (or unsupported third-party Java configuration tools).
Firmware and software upgrades are available for older Base Stations and AirPort Cards (which are essentially Agere Orinoco Silver cards being upgraded to Gold). Older Base Stations cannot be upgraded to 128-bit encryption, however.
These updates remain at a premium: the cards are $99, somewhat higher than cheaper PC Cards which don't have drivers for the single Mac model that sports a PC Card slot. On the flip side, it's much cheaper than comparable PCI Cards; Apple's tower models have a separate built-in slot for the AirPort card, just like the iMacs, iBook, and PowerBook. The Base Station is $299, or $50 to $100 more than similar Mac-compatible, Web-based configuration models. (Two companies make gateways that pass AppleTalk packets, which Apple has been phasing out in favor of pure TCP/IP-based filesharing and printing for the last few years.)
What Apple is offering is the value-add: simple, Mac-tailored software with easy configuration options coupled with a slick, box. The AOL connectivity is a big plus for many users, too: although I and all my friends and colleagues are broadband subscribers over DSL and cable, the vast majority of connected Americans still dial up.
In promoting their new software (which upgrades existing AirPort cards to 128-bit WEP support) and the new Base Station, Apple perpetuates the notion that longer WEP keys are safer, which I think is a mistake. The entire industry and the IEEE are well aware that WEP itself is broken. (The older Base Station model cannot be flash upgraded to support 128-bit WEP keys.)
Apple wraps the WEP message in a broader security profile, however: they now support RADIUS authentication, and recommend VPN software (all of which protocols the Base Station passes) for companies with an interest in securing their data flow.
Apple's page on where and how to use AirPort also appears to have been written several months ago - or never updated - as it lists MobileStar (reportedly about to file for bankruptcy and sells its assets to VoiceStream) and AirWave (sold its public AP network to WiFi Metro last week) as two wireless ISPs one might use.