All older This is also true of a fairly large amount of newer equipment that supports The 5GHz band offers much greater throughput but only at closer distances than 2. Having both bands available at once in the AirPort Express a feature added in to the Extreme and Time Capsule models allows your network to perform at the highest possible speeds no matter how distant a device is from the base station while it remains in range of a signal.
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Competitors have offered relatively inexpensive simultaneous dual-band gateways for years, but those models lack Mac-specific features, such as Wake on Demand. In The Express has two streams, while the Extreme and Time Capsule offer three. This approach allows a three-stream router, like the Extreme, to have an effective raw throughput of Mbps in 5GHz and Mbps in 2.
The additional antennas required and the additional stream also fill in hard-to-reach spaces with better Wi-Fi coverage. For larger homes or offices, or ones that have dead areas with an Express or other Wi-Fi gear, the Extreme or Time Capsule may be required. The AirPort Express once had a single ethernet port, which limited how it connected to a wired network. You could either plug it into a broadband modem and share access via Wi-Fi including to other base stations , or connect to it a network switch to extend an existing Wi-Fi network. You could not, however, use it as both a wired and wireless main base station connected to the broadband network.
Older models could also extend an existing Apple wireless network that feature still exists and use the single ethernet port to provide access to wired machines.
The new second ethernet port opens up the Express by allowing both a Wide Area Network WAN connection to a broadband modem or a larger network, and a Local Area Network LAN connection to a computer via ethernet, or to an ethernet switch to which many computers and devices can be connected.
Only two particular situations require an Extreme or Time Capsule because of the ethernet limitation: if you have a broadband connection of faster than Mbps, which is uncommon, but becoming more widely available; or you are determined to have the maximum possible throughput between ethernet and Wi-Fi devices on the same network. Guest networking has also been added, which allows a second virtual network with a unique network name SSID and security scheme to be available to visitors or others without providing access to the main network.
Apple also brings over the option from the other simultaneous dual-band gateways of naming the 2. That lets you choose to have a device connect to one band or another if it has the option of connecting to either. On some combinations of devices and networks, it can be useful to force 5 GHz for throughput or 2.
New AirPort Express a tiny Wi-Fi base station powerhouse
The Express continues to have a unique option in the Wi-Fi base station line-up, which is a dual-function analog and digital optical Toslink port which lets it be a target for AirPlay audio streaming from iTunes on a Mac or Windows system and from any capable app in iOS. Previous models had an integral two-prong power plug in volt countries that allowed them to hang directly off a wall outlet or fit into a power strip.
Normally, Wi-Fi devices choose somewhat arbitrarily which base station they connect to when multiple base stations share the same network name for roaming purposes. Wi-Fi adapters typically try to get the best connection, such as that with the best signal strength, but standard Wi-Fi doesn't offer better choices.
Apple senior product manager Jai Chulani, who focuses on the company's Wi-Fi line, said that Apple had modified that for its hardware. He explained that an algorithm looks at the signal strength and also the available network speed to determine which band's network to join.
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The 5 GHz band works well for higher speeds at short distances, because 5 GHz signals don't pass through walls and ceilings as well as 2. Older Apple gear and Wi-Fi adapters from other makers work perfectly fine with the revised base stations; they just don't get this clever advantage. You can also choose to set the two bands' network names differently to force a client to connect to one or the other.
This might make sense in a border area, where a client keeps flipping between two networks based on small changes. The addition of guest networking brings a corporate-level feature into a consumer-level product.
In so-called enterprise networks -- corporate networks that have deep information technology infrastructures -- most Wi-Fi gear is designed to offer up multiple network names, each of which has separate security parameters. One network, for accounting, might require token-based two-factor logins and time-based access. Another, designed for regular employees, might simply use an employee's standard login and be available all the time.
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Apple's use of this option for guest networking is a nifty twist. A guest network is set up as a separate virtual LAN, in enterprise-speak: a separate but parallel local network that can't see any of the traffic from the other wireless network, nor any of the Ethernet devices. As Chulani noted, you might be happy to give visitors Internet access but, "I don't want to give them access to my entire Wi-Fi network, which includes file servers, and printers," and so forth.
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A separate option allows guest users to see each other's network traffic, so they could share file servers or use Bonjour-based iChat; when disabled, only a cracker running sniffer software would be able to get other guests' data. Even with a sniffer, the main network's traffic would remain impenetrable, so long as it was protected with a Wi-Fi encryption method, like WPA2 Personal.
The final improvement brings secure remote hard-drive access to any internal or external base station drive. The system is identical to Back to My Mac, Chulani confirmed, with the exception that only file-sharing is enabled. As with Back to My Mac, a paid MobileMe account is required not an e-mail-only account, but a regular or family pack user.
That information, entered into a new base station, allows anyone with the same MobileMe credentials entered into a Leopard system to see the base station as another available file server in the Finder's sidebar in the Shared section. Back to My Mac uses a host of different protocols to create a well-designed encrypted connection between any two machines that use the same MobileMe account. There's no word yet whether that feature will appear in firmware upgrades for older base stations, as it's clearly a software change.
Drives attached in this fashion first started to appear as an option to Time Machine about a year ago after a firmware upgrade to fix problems with the first Time Capsule release; however, official support has never been forthcoming and many users have had trouble getting consistent backups using this method. Apple released revised AirPort Utility 5.