Last week I installed a New AirPort Extreme Base Station at the Birmingham Temple where we meet. Although we already had the first generation AirPort Extreme Base Station, which features 802.11n speed, I was really interested in the latest generation for two reasons. The first reason is that this version and the one before it offered Dual Band support. That means that unlike the one we had, that you can have Macs connecting at 802.11b/g speeds without slowing down the entire network to those speeds. The first generation AirPort Extreme 802.11n base station could either be configured for 802.11n ONLY or support for 802.11n and b/g/a. Since not everyone has 802.11n support in their devices I had to set it up to support all protocols. The Newer Extreme base station has "Dual Band" support. This means that it will effectively have both sets of traffic going at once without significantly impacting the other. So although your device will see the one "MacGroup" network, it will connect at either 802.11n or 802.11b/g/a speeds.
The other more significant reason for upgrading to the new base station is that it promises increased range! In other words those that sit at the opposite far end of the meeting room should now have a stronger signal when connecting at the meetings.
Does the performance really matter? Aren't you limited to the speed of your DSL connection?
Typically network performance isn't as big of an issue when all you do is connect to the internet. In most cases your network will always be significantly faster than your internet connection. However, performance is a factor for us for two reasons: we have several people connecting to our network at each meeting. So any improvements in performance will benefit everyone that connects. The second reason is that we do have a shared hard drive connected to the USB port of the Base Station. This drive is in place to distribute files from the presentations or for use by the Genius Table volunteers to share stuff with the people they are helping. Because Apple limits this sharing to only 10 people at a time, it's important for people to be able to get on download what they need and disconnect quickly! So yes, improved AirPort performance does matter.
Setup a Guest Network
There is one other feature of this base station that I really like. You can setup a "Guest" network. If you use the AirPort Extreme Base Station in your home or office chances are you have your network protected with a good WPA password right? (you should!). Well what if a guest comes over and wants to connect? You can give them the password and then they can connect to the internet. However, they can also connect to anything else that's open on your network including servers, filesharing, iTunes, iPhoto, printers, etc. The AirPort Extreme's Guest Network feature allows you to setup a separate network with a different name – say "MacGroup Guests" that you can either leave open OR secure with a different password and anyone that connects to this network will have internet access ONLY! They wouldn't be able to access your other computers, printers or services. This is awesome and it's a built-in feature.
I've done the same upgrades at home too, so I've got a couple of the first generation AirPort Extreme's for sale if you're interested. 🙂