Adding Value by Removing Wires

Linksys WAP54GThe premium prices that Apple Computer charges for its hardware are hard enough to justify when it comes time to lay down the big cash for a new desktop or laptop, but it gets doubly hard to swallow when shopping around for commodity peripherals. Granted, wireless networking — Wi-Fi, if you prefer — can’t yet be said to be so ubiquitous that it can be classified as a commodity, but while shopping around for 802.11g wireless base stations, it seems hardly very far off. For literally days, I’ve been trying to decide between buying one of the more sensibly priced offerings, like the Linksys WAP54G, or spending nearly twice as much for the luxurious Apple AirPort.

What it comes down to is price. No, wait, what it comes down to is ease of use and administration. Actually, I want both, and that’s the debate I’ve been having in my head. Our home network is composed principally of Macintosh computers, so it would seem to make sense to buy an AirPort and guarantee smooth wireless interoperability. But the 802.11x specification which more or less defines every wireless base station, access point, router etc., seems to be so straightforward that I’m not convinced that there’s any real difference between the Apple product and its competitors. If there is, I can’t find anyone — anyone — that’s willing to make that statement unequivocally.

Right: Awww, how can you resist the Apple AirPort Extreme base station?
AirPort Extreme

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for anything bearing the Apple brand, and this is the part of that sometimes-irrational patronage that bothers me so much. Apple seems so willing to exploit not only my devotion, but my faith in the superiority of its products as well. Is the AirPort really 80% better than its competition, as its 80% markup over street prices for the Linksys might suggest? Rational consumers would probably scoff at this question — the difference is absurdly high for a technology that will soon become as commonplace as Ethernet — but Mac devotees like myself will probably find themselves on the fence: the Apple product may not be all that much different, but we’re not sure that it’s not that much different, either. That is, isn’t it reasonable to assume that Apple would add enough value to the basic 802.11g standard to make the markup really worth it? It doesn’t matter if it’s reasonable or not, really, because we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, for better or worse.



  1. Quite a few of my friends have had the same dilemma as you do. While only one person outof the five has bought the Airport (and has had some issues with it) the resthave gone with Linksys. As far as I know, Linksys works well, is reliable, and most of all it’s cheap. It’s not the prettiest thing but it works well and is not a shoddy product either and I suppose that may be the bottom line.

    Though there are some Linksys and DLink products that come in silver and black that do look quite tasty.

  2. Sigh…beauty or performance…it’s often the what we have to consider. I just installed a Linksys 802.11g (WRT54G) access point for my parents in there all PC home. The coverage range was pretty impressive vertically as it spaned three floors, and the horizontal coverage was decent too. Getting my Titanium PowerBook on their new WiFi network was a snap, although I couldn’t send email. We have the last generation of Apple’s 802.11b Airport in my San Francisco flat, and the coverage is pretty mediocre. I would still consider the new Apple Airport Extreme though for ease of use and the ability to connect an external antenna or to use it with another Apple Airport Extreme base station as repeater. At least we have options! ;.)

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