AMITIAE - Wednesday 26 June 2013

Apple AirPort Extreme Router in Thailand (1): New Design and Faster Wi-Fi with 802.11ac (Amended)

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By Graham K. Rogers

Airport Extreme Router

When Phil Schiller announced the new Airport Extreme Wi-Fi Router with the IEEE 802.11 ac standard in the middle of the MacBook Air presentation, this sent a signal. Along with changes to the operating systems for Macs and the portable devices, the hardware was being lined up for a shift in strategy. I ordered an Airport Extreme Router as soon as I saw it in the Apple Online Store for Thailand.

When I placed the order, I was informed that the product would ship on 27 June. I presumed this was to allow time for the authorities here to approve the use in the country. A day or so earlier than I expected, the Airport Extreme router was delivered to my office. Instead of the regular FedEx man, this was brought by UPS. A note on the delivery advice from Singapore that arrived later by email also showed UPS, so I wonder if Apple has changed the agent in the region or just in Thailand.

The most obvious difference out of the box is the shape. Previous generations of the AirPort router have been flat, square boxes with rounded corners (something like a Mac mini). The latest version is now taller: to accommodate the changed antenna setup and (finally) to include a power supply within the enclosure.

Airport Detailed photographs of the insides, including the antennas are available on the iFixit website, where there is an excellent 2-page tear-down of the device (and the AirPort Time Capsule).

Expectations of faster connections are not limited to Wi-Fi. Port configurations are also upgraded. As with the older type of router from Apple there are three Ethernet ports for devices: while these were basic LAN ports, they are now Gigabit LAN. Likewise, on the newer version, instead of an Internet WAN port, there is now a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port.

The power brick for the older router was made by Fugang Electronic (Dongguan) Cd., Ltd., while I am unable to identify where the router itself was made. When first installed, it only recognised Taiwan as a country option. In January 2007 it was priced at $179 (8,000 baht) here. It arrived in Thailand several months later and I bought mine in early December that year: 6 years of almost daily use and it runs faultlessly.

The latest version (A1521) was announced in early June at WWDC and began shipping to Thai customers from the Online Apple Store on 27 June. The device was assembled in China but neither the box nor the device itself have information about where it was made. The iFixit teardown indicated Delta Electronics which does have factories in Thailand (Chachoengsao, Samut Prakan) as well as other locations.

It was priced at $199 (6,200 baht here with taxes): enhanced features, lower price. For those who qualify for an education discount, it is a few hundred baht less. There are also Time Capsule versions with 2TB or 3 TB disks for $199 and $399 (9,500 baht and 12,500 baht) respectively. The differences in pricing between the current and earlier versions may in part be due to exchange rate fluctuations. There was no Online Store for Thailand when I bought the earlier device.

Apple's intentions appear to be greater emphasis on the faster and more efficient home (or office) network. This router is a core component in the smoother data transfers that Apple is moving towards. Currently the only devices from Cupertino that support the 802.11ac standard are the MacBook Air computers.

The pre-announcement of the Mac Pro also included this new standard, so it is no stretch of the imagination to speculate that the next MacBook Pro computers will also have 802.11ac installed. Just as important to networked data sharing in the home and office are the iOS devices, so it is almost a given that the next version of the iPhone (and the iPad) will also be 802.11ac capable.

The strategy concerns integration now and has done for a couple of years - which do many other would-be market leaders miss. With faster networking that is able to carry far larger files (the "fat pipe") data transfers within the home or office environment become far more effective. Apple puts the foundation down and then provides the bricks.

While looking through the web for information about the 802.11 ac standard (ac because IEEE ran out of letters: after 802.11z, they start again with 802.11aa, 802.11 ab, 802.11 ac and so on). As well as some solid factual information, there is also some useful speculation:

The box is unlike that of any other current Apple product - tall and slim - because of the shape of the device itself, which is taller to make the 6 antennas more effective. The base of the container slides out from the top, like an expensive bottle of scotch. Below the router is a small enclosure which contains the power cord and the manual. There is no Ethernet cable. I did have a spare (CAT 5e) but I may want a longer one once it is all up and running.

As this was a device specifically for the Thai market, the entire manual was in Thai. At least one other person on the UPS man's delivery list was not Thai (and there will be others), so a dual-language version might have been more helpful.

It was easy enough to link to the relevant Apple Support page and open the PDF of the Airport Setup Guide (US version) in a browser. The pages and the information in the Thai version of the guide follow the US guide closely. There is also a manual for the Airport Time Capsule.

While the device can be set up using a Mac, an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, I stuck to the Mac as I was already familiar with the Airport Utility (v 6.3). However, as I am more wary of Wi-Fi routers than other hardware, I read the manual carefully and made some tea before setting up the device.


See Also

Apple AirPort Extreme Router in Thailand (2): Installation and Setup with Comments on Limitations

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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