Apple adds guest networking to Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme

New feature on wireless peripherals gets big applause from an analyst

Along with a refresh of its desktop line, Apple Tuesday also updated its AirPort Extreme wireless base station and the Time Capsule wireless backup device.

It did not lower prices of either peripheral, however, keeping the AirPort Extreme's suggested list price at $279, and the Time Capsule's at $479 for a 500GB model and $799 for the 1TB configuration.

The biggest change to the devices is a new dual-band capability that allows them to send and receive on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously. Users can now connect to the wireless network with 802.11g-based devices -- such as the iPhone or iPod Touch -- and faster 802.11n-based hardware, like a MacBook or other laptop, at the same time. Previously, the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule could use only one band at a time.

But Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, was big on another new feature instead. "I really like guest networking," he said. "It had to be trivial to do, but someone at Apple was really thinking."

With guest networking, Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme owners can create a separate network -- protected by a separate password -- for visitors, putting the real network, including its password and the machines on that network, out of reach of casual or occasional users.

"That's the kind of Apple spark we've come to expect," said Gottheil.

Both the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule also now support the "Back to My Mac" feature of MobileMe, Apple's subscription-based online sync and backup service. MobileMe subscribers can now use Back to My Mac's remote access to reach files stored on a Time Capsule, or on an external hard drive connected to an AirPort Extreme.

The Time Capsule, dubbed by some as "AirPort Extreme on steroids," was introduced in January 2008 and touted by Apple as an all-in-one solution for creating a wireless network and leveraging Mac OS X 10.5's Time Machine backup application to handle unattended backups without needing to physically plug a portable into the device.

Apple's revamped hardware is available today from Apple's online store, other authorized sellers, and the company's retail outlets.

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Gregg Keizer

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