Speed freaks rejoice; if you're willing to lay out the cash, air traffic around your local wireless network may pick up a dose of extra zip come this time next year. We're well aware that a certain sector of the population was a bit disappointed when Apple introduced AirPort 2 last week and it still ran at "only" 11 Mbps, thus rendering the technology impractical for the quick transfer of immense data sets-- like, say, uncompressed real-time full-motion broadcast-quality video (roughly 18.6 MBps), or the complete works of Stephen King (more words than you can shake a stick at).
But if you consider Apple's options, it's clear that the company made the right choice; upping the bandwidth to 54 Mbps would have mandated a shift from the current 802.11b spec to 802.11a-- which is, sadly, not compatible. If Apple had made the switch, none of the existing AirPort cards or Base Stations would have been able to connect to the new gear, riots would have ensued, and Cupertino would be a smoldering pile of rubble by now. So we think sticking to 802.11b was a good move on Apple's part; after all, it's faster than good ol' 10-base-T Ethernet and can saturate all but the spiffiest home broadband Internet connections.
Of course, choosing compatibility over speed is all well and good for now, but clearly there's nowhere to go but up. With more and more wired networks standardizing on 100-base-T (and Apple even shipping Gigabit Ethernet in all of its Power Macs and PowerBooks), when it comes to transferring big files across a LAN instead of surfing the Internet, AirPort's 11 Mbps is starting to feel like a serious drag. But fear not; faithful viewer AJ Ballou was the first to alert us to a Reuters article which indicates that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (that's Mr. IEEE to you, bub) has "tentatively approved" a new wireless networking standard called 802.11g. (No, we don't know what happened to 802.11c through 802.11f, nor do we want to. They are dead to us.)
The good news is that 802.11g has a maximum bandwidth of 54 Mbps-- just like 802.11a. The better news is that 802.11g operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency spectrum-- just like 802.11b. In other words, it's "best of both worlds" time, folks; by sharing the same frequency, the new standard is 100% compatible with existing AirPort cards and Base Stations, which means that nothing's keeping Apple from embracing 802.11g, since it will work just fine with Apple's older equipment... although at the slower 11 Mbps speed, of course.
Actually, there is one thing keeping Apple from moving to 802.11g, and that's the word "tentatively." According to The Register, "the IEEE will only ratify the exact 802.11g standard and its specifications next year when the working group meets again." The upshot is that 802.11g devices aren't expected to hit the market until the end of next year-- so don't wig out thinking that if Apple had only waited another week, AirPort 2 could have incorporated a nice speed boost in addition to its other new features. Don't worry; we figure that the nearly-five-times-faster AirPort 3 will debut just in time for Christmas lists next year.