AirPort is an amazing technology that makes wireless communication affordable to own and relatively simple to install and configure. With AirPort, you can quickly and easily set up and manage a wireless network to do the following tasks:
Connect to the Net You can use AirPort to connect to the Internet wirelessly, and you can easily share a single Internet connection among multiple Macs.
Connect to a network You can connect an AirPort-equipped Mac to an existing Ethernet (wired) network.
Connect directly to other AirPort-equipped computers You can directly network to one or more AirPort-equipped computers. As long as all the computers are set up to use the same AirPort connection, they can communicate with each other up to 150 feet apart. This makes instant, temporary networks fast and easy.
AirPort functionality is provided through the following components:
AirPort-ready Macs If your Mac is AirPort-ready, it has built-in antennas that are used to transmit and receive signals to and from the wireless network. It also has a slot in which you can install an AirPort card. The good news is that all modern Macs are AirPort-compatible.
AirPort card To use AirPort, your Mac must have an AirPort card installed in it. There is more good news here too; AirPort cards cost only about $99 and are quite simple to install.
AirPort software The AirPort software is necessary for Macs to communicate through the AirPort hardware. The software to configure and use an AirPort network is part of the standard Mac OS X installation.
AirPort Base Station The AirPort Base Station transmits the signals for the AirPort network. There are two types of base stations. The AirPort Hardware Access Point is a dedicated hardware device that contains access points for a modem and an Ethernet network. When you use it for a dial-up connection to the Internet, for example, the AirPort Base Station's modem is used to connect to the Net. Your Mac communicates to the Base Station through the AirPort card and built-in antenna. A single AirPort Hardware Access Point can support multiple computers so that you can share an Internet connection among up to 10 computers. You can also configure any AirPort-equipped Mac to act as a Base Station by using Mac OS X's built-in Internet sharing capabilities.
Functionally, an AirPort Hardware Access Point and an Airport-equipped Mac OS X machine sharing its Internet connection are identical. In this chapter, when I use the term Base Station, it can refer to either means of providing an AirPort network.
The general steps to configure and use an AirPort network are the following:
Install and configure the Base Station (AirPort Hardware Access Point or an Airport-equipped Mac OS X machine).
Install AirPort cards in the machines you want to connect to the AirPort network.
Configure those machines to use the AirPort network.
Although using AirPort to connect to the Internet and to share an Internet account is the focus of this chapter, an AirPort network provides access to all the services of a wired network. For example, computers connected to a wired network via AirPort can print to printers on that network, use file sharing, and so on. (By the way, any of you printer manufacturers who happen to be reading this, how about an AirPort-capable printer!)
To learn how to configure other network services over an AirPort network, see "Configuring and Accessing Network Services Via AirPort," p. 739.