How's the wifi at your house? I don't mean to just dive in with a personal question. It's just that you might be suffering from a very common problem: high bandwidth, weak signal. The main symptom is that when you go to a certain part of your home, your iPhone, iPad, or Mac has a hard time holding a connection to the internet, or displaying web pages, or streaming music and podcasts. You might also suffer signal degradation when the microwave oven is on. If this is happening to you, don't worry. You're not alone. I might just have a solution for you:

Base station

The Airport Time Capsule is Apple's way of killing two birds with one stone. (Yes, that is an awful expression I am going to have to stop using.) It is two products in one. The first is a wifi router. Frankly, modern homes should have wifi built in as a part of the standard, like plumbing or electricity. Since that is not the case, we have to provide that necessity for ourselves. Almost everyone reading this has some type of broadband internet coming into their house, whether provided by cable or DSL. Getting that internet connection to your laptop, tablet, or phone without wires is the job of the wifi router.

Cheap routers do the job poorly. Expensive routers do it well. Obviously this is an oversimplification of the truth. But there is truth there. Networking is one of the most technical aspects of computing. I am ill-equipped to expound upon the details. There are more obscure acronyms in network technology than in a bowl of alphabet soup. All of it matters, and little of it is easy to understand. I have a genuine neck-beard, and I find most of it above my pay grade. Suffice it to say that this new Airport base station has got all the right acronyms for yesterday, today, and many tomorrows to come. Chances are you don't have an item that takes full advantage of the technology in this router.

If you are anything like me, you might be wondering why you should bother to care about a product more advanced than your current needs. I refused to buy the product when it first came out for that very reason. It was only desperation that forced me to give it a try. I believe this might be a case where Apple grossly undersold the product. The raw numbers show this product outperforming its predecessor by a noticeable margin. There is more going on with this product than what the alphabet soup suggests.

In the same way that the iPad is a CPU with a giant battery attached, the Airport base station is a networking chip with a giant antenna attached. Simply put, it does a much better job of collecting and distributing the signal to more devices in more places. I live in an old house with a lot of wireless interference. My iPhone is the first thing I reach for in the morning. The signal has been rather weak in that spot. If during my news gathering I happen to encounter a video I want to watch, I typically have to bookmark it for later when I am in another part of the house. The signal is almost non-existent on my porch. With the new base station, I have signal out to the edge of my yard. Nothing has changed except the base station.

My TV is also much faster accessing Netflix and movie trailers. Even my no-good network printer likes the new base station. In my house, there are a total of eight devices vying for network resources at any given time. The number of devices on your network have an effect on the signal strength of any particular device. How many people are in your family? How many wifi capable devices does that represent? If you have a number of modern devices, it may be time for you to upgrade to a modern router.

Time Capsule

If you decide that you are going to go to the nearest Apple Store to pick up a base station, you should know that there are two distinct products that look exactly alike. Furthermore, one of those products has two different models that are also exactly alike save for one aspect. So far, I have been describing the router is is just the new Airport Extreme. If the Airport Extreme is all that and a bag of Doritos, the Time Capsule is all that including the salsa.

The Time Capsule is the Airport Extreme with the addition of a hard drive inside for automatic, wireless backups. For many years, every Mac has included software to facilitate seamless backups. The software is called Time Machine, and is baked into the OS. To use it, you have to explicitly activate it, and point it to an external drive earmarked for backup. If you do not have an external drive, you will not be using Time Machine.

Time Capsule includes such a drive inside the Airport router. It comes in two capacities: 2TB and 3TB. Read the packaging carefully. The differences are not obvious until you get ready to pay for your purchase. As this is not a review of Time Machine, I will not get into the particulars. I will say that a single Time Capsule can easily handle backup duties for more than one device.In my house, two Macs are being backed up wirelessly. As near as I can tell, the Time Capsule makes no noise when doing its job. That already makes it better than most backup solutions in my book.

There are downsides. First, it is relatively expensive. An Airport Extreme base station is $199. The Time Capsule starts at $299 for 2TB. The 3TB model is $399. The second drawback is your internet service provider. If you have Comcast, you are going to spend some time on the phone with Apple figuring out have to make it work. Comcast does not like technology that enables the user to take full advantage of the service they are paying for. Comcast is not alone. However, Apple is able to get you through those challenges should you run into them. I use Brighthouse. I had zero issues setting it up. Your milage may vary.

The third drawback is that the hard drive is not user accessible. Hard drives fail. It is not a matter of if, but when. I wouldn't hold anything too precious that is backed up on that drive. Maybe it will last a year, maybe five years. Who knows? But having that backup is better than having none at all. The product is expensive and highly technical. However, if you are having trouble with your network, and you happen to have a Mac or two that needs a backup solution, This is the only product on the market you should be considering.

David Johnson

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