Many manufacturers have explored infrared as a means of connecting computers. It works - but it isn't brilliant. The obvious development is to use radio waves to exchange computer data. Apple, with the iBook and iMac, has now provided a radio-based product with its release of AirPort.
Apple has worked with Lucent Technologies over the last 18 months to develop AirPort. There are many ways of accessing the technology - iBooks and iMacs can be fitted with an AirPort card and then two machines each equipped with a card can communicate with one another. To surf the Net an AirPort Base Station (ABS) has to be linked to the Internet connection. However, using the AirPort Software Base Station (ASBS) an AirPort-enabled computer such as an iMac or Power Mac G4 can be used as an ABS. The machine uses its Ethernet connectivity or modem to provide shared acces for other AirPort machines in the vicinity.
The benefit of radio, as opposed to infrared, is that active machines are not required to be in line of sight of one another - walls and other obstacles are not a barrier to radio waves. An ABS connected to your phone line in the lounge can be accessed from the study (as long as it is no more than 150ft away) allowing Net surfing, email transmission and file transfer. Better still the Base Station can be shared by more than one computer, allowing simultaneous surfing on one telephone line. The bandwidth is up to 11 Mbps - better than Ethernet speed - so that the bandwidth of the shared Internet connection is the only limiting factor.
The potential for wire-free networks in classrooms is obvious. At last schools can make full use of that single telephone line Net connection that many have.