When Apple announced its AirPort wireless-networking products, the crowd, at 1999’s New York Macworld Expo went wild.
With one exception, a person who I happened to be sitting near. It was Andy Eakins, the head of Hermstedt UK. His concern was that the AirPort had ethernet and modem connections, but no provision for ISDN. He immediately vowed to fix this, and I thought no more about it.
After almost a year and a half of gestation, the AirShuttle was born. It took so long for several reasons. The first issue was the fact the AirPort isn’t designed to have ISDN, nor, secondly, is it meant to be taken apart and rebuilt by German engineers. However, that is exactly what has happened. Owners of the current AirPort can buy the upgrade to AirShuttle, which is fitted by Hermstedt engineers. This obviously leaves your Apple warranty in tatters, but Hermstedt takes up the slack and offers a full warranty covering both the AirPort and the AirShuttle.
The AirShuttle is an unusual product, basically a hardware hack that adds to the ability of an Apple product. This is bound to make people nervous, but if anybody knows ISDN, it’s Hermstedt. There is no need to buy an AirPort to send it to Hermstedt for the upgrade, as there are upgraded Airports available too.
Using the AirShuttle is as invisible and seamless as the original AirPort. Getting onto the Internet is as simple as before, and the modem speed is drastically improved. The original 56K modem can manage only 50K at best, and is often reduced to somewhere between 40 and 50K. ISDN, however, offers 64K every time with connection taking under five seconds. This may not sound like much of an improvement, but the difference is noticeable.
Unlike many ISDN adaptors, the AirShuttle has a only single channel. This is a problem because it misses out on really fast 128K performance. It looks like Hermstedt may add a second channel to future models, so this might be a temporary limitation. It may not affect everybody though, because using both channels costs twice as much.
I have been using ISDN at home for a couple of years now, and, a recent temporary downgrade to a modem was a frightening reminder of how slow the Internet can be. If you have a Cube – or perhaps an iBook – in your minimalist home, an AirPort is a must-have item. But if the luxury of being wireless is important to you, surely a fast connection is equally important. It’s a hack, but one made for public consumption. Hermstedt takes all the risk associated with turbo-charging hardware. This makes it easier for the average Joe to get in on the action.