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AirPort first debuted on July 21, 1999 at the Macworld Expo in New York. An AirPort card was sold as an optional accessory with Apple's iBook line of notebooks and the AirPort base station was also introduced. The AirPort allowed transfer rates up to 11 Mbit/s. Antennas were integrated into the displays of iBooks, so reception was very good. Apple was the first manufacturer to embrace 802.11b wireless networking. The AirPort card was later added as an option for almost all of Apple's product line, including PowerBooks, eMacs, iMacs, and Power Macs. Only Xserves do not have an AirPort option. The first AirPort ("graphite') was based on the Lucent WaveLan PC-Card and used an embedded 486 processor. The second ("snow") has a Motorola PowerPC 860.

The original AirPort cards used Lucent's chipset, but unlike the Lucent WaveLan Silver Card (the equivalent 40-bit card) Apple released a firmware update to raise the encryption level to 128-bit (effectively giving a free upgrade to a Lucent WaveLan Gold card) in the spring of 2001. The original AirPort card was discontinued in June, 2004.

The original AirPort was introduced with a rather frightening TV advertisement. In the advertisement, the AirPort base station was never shown with the Apple logo until the very end (when it revolved into view), and the base station flew all over the place to the tunes of rather terrifying music, suggesting a UFO invasion.

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