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Apple to charge for faster Wi-Fi

Users of some laptops will have to pay $2 to activate onboard 802.11n chips; Apple says accounting rules require it to charge for upgrade.

Some MacBook Pro and MacBook customers have the faster 802.11n Wi-Fi chip already sitting in their systems, but it will cost $2 to light it up.

Apple on Thursday that it plans to charge customers a fee to download software that will enable the 802.11n capability in the Wi-Fi chips found in some MacBook and MacBook Pro systems. But it won't cost $5, as many reports indicated. It will cost $1.99, and will be available on Apple's Web site, said Lynn Fox, an Apple spokeswoman.

Every Mac with Intel's Core 2 Duo or Xeon processor has the 802.11n chip, except for the 17-inch iMac with the 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo chip, Apple announced last week at Macworld.

Customers who purchase the new $179 Airport Extreme Base Station also unveiled at Macworld will get the software for free as part of that package when it ships in February. But those who don't want to buy that product will have to pay to download the software, which will appear on Apple's site when the base station starts shipping.

Apple said it is required under generally accepted accounting principles to charge customers for the software upgrade. "The nominal distribution fee for the 802.11n software is required in order for Apple to comply with generally accepted accounting principles for revenue recognition, which generally require that we charge for significant feature enhancements, such as 802.11n, when added to previously purchased products," Fox said in a statement.

Several companies have been releasing 802.11n products based on a draft of the new wireless standard. The final standard is not expected to be ratified until later this year, but the Wi-Fi Alliance has said that it will begin certifying products based on a draft of that standard. The 802.11n standard offers significant improvements in bandwidth and range over the 802.11g Wi-Fi standard, and it's backward compatible with older Wi-Fi standards.