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Monday, January 15, 2007, 11:00 am PT (02:00 pm ET)

Apple to impose 802.11n unlocking fee on Intel Mac owners

Core 2 Duo-based Mac owners who want to unlock next-generation 802.11n wireless technologies hidden inside their computers will first have to fork a few bucks over to Apple, AppleInsider has confirmed.

That's unless they plan to plunk down $179 for the company's forthcoming 802.11n-enabled AirPort Extreme Base Station, with which the unlocking fee (and 802.11n software enabler patch) are reportedly included.

You see, Apple for the last several months has quietly been shipping the majority of its Core 2 Duo systems with inactive support for the draft 802.11n specification, an emerging wireless standard that promises fivefold speed increases over previous-generation 802.11g products.

Apple last week confirmed the move, saying Mac systems currently shipping with hidden 802.11n capabilities included the Core 2 Duo MacBook, Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, Mac Pro with AirPort Extreme, and the Core 2 Duo iMac (with the exception of the 17-inch 1.83GHz model).

The company said that it plans to offer an "AirPort Extreme 802.11n Enabler 1.0" patch next month when it begins shipping its new AirPort Extreme Base Station, which will activate the technology.

"Most new Mac computers ship with built-in 802.11n wireless support that can be easily enabled with the installation of enabler software included with new AirPort Extreme wireless base station," Apple wrote on its website.

What the company did not say is that Core 2 Duo Mac owners who want to unlock 802.11n capabilities for use with third party wireless solutions will have to pay a small $4.99 fee before downloading the 802.11n enabler patch.

Reasons behind the move — and such a small obnoxious fee — are not necessarily clear at the moment. However, iLounge's Jeremy Horwitz is offering an explanation from some Apple representatives present at last week's Macworld Expo.

According to the editor, the fee stems from a law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which supposedly prohibits Apple from giving away an unadvertised new feature of an already sold product without enduring some onerous accounting measures.

"Because of the Act, the company believes that if it sells a product, then later adds a feature to that product, it can be held liable for improper accounting if it recognizes revenue from the product at the time of sale, given that it hasn’t finished delivering the product at that point," he wrote.

So if you're a Core 2 Duo Mac owner that wants 802.11n without having to purchase a new AirPort Extreme, you may want to hold onto that 5-spot.