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Stock-outs of Apple's AirPort Extreme could hint at new 802.11ac model

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Availability of the AirPort Extreme base station has run out at some major third-party resellers, potentially signaling that an updated model with support for 802.11ac could be en route.

As of Monday, the online stores of both Amazon and Best Buy were out of stock of Apple's AirPort Extreme Wireless Base Station. Limited availability of the AirPort Extreme comes as Apple is gearing up for a major holiday shopping season, where the company is expected to introduce numerous new products.

Limited availability of Apple hardware is often a sign that the company is phasing out current models in anticipation of the debut of updated hardware. The AirPort Extreme was last given a minor spec bump in June of 2011, when it gained a 2.8 times power boost for stronger Wi-Fi connections.

AppleInsider first reported in January that Apple could begin deploying support for the new 802.11ac specification this year, adding so-called "Gigabit Wi-Fi" to new AirPort base stations.

The 802.11ac standard is the latest revision of Wi-Fi, but it has not yet been formally adopted, and isn't expected to be ratified until early next year. The lack of finalization and 802.11ac-compatible devices on the market has not, however, stopped some companies from publicly releasing the first 802.11ac routers this year.

Client devices compatible with the 802.11ac standard are expected to be available by the end of this year, with widespread adoption picking up in 2013. But Apple has a history of being ahead of the curve with the release of new wireless standards.

In January of 2007, Apple announced that its new AirPort base stations and Apple TV set-top box included support for draft 802.11n specifications that had not yet been finalized. The company also secretly included support for "draft-n" in its previously released Core 2 Duo Macs.

Apple's support for 802.11n came nearly three years ahead of the formal ratification of the Wi-Fi standard in October of 2009.

While still officially under development, 802.11ac promises initial speeds of around a gigabit, which is significantly faster than the 450-megabit speeds that can be achieved with the current standard, 802.11n. The new Wi-Fi standard will also keep network performance at high levels when multiple devices are connected to the same router.