Airport and 128 bit with WiFi PC Cards

Beniamino Cenci Goga. Version 0.1, November 13th 2004

Pre Airport Powerbooks can be easily configured to join the modern wireless network with Wi-Fi Pc Cards.

There are several PC cards available to bring Wi-Fi even to an ancient PowerBook 190. A great starting point is the page created by Derek K. Miller on how to wirelesssly networking older PowerBooks (

Derek suggests several brands and PC card models, but for the purpose of this article I suggest to use those cards that where originally produced by Lucent. These cards, as stated in the Derek's article go by a variety of names under a variety of brands. "They're easily available new or on eBay. The cards were originally developed by Lucent Technologies as the WaveLAN series, and Apple's AirPort cards use the same technology, which is why the Lucent (etc...) cards work well with Apple hardware and software. The cards moved to Agere Systems under the ORiNOCO name, and Proxim bought Agere. Even more confusing, other companies have re-branded the cards as their own. Avaya, Buffalo, Dell and Compaq all sell them.

There are three models of the card, which differ only in the kind of security encryption they support, being all in the 802.11b standard, which is compatible only with the WEP encription, but not with the newer WPA one. The more modern Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption is unavailable on wireless cards that work with older PowerBooks.

Among the Lucent (etc...) cards there are two level of encription:

Gold models support 128-bit WEP,

Silver models support 64-bit encryption,

Bronze models use no encryption.

Derek states that it may be possible to bump the Silver up to Gold with a firmware upgrade, but does not provide further details.

This article shows how it is possible to bump the Silver to Gold using a Mac with an internal Airport slot.

The basic idea is to fool the Mac into believing it has an Airport card installed.

The operation described in this article may void the warranty, may damage you hardware and may be harmful to your health. Do it at your own risk.

An airport card in the iBook G3 slot.

What you need:

1. A Silver Lucent (etc...) Wi-Fi card, still available new or used (i.e. on ebay),

2. An Airport ready PowerBook that can boot off OS 9 (since the operation is pretty easy and does not require screws nor soldering the Mac can be borrowed by a friend or a colleague),

3. Airport software 2.0.4, available from Apple. Please note that it is necessary to download the Airport package in the same language of you Mac. Apple says that AirPort 2.0.4 software works with all versions of AirPort cards and base stations. If you are using AirPort 2.0.4 with earlier versions of the Apple AirPort Card and/or Apple AirPort Base Station, your hardware may be upgraded with new features and capabilities including 128 bit encryption. The very last sentence is actually what we wanted to hear.

Given that the Lucent and the true Airport card are, practically speaking, the same thing, the idea is to open the Mac, remove, if installed, the original Airport card and replace it temporarly with a Lucent PC card. The Lucent PC card fits into the internal Airport slot, but the other way round is not possible, i.e. it is not possible to plug the original Airport into the PC card slot nor, in case you manage to do it, to make it work (due to hardware and electric reasons of which I am not aware).

The two cards look identical, especially at the male side.

If you look carefully at the right corner the two cards are indeed different.

Lucent card corner (this cars fits perfectly into thr internal Airport slot)

Airport card corner (this card does not fit into the external PC card slot)

Please note that the more recent Airport Extreme (802.11g standard), whilst backwards compatible with the Airport (802.11b standard), is a whole new thing, especially from the hardware point of view.

Thre three cards together.

What to do?

1. If you are running OS X go to Startup Disk and select OS 9. Shut down your Mac.

2. Remove the battery, unplug the Mac and disconnect any cable from the ports.

3. Locate the internal Airport slot. In the following example I have used an original 2001 iBook G3 Dual USB. On this Mac it is necessary to flip the keyboard by moving the two small holders (one is between the "esc" and the "F1" keys, the other is between "F11" and "F12" keys. A preliminary step is to unlock the tongue which is between "F5" and "F6" keys.

How to release the holder.

How to flip the keyboard. The keyboard is connected to the logic board via a flat cable so it is only possible to turn it upside down with a 180° turn.

The Airport slot with the Airport card installed, just above the RAM slot.

4. Basically all we have to do is remove the original card and replace it temporarly with the Lucent (etc...).

5. Put back battery, plug the power cord and reboot your Mac in OS 9. If the Mac has Airport software already installed the PC card will show its activity by the two green leds blinking.

6. Go to next chapter, check if everithing works fine then shut down the Mac, remove the battery, the power cord and the Lucent (etc...) card, put the AirPort back, lock the keyboard, reinsert the battery, plug the power cord. Double check if the Mac is fine and, in case give it back to the owner. Now you are ready to use your Lucent (etc...) upgraded to 128 bit encription with any Mac from the PowerBook 190 on (some Macs and some configurations cannot run the AirPort software, see Apple for more detailed info, in this case you can try the WaveLAN software (Proxim, Corp.).

Software installation.

1. Launch the Airport 2.0.4 software and follow the on-screen instructions.

2. The installer will inform you that your card will be upgraded to 128 bit encryption.

3. Once the installation process is done, restart your Mac and verify that everything is fine, i.e. that the two green light are blinking (if they weren't before). Go the control strip, locate the Aiport module and verify that Airport is on, in case select "Turn Airport On".

4. Launch the AirPort Setup Assistant, located into the Airport folder in the Apple Extras folder, and select your choice. You can set up your Mac to join an existing network or to act as an Airport base Station.

5. If you choose to join an existing wireless network verify that you can access it also with the new 128 bit encription. This is only possible if you are the administrator of that network (i.e. via an Airport Base Station). In my situation I have an Airport Express Base Station and I have set it up at a WEP 128 bit encription using the Airport Admin Utility.

Airport Admin Utility lets you select the base station and set it up.

WPA is only available with the 802.11g standard, so for the purposes of this article select the 128 bit WEP.

6. If the card in your OS 9 Mac was correctly upgraded you will be able to join the 128 bit WEP network from your older Mac.

The signal level in the AirPort window tells you that everything is fine and that you can start working in the new environment.

AirPort window allows users to turn AirPort on and off and to choose the network to join.

7. If the Base Station has been configured to distribute IP address, your OS 9 equipped Mac will be able to share the internet connection via DHCP.

TCP/IP control panel.