Wireless N Routers
You may hear the terms N router or 802.11n when discussing WiFi equipment. What is N and who needs it? Here's the scoop on N wireless, in plain English...
What Is an N Router?
The "N" is taken from the "802.11n" standard developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which specifies how all Wi-Fi equipment should communicate, so that devices will work with each other. This standardization allows consumers to mix and match equipment from many manufacturers. It's why, for example, your laptop's Belkin WiFi adapter communicates with the Cisco WiFi router in your favorite coffee shop. Standardization is a good thing for consumers and for network designers.
The "N" version of the 802.11 standard is the latest and greatest with improvements in wireless communications. The 802.11 standard originated in 1997 and has gone through six major revisions. "N" is the latest, ratified in 2009, and it incorporates the biggest improvements yet.
First of all, wireless N devices transmit data 2-4 times as fast as the fastest previous "G" standard. The 802.11g devices operate at up to 54 Mbps, while 802.11n gear runs at 50 to 144 Mbps depending upon the enhanced features enabled and the distance between wireless sender and receiver. Some users have reported actual speeds up to 200 Mbps.
Second, N operates on both radio frequency bands used by WiFi networks: 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz. This will help relieve interference between N devices in densely populated areas. If several neighboring WiFi devices are on the 2.4 Ghz band, you can switch to the less crowded 5 Ghz band. Also, 2.4 Ghz devices have longer transmission ranges, so if you need more distance between your N router and your WiFi adapter you can switch to the lower frequency.
Other Benefits of N Routers
The N protocol has one other benefit in addition to speed, which is increased wireless range. Wireless G devices are able to communicate well within a range of about 100 feet (from the router to the adapter). The N devices up the ante to over 220 feet.
The N standard is backwardly compatible with earlier 802.11 standards, even earlier standards that are not compatible with each other. The 802.11g standard is not compatible with the legacy 802.11a standard because the two standards operate on different frequencies. But the N standard can operate on both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz frequencies, even both simultaneously. Therefore it can be compatible even with standards that are incompatible with each other.
Multiple Input-Multiple Output (MIMO) technology is what enables the dramatic speed increase and the compatibility with mutually incompatible standards. The N standard employs two pairs of wireless antennas to send parallel streams of data between router and adapter (client). It's like a two-lane highway versus a one-lane road; more traffic can move along in the same amount of time.
Should You Upgrade to Wireless N?
The N standard increases the effective speed of wireless networking and eliminates compatibility problems that have plagued mixed 802.11 A, B and G networks. It also doubles the range of wireless routers.
Bear in mind, however, that an N router capable of 144 Mbps won't help if you have a slower (and very common) G adapter in your computer. And similarly, there's no point in upgrading to an N adapter if you have a G router. To get the boost in speed and range that N wireless offers, you need N on both sides of the wireless communication path.
But here's something else to keep in mind… Most "high speed" cable Internet connections offer download speeds of 3-5 Mbit/sec. DSL speeds are about half that. If you're lucky enough to have a fiber optic connection, such as Verizon FIOS or AT&T's U-verse, then you might get 10 or even 20 Mbit/sec speeds. And good old 802.11g operates at 54 Mbits/sec.
So... if your G wireless gear is already quite a bit faster than your incoming Internet pipe, upgrading your wireless router and adapter to N isn't going to do anything for your Internet speeds. It may help if you transfer large files between computers on your home network, but how common is that?
The most compelling reason, I think, to move up to an N router is the expanded range. If you're getting a lousy wireless signal out in the garage, the hammock or in the pool, then upgrading to an N router in the house and N adapter in your laptop should help.
Got something to say about N routers? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 6 Jan 2010
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Wireless N Routers (Posted: 6 Jan 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved