802.11n Wireless Networking

Category: Networking , Wireless

I've seen a new wi-fi adapter that claims to be a HUNDRED TIMES FASTER than the currently available ones. Is this new 802.11N technology really that fast, and will it work with Windows XP?

wireless network

Is 802.11n Wireless Ready for Prime Time?

I asked my very smart friend Patrick Crispen what he knew about the new 802.11n standard, and it turns out that 802.11n is for real. Sort of... At least on paper... And even though some manufacturers are offering "Draft 802-11n" compliant wireless networking cards and routers, you may want to wait a while before purchasing these devices. Here's the scoop from Patrick:

If you have a laptop computer or if you have connected your Tivo or Xbox 360 to your home wireless network, you already know the joys and frustrations of "Wi-Fi" wireless networking that uses the official Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE] 802.11 specifications. Over the next few months you are going to hear a lot about something called "802.11n" -- a new wireless networking standard with maximum throughput speeds of 550 Mbit/s, 100 times faster than current 802.11b and ten times faster than current 802.11a or 802.11g wireless networks. You may even be tempted to go out and purchase a new 802.11n wireless card or router.

DON'T DO IT! At least not yet.

Why? Well, the 802.11n standard doesn't exist and won't exist until July 2007 at the earliest. No, really. The only thing that exists right now is a DRAFT of what MAY eventually become a standard, but on May 2nd the IEEE 802.11 Working Group voted NOT to forward that draft on for final ratification. At least not yet. First, the Working Group has to review the TWELVE THOUSAND comments the draft has generated. After the review is complete, there is a chance the draft will be ratified without any noteworthy changes at all, there is a chance [albeit a slight chance] the draft will be extensively rewritten before it is ratified, and there is even a chance [again, albeit a slight chance] that 802.11n draft may NEVER be ratified as a standard. To make a long story short: 802.11n ain't done. You can find more details in this Ars Technica story.

Monkey Pox?

802.11n wireless As mentioned earlier, you CAN find wireless networking manufacturers offering "pre-N" or "Draft 802-11n" compliant products. Patrick suggests that you "avoid these products like they were covered with monkey pox" because there is no guarantee that any "pre-N" products you buy today will be fully upgradeable to the real 802.11n standard when [and if] it is ratified.

But the 802.11n standard won't be ratified until July 2007 at the earliest, and it could be a year or more beyond that point when the *REAL* 802.11n hardware is available. So what's the harm in buying a "Draft 802-11n" compliant wireless router and adapter now? Will it really give your computer monkey pox?

Actually, no. If you're the type of person who likes to live on the bleeding edge of technology, and you want the absolute fastest wireless home networking for your laptop or gaming system, go ahead and buy a "pre-N" router and wireless adapter. You might get two years worth of wireless computing at speeds 10X higher than all your friends.

Of course, your laptop with the "pre-N" adapter will only work that fast when you're at home, connected to the "pre-N" router. And hopefully, those "pre-N" adapters will be backward compatible with the 802.11 A/B/G routers in Starbucks, the airport, the hotel, the library and your neighbor's house. If not, they won't work AT ALL outside your home.

But here's another factor to consider... How fast is fast enough? The top speed for most high-speed internet connections is about 5 Mb/sec. If your existing 802.11g adapter is already running at 54 Mb/sec do you really need a wireless network 100 times faster than your internet connection is able to supply? Unless you do a lot of large file transfers from your laptop to a desktop, it's kind of like putting a jet engine on a skateboard.

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Most recent comments on "802.11n Wireless Networking"

Posted by:

12 May 2007

If you are moving large amounts of data on your home network or backing up a large hard drive to a network location, the 54mbs transfer speed is a substantial limitation. I find myself plugging into the wired portion of my network to overcome the "slow" speeds of my g type wireless.

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