Networking

Wireless ‘N’ worth the hype?


The world of wireless devices is moving fast and 802.11n or Wireless ‘N’ is the hottest new technology to hit the shelves. Everyone’s talking about ‘the next great leap in wireless technology’ and all of the big names in home networking are pushing their next-generation breakthrough solutions. Let’s forget about the fact that 802.11n is still only in the draft stages and hasn’t even been officially defined yet; what’s on offer and will you really notice the difference? Is the hype purely that—a marketing drive riding the 802.11n gravy train?

What are the claims being put forward by various producers of 802.11 draft n products?

Apple claim that due to multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology, 802.11n can perform up to five times faster and up to twice the range of 802.11g. There is of course the small print stating that actual performance may vary based on range, site conditions, and other factors.

Netgear quote the maximum speed of up to 300Mbps with the small print stating that this figure is derived from IEEE standard 802.11n specifications and actually throughput may vary. Netgear refrain from making any claims about increased range over 802.11g, simply saying that its ‘Rangemax Next’ product line provides maximum coverage and bandwidth. Another feature of Netgear’s 802.11n range of routers is their ‘Steady-Stream’ technology, which is claimed to offer a stable, constant connection perfect for streaming media applications. No more interruptions and freezes?

Belkin’s N1 range of wireless products are described as a breakthrough solution for larger homes or offices that have a wide area to cover and want to run high bandwidth applications. Belkin claim that speeds and range are greatly increased over 802.11g, but they do also say (in the small print) that the quoted rate is the physical data rate and that actually throughput will be lower. I think it’s pretty good of them to come right out with this rather than saying ‘may be’ or ‘could be’ lower.

Realistically, the theoretical throughput of 802.11n devices would be no more than 100Mbps which is still a considerable improvement over the 25Mbps of 802.11g. For a more in depth analysis of 802.11n’s capabilities, I would recommend taking a look at this paper by James M. Wilson of Intel I found it a worthwhile read.

So all of the big names in wireless networking are making the same claims—four to five times the speed of 802.11g devices with greater coverage and increased range. How do these claims stand up in the real world—real world conditions, which are always far from ‘ideal’ with a mixture of hardware from different manufacturers? Next week, I’m going to swap my 802.11g modem/access point for an 802.11n model and see how it fares. If you’ve already made the move, leave a comment or two and tell me whether you think it’s made any real difference to your wireless experience.

 

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