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802.11n - Tomorrow's Wireless Network Today
by rob

Is your wireless network fast enough for you? Does it choke when streaming movies to your media center or transferring tons of data? The current standards (802.11b and its big brother 802.11g which run along at a mere 6.5 Mbit/s and 24 Mbit/s respectively) are several years old and they're susceptible to interference from microwave ovens, cordless phones and other wireless devices. However, the next generation of wireless networking is already here - 802.11n.

The IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; the folks who set all sorts of public and industry standards) began the development of 802.11n (or Wireless N) back in 2003 to make sure wireless was able to grow with everyone's needs. The proposed maximum throughput is 540 Mbit/s but you should typically see 200 Mbit/s which is still a lot better than what you're getting now. The key to the faster speeds is MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) which refers to the number of transmitting and receiving antennas used in this technology. These antennas stream multiple copies of the data across the vast expanse that separates the transmitter and receiver and compares the redundant versions to improve reliability as well as combining the versions to optimize speed. You also get the ability to cover longer distances with your network (up to 165-feet).

All of this doesn't come without a price. To take advantage of this cool, new technology, you'll need to replace your slower wireless hardware with cool, new versions. Since the N standard is not final, the best way to ensure compatibility within your network is to purchase routers and adapters from the same manufacturer. Such hardware is sometimes referred to as "Pre-N" or "Draft N." However, buying pre-final hardware doesn't guarantee interoperability when the final versions come out. But there's always hope that manufacturers will have Flash BIOS updates for their products in the future.

Do you have to switch all of the adapters on your network to work with N? Certainly not. 802.11n is designed to be backwards compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g, though throughput and range will still be limited to the older specification.

Now that you know, don't let your tired wireless network hold you back. Get the gear to really make the promise of home entertainment networking a reality.

Shop Online:
Belkin N1

Buffalo Wireless-N
D-Link RangeBooster N and Xtreme N
Linksys Wireless-N
NetGear NEXT
Trendnet N-Draft

References:
IEEE
Apple

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