Is it Worth Upgrading to 802.11n


In the past few years having more than computers networked together to share an Internet connection printers and files between each other in homes has become common. While home PC networking has become popular, running Ethernet cables through walls is not. Consumers choosing WiFi equipment are met with a somewhat confusing alphabet soup. 802.11B was the first generation of WiFi networking to become popular. 802.11A was the first attempt to replace 802.11b, it operated on a different frequency band which meant no backwards compatibility between a and b routers and adapters. 802.11g is the variant that replaced 802.11b offering faster speed and better range and signal coverage than 802.11b networks.

In the past year or so a new type of WiFi routers and adapters has appeared in the market in an attempt to make 802.11g obsolete. Manufacturers have introduced 802.11 Pre N or Draft N in advance of the ratification of the 802.11n standard in September of 2008 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The use of pre N comes with a downside, pre N WiFi hardware is not cross compatible between manufacturers. When the 802.11n standard is formally ratified most pre-n or draft-n devices will need to have firmware updates installed to ensure that devices from different companies work together. The road from G to N started a couple of years ago with multiple input multiple output (MIMO) WiFi routers and adapters. MIMO used three WiFi G channels to push data faster, further with fewer dead spots, than single channel B or G networks.

The biggest problem with WiFi A,B,G or N is that most wireless routers do not have any encryption enabled by default. With more and more wireless networks transmitting further and further there is a far greater chance for unauthorized used of wireless networks. It would only be a minor annoyance for users to be required to set up encryption using a hard wired computer in order turn on the wireless network.

For current owners of older 802.11b wireless networks it’s worth upgrading to something newer be it 802.11 G or N for one simple reason, security. Most older WiFi routers and adapters only support WEP encryption which is easily cracked with anyone with any basic knowledge of cracking wireless networks. For people who only use to WiFi to share files and printers and an Internet connection there is very little noticeable difference in performance which makes it not worth spending the extra money on 802.11n. Those who would see the benefit from it would be anybody who play computer games over a local area network or any one who streams high definition video over their wireless network.

Those who play their games over a network have typically opted to play on a hardwired network because there is a lot less latency than WiFi networks. Now that Gigabit Ethernet is now reaching the home level there is less incentive to take a chance on wireless. For places like college and university dorms or in any other rental housing where running wires through wall simply isn’t an option a wireless network using 802.11n won’t be as much of a bottle neck as previous B or G wireless networks.

802.11a routers and cards and USB adapters still command a higher price and probably will for some time yet to come. For the vast majority of those who are going to be installing wireless networks the benefits won’t justify the cost.



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