Technology helper: Moving at the speed of 802.11n (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty May 17, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - It took more than seven years, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has finally ratified the 802.11n wireless transmission standard.
But what does that mean for you?
For those more of a more technical bent, it means all of those 'draft N' products you may have read about over the past couple of years can now finally take off the 'draft' moniker.
But for the average user, it also means you should probably be thinking about upgrading your wireless network. The new 'n' standard is indeed that much better.
But, when you venture into the 'n' jungle, you're bound to have plenty of questions, so read on for some answers.
Q: What benefits will I see from 802.11n? I have a perfectly functioning in-home network with a mixture of 802.11g and 802.11b adapters.
A: 802.11n is all about three things: speed, signal, and the future. First, let's look at speed.
Your current 802.11g network is limited to a transmission speed of 54 megabits per second (Mbps), which, in best case scenarios, will allow you to surf the web and download your email without getting too annoyed by the rate at which data is transferred.
But that's about all you can do with that slower technology. You cannot transfer large amounts of data from one device to another without long delays and potential dropouts. Media streaming is also a challenge. And if multiple devices attempt to stream a significant amount of data at the same time, you'll quickly become frustrated.
Enter 802.11n. Boasting a theoretical maximum transmission rate of 300 Mbps, it's more than five times faster than the previous 'g' standard - and more than 27 times faster than the older 'b' standard.
More important than numbers, though, is real-world performance, and the best 802.11n products deliver in spades, providing data transmission speeds that rival, if not equal, the performance of wired ethernet networks.
Need to back up your notebook or PC to an in-home backup computer? No problem with 802.11n. Need to stream movies from your home server to your TV? It should work without pause or stutter using 802.11n. Want to see your new smartphone download data like a demon? 802.11n can make it happen.
Of course, there are caveats. To get the full benefit of 802.11n's blazing transmission rates, both your router and the wireless adapters in your computers or gadgets must conform to the new standard.
Don't worry about having older 802.11g or 802.11b gadgets in the mix, though. The new standard is backward compatible, and although the older devices won't work at 802.11n speeds, they also should not interfere with the performance of devices that do.
Another benefit of 802.11n is improved transmission signal. The 'multiple input/multiple output' (MIMO) technology that's a part of the new standard improves the range and reception of the wireless signal, made possible in part through the use of multiple antennas that communicate with each other to maximise throughput.
In real-world terms, that means that one wireless 802.11n router should have no problem pushing a signal throughout a typical home, whereas dropouts and dead spots using the older technologies were common.
Q: What features should I look for in an 802.11n router?
A: Manufacturers of 802.11n routers are attempting to differentiate themselves in a wide variety of ways. And some tout features that virtually all 802.11n routers offer, such as backward compatibility with the 'b' and 'g' standards, built-in firewalls, and multiple types of data encryption.
Instead, let's focus on the features that may be relevant to you, but are less universally adopted.
First, although the point of the 802.11n standard is wireless transmission speed, most routers also have ethernet ports for devices that connect directly to the router.
The rate at which these ports can transmit data can be crucial to the overall performance of your network. So look for routers that offer not just 10/100M (megabit) LAN ports but 10/100/1000M - otherwise known as 'gigabit' - LAN ports.
Most computers sold today have gigabit ethernet ports, so you won't want your router acting as a bottleneck if you transmit large amounts of data from one device connected to the router to another.
Network attached storage (NAS) is another feature that many routers are tacking on in one form or another. With NAS, you can have a storage device that's available to everything connected to your network.
NAS is often used for backup or to stream music or video. D-Link's new DIR-685 actually features a slot within the router to hold a 2.5- inch hard drive, which then acts as storage available to everything on the network.
It should be noted, however, that it's easy to add NAS to any router by simply hooking up a spare computer - such as a Windows Home Server box - to one of the ethernet ports in your router and configuring that as the storage device. You'll also find routers touting print server and iTunes server capabilities - again for media streaming.
The most important feature of any 802.11n router, however, should be speed and reliability. It's always wise to consult user reviews online at sites such as Newegg before settling on a specific model.
Q: What is dual band 802.11n?
A: Some 802.11n routers and adapters are sold in a 'dual band' configuration, which essentially means that, with one unit, you can create two wireless networks that broadcast over two different frequencies.
This can be useful if, for instance, you have one or more devices transmitting a large amount of data over one frequency and you wish to connect to the router to transmit yet more data over another frequency. So you might set up such a router to transmit media data from a media storage device or server over one frequency and use the other frequency for normal internet connectivity with your notebooks or desktop computers.
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