What is 802.11n and should I upgrade to 802.11n gear?
I've been reading about the newest wireless standard called 802.11n and am unclear whether it's a smart upgrade or not. My geek friend tells me that it's not an "approved" standard and that there's a risk that what I buy might not be compatible too. Is that true?
I think that originally the wireless networking standard 802.11 was going to be straightforward. A single protocol, a standard that would let Mac, PC and Unix/Linux systems interoperate without a fuss. Unfortunately that's not quite how it all worked out! I talk about some of it here: What is wifi?
The fastest current fully standardized protocol for wireless is 802.11g, but as with everything to do with the Internet, fast is never fast enough, so the wireless hardware gurus put their heads together and came up with a newer way to transmit wireless information that promises at least a 4x increase in speed. Sounds great!
As Wikipedia explains, the 802.11n standard has been in development since 2006 and the on-paper it's supposed to be 10x faster than 802.11g and up to 50x faster than 802.11b. Problem is, that it's still a draft standard as of early 2007. While it's reasonably settled (98% of 802 task group members voted to accept the draft standard) it isn't yet a "formal standard", so...
The basic technology of 802.11n is what's called MIMO, Multiple-input, multiple-output, and as Apple explains: "These new products use AirPort Extreme wireless technology that’s based on an IEEE 802.11n draft specification. Among its key innovations, 802.11n adds technology called multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), a signal processing and smart antenna technique for transmitting multiple data streams through multiple antennas. The result? Up to five times the performance and up to twice the range compared to the earlier 802.11g standard."
Is it the right thing for you, now? Well, a few reviews I found suggest, yes, maybe, and probably not. :-)
eWeek says: "The newest wireless LAN specification—802.11n—isn't ratified yet, but that's not stopping vendors from releasing products based on a draft version of it. Is this gear worth the gamble? Not if you expect your wireless experience to be easy, reliable or consistent. "
Macintouch reader reports include: "My experience in installing and configuring a new Airport Extreme to replace an old one was frustrating. The problems I had were in getting the Airport Utility to recognize the Airport. It frequently did not recognize the hardware without a lot of seemingly random fiddling on my part. Then after restarting the Airport, the Airport Utility continued to wait (seemingly forever) to recognize that it had restarted. I had to abort the Utility and relaunch it." and "Set up two Airport Extreme n networks (both running g not n) in the last week and had no problems at all. One was just a simple modem to airport to wired and wireless computers. The other was modem to Airport to 2 WDS extender Airport Expresses and on USB printer attached to a third Airport Express. Works fine and was easy to set up..."
PriceGrabber reviews note that: "Strengths: Speedy when functional, Weaknesses: Access Control function renders it useless for hours."
and on and on...
The gist of it all is that if you can get it to work with your network, you can certainly see some splendid performance increases, but if you're not comfortable fiddling with things on a regular basis, it might well be smart to wait until 802.11n is a fully ratified standard rather than a draft standard. At that point I can only assume that everything will be far, far more stable and easier to work with!
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