The WLAN Standard: 802.11
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is an organized group of engineers. They created the standard for WiFi technology which all wireless routers will follow. They called this standard 802.11. All wireless routers at the time were built around this standard. There was no letter designation, such as “G”, “N” or “AC”. This 802.11 standard was released in 1997.
The main problem with this standard was that it was far too slow (about 2mbps… MegaBits Per Second). So they improved upon this standard. Today, wireless routers are not manufactured to this standard. This is where the different letter designations come in.
Before we move on, it’s important to note that B, G, and N are not the only extensions. It would make sense to start with Wireless A, right? That actually does exist. However, these other protocols either did not catch on as fast as others or serve a purpose other than for home networks. For example, Wireless A was released around the same time as Wireless B. However, Wireless B devices were cheaper so they were more popular with consumers. Wireless A devices were mainly used by businesses. So that’s why you won’t hear much about those while you shop for wireless routers for your home network today.
802.11B / What Is Wireless B?
Routers with only Wireless B are no longer manufactured. However, some newer routers still support wireless B. So, it’s still important that you have some basic information about it. Wireless B supports a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 11mbps. The signal is good for up to about 150 feet. A downside to a Wireless B device is that it operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency range. This is the same as many common household appliances. Things like cordless phones and microwaves can cause interference if your router is near these appliances. If you don’t place your router or computer near one of these appliances, you should be fine.
802.11G / What Is Wireless G?
Wireless G supports a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 54mbps. Like Wireless B, it operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency range. So it has the same interference issues that Wireless B has. Wireless G is backward compatible with Wireless B devices. Odds are that you don’t have a device that only supports Wireless B, but if you do then this is a benefit. As you can see, the main benefit of a Wireless G router over a Wireless B router is speed.
802.11N / What Is Wireless N?
Wireless N supports a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 300mbps with 2 antennas. It can reach up to 450mbps with 3 antennas. Though typical speeds are more accurately around 130mbps or less without certain configurations and conditions being met. It operates at both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. These Wireless N devices can operate on multiple signals (called Multiple In – Multiple Out… or MIMO) and have 2 or 3 antennas. It also has increased signal range/power over Wireless G.
802.11AC / What Is Wireless AC?
The next big standard to hit the world is 802.11ac, or Wireless AC. While it is not finalized yet, there are a significant amount of routers available that use Wireless AC. It is expected to be finalized in 2014. Wireless AC is sometimes referred to as Gigabit WiFi (1Gbps… 1 GigaBit Per Second). It will also have stronger signal strength than Wireless N, giving it greater coverage area. If you are looking for the latest edge in speed, or if you have a Wireless N router that doesn’t quite cover your whole home, you may want to consider a Wireless AC router.
Wireless G vs N, Wireless AC vs N: Which One Should I Buy?
The real choice here is going to be Wireless G vs N vs AC, because routers that only support Wireless B are no longer manufactured. Besides, Wireless G routers are backward compatible with Wireless B devices.
When You Should Buy a Wireless G Router
- When you only have one or a few computers in your house.
- When the great majority of your internet use will be for checking email and reading news or blogs. You should be able to watch YouTube or Netflix videos on a single device at a time.
- When you have entertainment systems such as Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and you are playing against other people online (these devices do not support Wireless N out of the box, unless you have the Xbox E which does support Wireless N)
When You Should Buy a Wireless N Router
- When you have several computers in your house using high-bandwidth sites such as YouTube or Netflix very often at the same time.
- If you download a lot of large files very often
- When you have entertainment systems such as Xbox One or Playstation 4 and you are playing against other people online (these devices do support Wireless N out of the box)
When You Should Buy a Wireless AC Router
- When you have a large house and your wireless G router doesn’t quite reach all the rooms you want it to.
- If you live in a highly populated area (apartment, mobile/modular park, etc.). A wireless AC router will help because it is new technology, so not many people will be running their home networks on the 5 GHz band. This will give you a very big speed advantage because your router won’t be competing with as many other routers using the same signal. (AC routers run on the 5GHz band while most N routers run on the 2.5 GHz band).
- When you have entertainment systems such as Xbox One or Playstation 4 playing against other people online AND you want your other computers to be able to stream video at the same time without taking much of a performance hit.
More Things to Consider
You will want to make sure the wireless interfaces on your devices support each technology. Not all devices support Wireless AC, for example. Check with the manufacturer of your device to see what technology is supported.