Fifty ways to leave your legacy network [Day Two: 802.11n]

802.11n is the latest wireless standard and has only just been given the IEEE good-networking seal of approval, so getting your hands on compliant kit is still a bit tricky.

802.11n is the latest wireless standard and has only just been given the IEEE good-networking seal of approval, so getting your hands on compliant kit is still a bit tricky.

The 'n' on the end of the specification extends the 802.11g spec, also known as WiFi, and uses "multiple input multiple output" antennae which go by the acronym of MIMO.

This array of antennae allows for multiple channels to be consumed at once, which extends the range and speed by an order of magnitude over WiFi. Unfortunately, a lot of vendors jumped onto the bandwagon early, offering "pre-N" version, which rarely interoperate with other vendors' kit. Wireless routers which adhere to the standard should work properly across vendor dividing lines.

With theoretical speeds up to 500Mbps and distances up to 200m these routers will definitely appeal in home networks where it is economical to switch all the devices to the new protocol. The speed promised by 802.11n will finally allow for wireless delivery of video from PC to TV, so we can expect a slew of "multimedia" adapters to appear real soon now to cater for the home entertainment market.

Prior to 802.11n the WiFi network would automatically drop to the speed of the slowest participant. Good news for office WiFi network managers with 802.11n is interoperability with older 802.11b and 802.11g adapters without the ensuing slowdown of the rest of the network. This time around you can bump up the speed of the router, and progressively upgrade the laptop and PC adaptors based on need or the level of whining.

Of equal interest to office networkers is the improved security offered by 802.11n compared with earlier versions of WiFi. The new 802.11n standard incorporates the 802.11i security specification, which goes beyond the popular WPA offering which has already proven to be quite secure.

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