Wireless N vs G: The Main Differences

On January 10, 2012, in General, by James Shelton

Wireless N vs G

As 802.11n (also more simply called Wireless N) devices become more popular, more and more people are finding themselves wondering what exactly the improvement of this technology is over the older 802.11g (Wireless G) devices they may already own and use. It’s easy to simply buy the latest device, plug it in and improve your networking capabilities, but some people like to be informed about what the technology they’re investing in has to offer them.

There are several misconceptions regarding the difference between wireless n vs g, and wireless technology in general is notorious for misleading marketing and over-promotion of irrelevant features. This article (and website as a whole) aims to clarify the differences between the two protocols, and explain the advantages of using 802.11n technology in your household or office.

One important specification of wireless communication protocols is the band (or frequency) they operate on. 802.11g operated solely on the 2.4GHz band, as did the older 802.11b protocol. 802.11n, on the other hand, is able to run on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. 5GHz is a wider band, which at the moment is usually far less populated than the 2.4GHz, and as such allows for better channel planning and use of features such as channel bonding (more on this later).

Main Improvements

The main improvement of the 802.11n amendment over the older 802.11g is that it added support for multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antennas. This increases the data transfer rate. In general 802.11n has a greater base data transfer rate than 802.11g, with a maximum of 72.2Mbps vs 802.11g’s 54Mbps limit. This is multiplied when using multiple MIMO streams (up to 4 are supported by the 802.11n protocol) and if employing channel bonding (see below).

802.11n also offers channel bonding, which the g protocol did not. Wireless routers normally use a 20MHz section of the band they are operating in for transmissions. What channel bonding does is join two such sections together, creating a channel 40MHz wide, increasing the data transmitted per second. However this feature is often not very useful when using the 2.4GHz band. This band is so narrow that channel bonding would take up most of its total available width. This would interfere with any other wireless routers also operating on the 2.4GHz band in the vicinity, of which there are bound to be many in any populated area (apartment buildings and office blocks especially).

More details on the technical specifications of each standard can be found at the IEEE standards association’s website: http://standards.ieee.org.

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Top 6 Wireless N Routers

On February 7, 2012, in General, by James Shelton

These are the top 6 best-selling Wireless N compatible routers on amazon.com. Amazingly enough they are practically in sequence, with the most capable routers with more features being lower in the list.

Medialink 802.11n 150Mbps Wireless N Router

This is one of the lower-end Wireless N routers. It’s one of the three routers on this list that don’t support 5GHz mode. In my opinion these are not a great investment, as 5GHz is definitely on the rise and a router compatible with it is worth the little extra cost.

  • 150Mbps transfer rate
  • b/g/n support (2.4GHz only)
  • 4 10/100 Ethernet ports
  • 1 Internal antenna

D-Link DIR-601 Wireless-N 150 Home Router

This is D-Link’s low-end representative in the Wireless N router family. It is very similar to the Medialink router above, the only real difference being an external rather than internal antenna.

  • 150Mbps transfer rate
  • b/g/n support (2.4GHz only)
  • 4x 10/100 Ethernet ports
  • 1 External antenna

Linksys E1200 Wireless-N Router

This is a slightly more powerful router than the two above, with an increased transfer rate. It’s the cheapest of 5 Wireless-N routers in this series by Linksys: the E1200, E1500, E2500, E3200 and E4200. The E3200 and E4200 are featured below. Again, this router’s main downside is its lack of 5GHz compatibility.

  • 300Mbps transfer rate
  • b/g/n support (2.4GHz only)
  • 4x 10/100 Ethernet ports
  • Internal antenna (2×2 transmit/receive streams)

Linksys E3200 High-Performance Simultaneous Dual-Band Wireless-N Router

This is the first router on the list with support for both bands. It also has dual-band capabilities, which means that it can operate on both frequencies simultaneously. It boasts a good transfer rate and has faster Ethernet ports than the E1200.

  • 600Mbps transfer rate
  • a/b/g/n support (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
  • Dual Band support
  • 4x Gigabit Ethernet ports & 1x USB
  • Internal antennae (2×3 transmit/receive streams)

Cisco-Linksys E4200 Dual-Band Wireless-N Router

This is the high-end Wireless-N router offered by Linksys. This one has 3×3 send/receive streams, which is the highest number commonly available (though the standard actually supports up to 4×4).

  • 750Mbps transfer rate
  • a/b/g/n support (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
  • Dual Band support
  • 4x Gigabit Ethernet ports & 1x USB
  • Internal antennae (3×3 transmit/receive streams)

Netgear N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4500)

This final entry has the highest transfer rate on the list at 900Mbps. It has a 3×3 stream antenna configuration like the Linksys E4200, and has an extra USB port.

  • 900Mbps transfer rate
  • a/b/g/n support (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
  • Dual Band support
  • 4x Gigabit Ethernet ports & 2x USB
  • Internal antennae (3×3 transmit/receive streams)

Channel Planning

On January 31, 2012, in General, by James Shelton

What is Channel Planning?

WiFi SwitchChannel planning is an aspect of optimization of network performance. It refers to coordinating different wireless devices in the same general area so that they operate on different frequencies. This minimizes or entirely eliminates interference between them, enhancing signal quality and speed for all devices connected to the wireless networks.

The 2.4GHz Band

The 2.4GHz band, on which Wireless-G and Wireless-B operate (and one of the two bands Wireless-N can use), is a very narrow band: only 100MHz wide. This is separated into 14 channels, of which only 1 through 11 are available in North America and some countries in Central and South America (12 and 13 are also available outside these areas – 14 in Japan only). Each channel has a corresponding frequency, and is 22MHz wide. This ends up meaning that there are only 3 non-overlapping channels: 1, 6 and 11 (in countries with 12 and 13 available there are 4: 1, 5, 9, 13). More technical details on this can be found on Wikipedia.

The 5GHz Band

In the 5GHz band channel planning is less important since it is much wider and less populated. The lower range and increased signal loss through walls also makes devices operating on 5GHz less likely to be close enough to interfere with each other. However an aspect of channel planning is channel bonding, which is a feature unique to Wireless-N technology, and a big advantage of Wireless N vs G.

In the case of multiple wireless networks being set up in one area, one can arrange for each device to use a particular channel so that no two adjacent networks use the same channel. This may not be possible in every network situation, but in many cases this will keep interference to a minimum and increase the efficiency of the network. Most devices will automatically choose the least busy channel, but when arranging a series of networks in a business environment, for example, manual configuration will tend to yield better results. Channel planning also plays a role when setting up wireless repeaters.

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Channel Bonding

On January 24, 2012, in General, by James Shelton

What is Channel Bonding?

Wireless Router BackChannel bonding is a new feature that was added to the 802.11n standard and an important aspect of channel planning. In the older Wireless-G and Wireless-B standards, a 20MHz-wide slice of the operating band (called a channel) is used to transmit signals. Channel bonding allows for two channels to be used by the same router, increasing the data transmission rates. This is very viable when using the 5GHz band on a Wireless-N router: the 5GHz band is very wide, with many channels available. Because the 5GHz band is only available to Wireless-N routers, this is a big advantage of wireless N vs G.

Channel Bonding on 2.4GHz

Channel bonding can also be employed when using the 2.4GHz band on a Wireless-N router, however there are limitations. The first problem is that the 2.4GHz band is much narrower than the 5GHz band. For North American deployments of wireless routers there are only three non-overlapping channels, while in most other countries there are four.

Neighboring wireless routers (or other devices such as Bluetooth headsets and cordless keyboards) need to operate on separate non-overlapping channels to avoid interference, which would lead to signal quality degradation. This is where the second problem lies: the 2.4GHz band is very crowded in most densely populated areas, making interference a real problem. If a device takes up two channels instead of one, it exacerbates the situation – which is already bad enough since there are only three or four available non-overlapping channels. This is why most routers are programmed to revert back to taking up only 20MHz if they detect other wireless devices running on 2.4GHz in the area.

In conclusion, channel bonding is a very useful feature Wireless-N capable routers have. It increases transfer rates and thus speeds across the network, and is one of the main sources of the speed increase of 5GHz over 2.4GHz. While it can also be used with 2.4GHz to increase the overall network speed, this may only be viable in sparsely populated areas.

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5GHz VS 2.4GHz

On January 17, 2012, in General, by James Shelton

Network Lights - Wireless N vs GOne of the most publicized additions to 802.11n technology is the support for the 5GHz band. This band has not been part of a wireless protocol since the very old 802.11a. While 802.11n is also compatible with 2.4GHz, the frequency used by 802.11g devices, there are distinct advantages (and a few disadvantages) to using 5GHz. In this way, 5GHz VS 2.4GHz is an important aspect of the differences of Wireless N vs G.

What do 2.4GHz and 5GHz mean?

First of all, to what do 2.4GHz and 5GHz refer? These are transmission frequencies of wireless signaling devices, such as wireless routers. They are typically referred to as bands. When communicating with other devices, a router will take a 20MHz-wide slice of the band and use it to send and receive signals. Wireless N is able to use channel bonding, which doubles the “slice” of the band used and allows for increased data transfer rates.

2.4GHz Disadvantages

There is one key disadvantage to using the 2.4GHz band, which is the combination of its small width and its high population. Most wireless routers (including any neighboring your own) operate on the 2.4GHz band; so do many other wireless devices like cordless phones, wireless keyboards and Bluetooth headsets. Even less related devices like remote controls and microwaves can generate signals on this frequency. All of these signals in a narrow band lead to a decrease in signal quality as well as signal range for any devices trying to connect to your router. The 5GHz band is much less crowded, and considerably wider. This gives more room for conflicting routers to spread out their signals so as not to interfere, and even take up bigger chunks of the band to increase throughput (through channel bonding).

5GHz Disadvantages

The only real problem with the 5GHz band is that it has a lower range than the 2.4GHz band (all else, such as environmental factors, being held equal). This is a natural result of it being a higher frequency. It also tends to lose signal more easily when being received through walls. Thus in some households the 5GHz may simply not be strong enough to make it to all areas of the house needing wireless coverage.

In cases such as these, dual-band devices can come in very handy. These devices can run both 2.4GHz and 5GHz at once, and each computer in the network can pick which one to use. Thus older devices incompatible with 5GHz and 802.11n in general can connect on 2.4GHz, while newer devices that are also close enough to the router for a decent signal can use the faster 5GHz.

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