Upgrading to Draft-802.11n Wi-Fi: Go for the Speed Now

If you’re like many a web worker with a wireless home network, you’re still using 802.11g wireless technology. While some Macintosh users with Apple’s Airport Extreme router have automatically moved to next-generation 802.11n technology, the majority of home Wi-Fi networks are still 802.11g-based. That’s a shame, because the Draft-n products you can get now are a huge improvement on 802.11g products, and you can put what you need in for a few hundred dollars.

The official 802.11n Wi-Fi standard won’t be ratified until next year, which is what is causing many people to wait. They fear that they may be painted into a corner in terms of having their products be incompatible with the final standard. But that’s not so likely to happen and even if it does, the Draft-n products are so cheap at this point that it’s worth upgrading now anyway. In this post, I’ll go over how simple it is to upgrade.

First of all, how much faster are the draft 802.11n routers, access points and other products compared to 802.11g products? Plenty. You can easily get better than 100Mbit/sec speeds—several times faster than 802.11g speeds. You really notice the speed increase when you do things like roam around a home with a wireless notebook streaming video or audio.

In a previous post I put together an Ultimate Guide to Wi-Fi and most of the information you’ll find there on setting up and securing a Wi-Fi network is exactly the same for 802.11n routers, access points and other products. One of the main differences between 802.11g and 802.11n Wi-Fi networks is the the Draft-n products use MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas. However, this is transparent to you during installation. To set up your network, simply follow the steps in the link provided above.

You should have a CD included with your Draft-n router, which will walk you through each step in installation. Don’t forget to follow the steps there on securing your network. WPA2 is the security standard of choice to select during installation.

In the link provided above, you’ll also find instructions on how to optimize the placement of your router and any access points you choose to put around your house, and then test your speeds with free software. Access points repeat the router’s radio signal, and can give you better coverage and faster speeds around the home. However, in the comments to a couple of posts I’ve done on Wi-Fi, many readers of this blog report that they just use a router—no access points.

Among the popular choices for routers and access points, you’ll find lots of Draft-n routers, access points and adapter cards in the $50 to $150 range from Belkin, Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link. If you choose to install access points, make sure they are the same brand as your router.

And what if the final 802.11n standard turns out not to be compatible with your Draft-in products? In the worst case, you would be out a few hundred dollars, but you’re likely to be able to upgrade with an easy firmware swap, and you’ll be working much faster in the meantime. This is easily one of the most worthwhile upgrades you can do.

Do you have any good tips on 802.11n or other Wi-Fi technologies?

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