5 Tips for Upgrading to 802.11n Wi-Fi


Last week, the IEEE’s Standards Board ratified the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, which will increase the number of certified compatible products based on the standard, and is likely to encourage many businesses and users to upgrade from previous 802.11g Wi-Fi technology. Of course, many people, myself included, have been using pre-ratification Draft-N technology for a long time; I wrote last year that the Draft-N technology was worth upgrading to. Many Mac users have been using it by default for a long time via Apple’s (s aapl) Airport Express routers. If you are still using 802.11g, though, now is the time to upgrade. Here are some tips for getting the most out of this faster wireless technology.

Much Faster and More Dependable, But Test It. The primary advantage of 802.11n over previous Wi-Fi standards is speed. It takes advantage of MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) antenna technology for much faster performance than 802.11g offers. If you are upgrading to 802.11n on a Windows network, I highly recommend the free application Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector for managing and troubleshooting connections, and monitoring your signal performance.

Better Range, But Optimize It. In previous posts I’ve done on Wi-Fi, I’ve been surprised at how many readers use a router only for their home Wi-Fi setups, and no access points. Access points, including 802.11n access points, extend your roaming range while preserving a strong Wi-Fi signal, and can be bought for under $75 — often much less. If you install new 802.11n Wi-Fi technology, and were planning on using just a router, you may want to experiment with at least one access point (I use several at home). You can get a good 802.11n router for under $100, so there is room to optimize the components on your network. Of course, whether you need access points will depend on the size of the space you want covered, how many floors you want covered, etc. The range is good enough with 802.11n that I know people who have a router on the bottom floor of a home and get a good signal upstairs and far away.

Experiment With Access Point Placement. It’s surprising how finicky Wi-Fi components are, including 802.11n components. As you put in a new Wi-Fi network, try different placements for your router and access points. The smallest change can make a big difference in the performance and range that you get. Remember that Wi-Fi is radio technology, so it tends to work best away from obstructions, and away from metal.

Security Matters. While this point pertains to Wi-Fi networks of all stripes, it’s also well-known that one of the biggest mistakes people make when putting in a new Wi-Fi network is not establishing proper security. It used to be that to secure your wireless network you had to know your way around complicated acronyms and the like, but now you can just follow the steps on your router’s installation CD to lock your network down.

Keep Track of Upcoming 802.11n Offerings, and Certification. The Wi-Fi Alliance is the main body that certifies Wi-Fi products for interoperability and performance. The logo above is the one that the organization uses in certification — look for it. Also, many businesses don’t upgrade their Wi-Fi networks until the IEEE ratifies a standard, which just happened for 802.11n. As businesses upgrade, there are likely to be new products and good deals appearing, which should be worth keeping track of.

Are you using a 802.11n in your home network?



Tip #6: Make sure you have a 7×24 Wireless Quality Assurance solution in place. With LAN-like performance, 802.11n WLAN is rapidly turning from “Network Convenience” into a business critical piece of IT infrastructure and unless we have a transparently monitorable SLA in place, uncontrolled interruptions and costly troubleshooting will cause a lot of financial damage.

Today many companies are coming up with their WQA solutions, some adding this kind of functionality to the proprietary WLAN product range, some like 7signal offering vendor-independent solutions.

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