Wireless N Vs G

Wireless n is the latest in Wi-Fi technology and promises to deliver higher speeds and better connectivity compared to the older wireless b/g standard. Given below is some information on wireless n vs g, making it easier for users to choose between the two...
Techspirited Staff
To understand the difference between wireless n vs g, let's take a few steps back and understand where these Wi-Fi protocols came up from. Today, the average Internet user usually browses and sends emails besides downloading a few songs, or watching streaming video. Thanks to a quantum leap in technology, almost all the above is possible while on the move. That's right, with the help of Wi-Fi technology, users can wirelessly browse the net, send emails, download songs and in some cases, even watch streaming media. And even more surprising is the fact that this can all be done while you are walking down the street, or traveling in your car. What makes this possible? The answer is simple. Wi-Fi technology. Today, wireless Internet access is not only possible, but available in most cities throughout the world.

What is Wi-Fi??

Wi-Fi or WLAN, as it is more commonly known as, is a mode of computer communication that allows wireless communication between 2 or more devices connected to a network. When put simply, Wi-Fi enables your computer or mobile phone to wirelessly access signals and establish a connection with a network.

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) typically consists of a router that beams a wireless signal that can be detected by any device in its range that has Wi-Fi connectivity. The signal can be protected with a password to restrict access or can be unrestricted, allowing anyone to use it. The router typically supplies an Internet connection from an ISP that everyone on the network can use.

In a home scenario, the Internet connection from your ISP connects to a Wi-Fi Router and then everyone in the range of that router with a Wi-Fi capable device can access the Internet connection, depending on the security level set. In addition to accessing the net, all users connected to the same router are accessible to each other, again depending on the security level and the permission given by the owner of the network.

Needless to say that, when this technology was first developed, the range that a router could broadcast its signal was very limited, as was the rate at which data could be transferred to and fro. Also, it was essential that everyone making these products ensured that they would be compatible with other devices. A Wi-Fi capable device should have no problems connecting to various routers, irrespective of the company, brand, connection type, etc. To ensure that consumers did not have to deal with this difficulty, the IEEE came up with the 802.11 standard.

What is the 802.11 Standard?

The IEEE 802.11 network standard refers to different protocols that were created to assist WLAN computer communication. The 802 refers to a set of standards that relate to any and all aspects of networking - wired or wireless, while the .11 specifically refers to wireless networking. There are further protocols in the 802.11 wireless networking standards and these are denoted with an alphabet after the 802.11 standard. The 802.11 network standards are 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n.

802.11a
With a maximum net data rate of 54 MB/s, the 802.11a protocol was introduced in 1999. It operated in the 5 GHz frequency band, since the more popular 2.4 GHz band was too crowded. While this gave 802.11a a slight advantage, this high frequency produced shorter wavelength signals which were not capable of traveling far. Typically, they were absorbed by walls and the like giving this protocol a much lesser range. In average conditions, 802.11a had an indoor range of about 20 meters and an outdoor range of about 100 meters.

802.11b
With a maximum net data rate of 11 MB/s, the 802.11a protocol was also introduced in 1999 and was an extension of the 802.11a protocol. It however, operated in the 2.4 GHz frequency band, with the rest of the technology and features being similar to the 802.11a protocol. Due to its competitive pricing, 802.11b gained rapid popularity and as such was very widely used. In average conditions, 802.11b had an indoor range of about 38 meters and an outdoor range of about 140 meters.

802.11g
The 802.11g protocol was introduced in 2003, by which time consumers were suffering a bit from the slow data rates of 802.11b. With an increased data rate of 54 Mbit/s and even more saving, due to aggressive pricing and saving in production cost, 802.11g became the protocol of choice. This protocol worked in the same 2.4 frequency band of the 802.11b protocol. In average conditions, 802.11b had an indoor range of about 38 meters and an outdoor range of about 140 meters, the same as the 802.1b protocol. However, due to the increased data rate, decreased cost, and backward compatibility with 802.11b and 802.11a, this was, and still is, the most popular Wi-Fi protocol used. Unfortunately, many other devices, such as Bluetooth technology, cordless phones, microwaves, etc., also used the same 2.4 GHz band, and thus there was a lot of interference in this protocol. To counter this, the IEEE came up with the 802.11n protocol.

802.11n
Introduced in 2009, the main difference in 802.11n was the presence of 3 more MIMO streams than the other protocols. While all the other protocols used just a single MIMO stream, the 802.11n protocol used 4 MIMO streams. This not only helped in an increase in the range, but also an increase in the data rate. Using 4 antennas as compared to the usual 1 antenna in other protocols, 802.11n can achieve a data rate of 300 Mbit/s. In average conditions, 802.11n has an indoor range of about 70 meters and an outdoor range of about 250 meters. Wireless n also could operate on both, 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz bands. Using the 5 GHz band eliminated any interference from other devices using the 2.4GHz band and improved connectivity.

Difference Between Wireless N and G

Here are a few of the main differences that should be taken into account in the wireless n vs g contest.
  • The main difference between these two protocols would, of course, be the range and the speed.
  • Almost doubling the range and increasing the data transfer about 10 times, wireless n is the protocol of the future.
  • Wireless n uses four antennas compared to the single one used in wireless g, thus increasing the range and the data rate of the wireless n protocol.
  • The data rate of wireless n is 300 MB/s as compared to the 54 MB/s of wireless g.
  • The range of wireless n, at 70 m indoors and 250 m outdoors, is more than double the range for wireless g, in both indoor and outdoor environments.
  • Wireless n will also provide better connectivity to networks than wireless g due to the four antennas used in the wireless n protocol, and will also feature better range than wireless b/g.
So, basically because of the 4 MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) streams used in the wireless n protocol, the wireless n protocol will, in short, be superior to the wireless b/g protocols. 4 MIMO streams ensure that wireless n networks, in optimal conditions, will be comparable to wired networks. With a theoretical data throughput of 108 MB/s, this will be much faster than the theoretical 20 MB/s that wireless g is capable of delivering. Throw into this the fact that due to the four antennas, the range and connectivity is highly improved upon, it is easy to see that in the wireless n vs g match up, wireless n emerges the victor and is indeed the Wi-Fi protocol of the future.

Wireless N or G?

It should be noted that the wireless b/g protocols have been in use for very long and as such, most devices, including routers are equipped only with wireless b/g. Also, wireless n routers, though available, are not as cheap and easily available as wireless b/g routers. And taking into consideration that most users who have gone Wi-Fi will already have a router that works fine, wireless n will have to carve a niche out for itself. Users who regularly move data over wireless networks will benefit from wireless n, as will users who will stream media over a Wi-Fi connection. For most users, however, whose primary aim is to access the Internet, wireless n or g will not make any difference. Another thing to be kept in mind is that since wireless n is a relatively new protocol, only new devices will feature wireless n. So buying or upgrading to a wireless n router when you have a wireless g laptop will be of no use, as wireless g speeds will be applicable. Also to be kept in mind is that wireless n will give higher speeds and better connectivity only if all devices in the network are wireless n enabled. Using 3 wireless n devices and 1 wireless g device will mean that only wireless g speeds will be achieved.

So, the question is, should you go in for a wireless n router and a wireless n device. Is 802.11n better than 802.11b/g? Obviously, since wireless n is the protocol of the future, it makes sense to go for it, but only if you are buying a new device and/or a new wireless router. For people who want to upgrade their routers to wireless n, it would be prudent to wait awhile, till the technology becomes mainstream. That being said, for users who are moving huge amounts of data over Wi-Fi connections, or who are streaming media over Wi-Fi connections, an upgrade will ensure faster speeds and better connectivity, making it a feasible option. Offices working on Wi-Fi networks may also find the upgrade feasible, thanks to the better range and connectivity that wireless n provides. Again this will make sense only if all devices in the office are wireless n certified. Average and home users who are using the Internet over Wi-Fi, however, should be content with the wireless b/g protocol as of now, as most Internet connections are much slower than the wireless g network speeds anyway. And since wireless n will not affect that Internet speed in any way, it makes no sense to upgrade to a faster network speed.

In conclusion, though the wireless n protocol is better than the wireless g protocol, it makes little sense to opt for this new technology till it is widely used. Indeed, once wireless g devices get slowly phased out, only then will wireless n will become a worthy buy. But of course, the fact remains that wireless g will only get phased out once wireless n is marketed and used actively. This vicious cycle ensures that the common man is left confused whether to opt for the technology or not. To end it all, here is what you need to look at when considering wireless n vs g. If you have wireless g devices with you, stick to the wireless g network protocol, and if you are planning to set up a Wi-Fi network with new devices, then it might be prudent to go in for wireless n.