Why You're Not Using 802.11n Wireless

By Matthew Braga

Wireless N devices have been on the market for nearly three years, yet their widespread adoption has been nothing like previous standards. What gives?

It's for this reason that Wireless-N is the Blu-Ray of networking solutions. It's faster, and touts improved range, but lacks the same obvious improvements that encouraged such speedy adoption of earlier standards. There's no doubt it's the wireless of tomorrow, but getting there is going to take a little bit longer than one might expect.

Wireless-B, for many users, was their first wireless networking experience. Now a decade old, the technology made it possible to cut the cord of portable computing, and change the role laptops played in our every day life. It was fascinating, but not without it's shortcomings — namely, poor speed and range. It's perhaps for this reason that Wireless-G was adopted with such enthusiasm. With almost five times the speed, and better sustained range, the 802.11g standard made streaming media, online gaming and a myriad of other wireless applications not only possible, but usable.

The Linksys WRT600N router, with three antennas for MIMO connectivity. 
this past September after seven years in ratification hell. Nevertheless, N devices have been on the market for about three years now, and offer a number of big improvements over it's B and G counterparts. Connection speeds of up to 300Mbps are said to be possible, compared to the paltry 54Mbps of Wireless-G. MIMO —  multiple input, multiple output — is a range-boosting technology that uses a greater number of smart antennas to send a signal farther, without necessarily boosting the transmission power. Finally, 40-MHz wide channels are now possible, compared to 20MHz in previous specs, which is said to double data-carrying speeds in ideal conditions. Put together, each of these improvements make for one of the best wireless experiences we've had in years, almost rivaling the speed of our 10/100 wired connections. And yet, adoption remains slow.
Like Blu-Ray, the improvements are there, but not easily apparent to the end user. The speed throughput of Wireless G is already faster than most internet connections, and a Wireless N connection would do nothing to improve that. More so, Wireless G devices have proven so adept at managing interference and range, that improvements from N would be hard to notice. And for mobile devices, it probably doesn't help that multiple antennae technology isn't all that kind to battery life either.

There's no mistaking that Wireless N is here to stay, and the technological improvements make it a formidable successor to today's solutions. But if you're current wireless setup works, then there's little need to upgrade — not yet, at least. Wireless G devices are still compatible with N-based networks, and that's unlikely to change for quite some time. It's only when consumers are forced to adapt will Wireless N become standard; but until then, the tech remains more evolutionary than revolutionary.     
Image via Flickr user Michael @ NW Lens.