January 28, 2007

Think Twice Before Upgrading Your Wi-Fi Router

Law.com has a quick and helpful piece on why you shouldn't upgrade to a Pre-N Wi-Fi router -- at least not until the new "n" standard, 802.11n, has been ratified. If you're using your home Wi-Fi network mainly for surfing the web, then your broadband ISP provider is most likely the limiting factor, not your existing router, especially if it's a "g" router (802.11g).

For much less than the unratified "Pre-N" or "Draft-N" routers, you can buy 802.11g routers that have been enhanced with so-called MIMO technology -- which use an array of antennas for Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output transmissions, extending range and speed." The challenge with these pre-releases of "n" routers is how well they'll conform to the final specs and work with various other Wi-Fi equipment from different vendors. My guess is that the closer we get to the final "n" standard, newer routers produced along the way will generally fare better in compatibility -- but -- nothing is for certain until the standard is ratified.

Supposedly, routers using the forthcoming 802.11n standard will be backward-compatible with the previous 802.11a/b/g devices, working at those older devices' fastest speeds. "N" achieves speeds far above "a", "b", and "g" through three methods: Itís more efficient, it has more radios, and it can use more spectrum. It's widely been discussed that "n" wireless routers will have more range and speeds in the hundreds of Mbps.

For now, the enhanced "g" MIMO (Multiple-input-multiple-output) technology looks to be the most cost-effective. MIMO's benefits boost performance and range, while still handling existing 802.11a/b/g radios. Now, if you're regularly pushing very large files and print jobs through your home wireless network and it's taking its toll on your patience or productivity, then the "Pre-N" performance gains are worth a look. It should also be mentioned that as long as the "Pre-N" router hardware is fully compatible with the final "n" standard (buyer beware), it's probably a good bet that "Pre-N" router vendors will make software upgrades available -- allowing users to update the router's firmware to be fully "n" compliant. If you're squeamish about flashing firmware or reconfiguring your router, then I wouldn't recommend "Pre-N" routers. Overall, I think most people will continue to do well with their existing home "g" router until the final "n" standard routers hit the market, with prices falling as volume increases.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard