Guest Author - Kathy Fleming
Everyone wants the fastest, best product version out there, and with computers you have to keep up. So the buzz is out about 802.11n or “Draft N,” the next-generation WiFi standard following 802.11g. The new "n" standard is currently undergoing the ratification process by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Although its official release isn’t until 2007, N products are already on the market as companies compete for early-adopter purchases.
But being first doesn’t always mean being best. Ratification by the IEEE of the current 802.11g standard took almost two years to clear. And Draft 1.0 of 802.11n still has issues to be resolved. So you might want to wait until certain questions are answered before you run out to buy all new equipment. Also, the equipment shipped out early on might not be able to be upgraded. If you buy now, you may end up dealing with multiple firmware and driver updates later – and that’s only if these early release products support them. Personally, I would wait on jumping into this version too fast for a number of reasons. Wait to see what the reviewers (both pro and consumer) have to say, and let the price drop on the hardware. However, here’s the scoop on 802.11n and what it boasts.
Of course, the new standard is designed to handle faster and larger files. It uses MIMO (multi-in, multi-out) to send and receive multiple signals at once. It also uses smart-antenna technology. This helps increase speed, the capacity of what you can transfer, and distance between your WiFi devices. N could run up to 50 times faster than the current standard, 802.11b. Obviously this is all a plus, but only if you really need it. It is also supposed to be backwards compatible, able to work with your existing G and B devices, and to even optimize their use. But again, exactly what it does and how it performs won’t be known until the final, ratified technology comes out.
Draft N is definitely something to be excited about, and if you are confident in managing your WiFi system, and you have a real need to move to something faster, switching to the new version may be for you. But if you can wait, again, you might want to, especially if you are happy with what you have now but would like upgrade eventually. Just do your homework and shop around to see if and where prices are dropping. Also, keep up with product reviews and news as 802.11n merchandise hits the market. Cool new technology isn’t so cool when you find out it isn’t working for you.