Comparing Wireless Standards

Wireless B vs G vs N vs AC

If you're looking for a new wireless router, you're probably doing research to find the best router for you. You have probably already discovered that there are Wireless G, Wireless N and Wireless AC routers. But what's the difference? Is there an option if you just want to do basic things? What if you play a lot of games or watch streaming movies?

The WLAN Standard: 802.11

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is an organized group of engineers. They created the standard for WiFi technology which all wireless routers follow. In 1997, they called the standard 802.11. All wireless routers at the time were built around 802.11, but there were no letter designations (such as “G”, “N” or “AC”).

The main problem with 802.11 was speed - about 2mb per second. Currently, wireless routers are not manufactured to this standard. This is where the letter designations come in.

Check out this video from Netgear, about wireless standards:

802.11B

Routers with only Wireless B are no longer manufactured. However, some newer routers still support wireless B. Wireless B supports a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 11mbps. The signal is good for up to about 150 feet. A downside to a Wireless B device is that it operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency range. Things like cordless phones and microwaves can cause interference if your router is near these appliances.

802.11G

Wireless G supports a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 54mbps. Like Wireless B, it operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency range. So it has the same interference issues that Wireless B has. Wireless G is backward compatible with Wireless B devices.

802.11N

Wireless N supports a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 300mbps with 2 antennas. It can reach up to 450mbps with 3 antennas. Though typical speeds are more accurately around 130mbps or less without certain configurations and conditions being met. Wireless N operates at both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. These devices can operate on multiple signals, called Multiple In – Multiple Out (MIMO), and have 2 or 3 antennas. Wireless N also has increased signal range/power over Wireless G.

802.11AC

The next big standard to hit the world is 802.11ac, or Wireless AC. Wireless AC is sometimes referred to as Gigabit WiFi - 1GB per second. It has stronger signal strength than Wireless N, giving it greater coverage area.

When You Should Buy A Wireless G Router

When you only have one or a few computers in your house.
When the great majority of your internet use will be for checking email and reading news or blogs. You should be able to watch YouTube or Netflix videos on a single device at a time.
When you have entertainment systems such as Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and you are playing against other people online (these devices do not support Wireless N out of the box, unless you have the Xbox E which does support Wireless N)

When You Should Buy A Wireless N Router

When you have several computers in your house using high-bandwidth sites such as YouTube or Netflix very often at the same time.
If you download a lot of large files very often
When you have entertainment systems such as Xbox One or Playstation 4 and you are playing against other people online (these devices do support Wireless N out of the box)

When You Should Buy A Wireless AC Router

When you have a large house and your wireless G router doesn’t quite reach all the rooms you want it to.
If you live in a highly populated area (apartment, mobile/modular park, etc.). A wireless AC router will help because it is new technology, so not many people will be running their home networks on the 5 GHz band. This will give you a very big speed advantage because your router won’t be competing with as many other routers using the same signal. (AC routers run on the 5GHz band while most N routers run on the 2.5 GHz band).
When you have entertainment systems such as Xbox One or Playstation 4 playing against other people online AND you want your other computers to be able to stream video at the same time without taking much of a performance hit.

Additional Considerations

Make sure the wireless interfaces on your devices support each technology. Not all devices support Wireless AC, for example. Check with the manufacturer of your device to see what technology is supported.

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