802.11n Wi-Fi: One Size Does Not Fit All

Considering a new notebook or netbook purchase? Of course, you’ll want 802.11n Wi-Fi built-in, but don’t assume that if the label says 802.11n, it’s all you need to know. You could find yourself with an underpowered 802.11n connection. 802.11n is dramatically different than its 802.11 Wi-Fi predecessors. It’s the first Wi-Fi specification that supports a range of performance capabilities.

What makes 802.11n different is the specification’s support of multiple radios and antennas that can transmit/receive multiple data streams – called spatial streams. In 802.11n vernacular, these send and receive antenna configurations are noted as 1×1, 1×2, 2×2, or 3×3. These numbers indicate how many transmit and receive antennas and radios are in an 802.11n access point (AP) or client. They determine how many different spatial streams of data can be sent at one time to improve signal reception.

Make sure you know what 802.11n performance you’re buying. All 802.11n Wi-Fi products below are 802.11n, but as you can see, performance varies significantly. More antennas and streams mean faster speeds, less dead zones, fewer dropped connections, and better coverage. 802.11n multiband support effectively creates more room for data by bonding two 20MHz channels into a 40MHz channel. The 5GHz band best supports channel bonding.


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