5 Easy Wi-Fi Shopping Tips

Admit it: you don’t think about the type of wireless technology inside a new device when shopping. It’s okay! Or rather, it was.

A new wireless standard, 802.11ac, is rolling out to consumers, providing 3x faster speeds. But we’re currently in a transition period where devices with the old standard are still the norm and the number of devices with the new standard remains limited.

If you’re not up-to-date on the latest technology trends, deciding which device to purchase can be a bit overwhelming. To help you sort through the nearly countless number of machines in the market, we’ve narrowed down five easy points to remember when shopping.

Buy for Tomorrow
This advice can apply to nearly any technology purchase. Devices equipped with the old, 802.11n wireless standard might be fine for today’s use, but consider the future with the increase of video streaming, the rapid rise of multiple-device households, longer connections to the cloud for syncing and back, and the proliferation of Wi-Fi enabled devices of all kinds (the “Internet of Things”). Video streaming is especially important to consider as Cisco recently predicted that online video will soon make up 79 percent of all IP traffic, and already nearly half of Americans have a tablet or e-reader.

Don’t Assume
Not all Wi-Fi is the same. When a product touts “the latest Wi-Fi,” don’t assume that 802.11ac is inside — many products still use the old, 802.11n standard. Ask questions and find out the specific Wi-Fi included in the product. Be sure to choose dual-band 802.11ac products for maximum Wi-Fi connectivity flexibility. A dual-band 802.11ac product can connect to older 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks, which use the 2.4 GHz band, and also switch to the much faster 5 GHz band when it is available.

Do the Math
In the vernacular of the new multispeed Wi-Fi standards, the number of send-and-receive antenna configurations are noted as 1×1, 2×2, and 3×3. With these antenna configurations, 802.11ac delivers the following maximum data rates:

  • 1×1: 433 Mbps
  • 2×2: 867 Mbps
  • 3×3: 1.3 Gbps

However, the actual Wi-Fi speed shrinks dramatically in the real world – think throughput. Don’t skimp on your 802.11ac choice based on the data rate. Remember that throughput reduces the data rate speed of any Wi-Fi device by up to 50 percent. In addition, the data rate drops with each new connected device.

Upgrade Your Access Point
An 802.11ac access point (AP) or router will be able to handle your ever-growing load of Wi-Fi devices and data-heavy apps such as video streaming and gaming. If you choose a dual-band 3×3 802.11ac AP, you’ll have support for the current top speeds of the 802.11ac standard as well as for the 2.4 GHz band used by devices with the old standard. To see which options are currently in the market, check out this CNET list of suggested 802.11ac routers.

Ask for Intel
Combine an Intel® Dual Band Wireless-AC 802.11ac adapter with a 4th Generation Intel® Core™ processor and you can experience the following:

  • Intel® WiDi, for streaming content from your PC to your TV
  • Intel® WiFi Hotspot Assistant, to sidestep time-consuming logins
  • Intel® Smart Connect Technology, for automatic updates to your email, social networks, and more

It wasn’t so long ago that you could get away with ignoring the type of Wi-Fi technology inside a device – the old standard was set back in 2007. Today, however, you need to be more careful in your purchase to avoid being stuck with a device unable to manage the faster connection speeds we’re all demanding.

To learn more about the new 802.11ac standard, download our Wireless Guide for Dummies. We’ve also set up a special landing page for people to view the currently list of Intel-powered devices with the new standard at intel.com/wireless, and can answer any questions you may have on Twitter at @IntelWireless.