Since the release of IEEE 802.11 back in 1997, we've seen a steady and constant improvement to the wifi standard, but what does it all mean?

Intellinet Wireless Super G Router, 108 Mbps

Intellinet Wireless Super G Router, 108 Mbps

$52.81

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IEEE 802.11 Defined

IEEE, or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, designated the number 802.11 as the nomenclature for what we know as "wifi" wireless data protocols. Each individual advancement and standard of 802.11 is given a letter to differentiate it from the other ammendments. The most popular standards released so far have been 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n.

Brief History

802.11b was formalized on the 2.4 GHz frequency in 1999 and the first products that employed this standard began selling in 2001. In 2003, IEEE introduced 802.11g which increased to data transfer rates by almost 5 times with 54 mb/s. 802.11n, the latest popular ammendment has barely been released and is currently being built into devices.

Intellinet Wireless G Router, 802.11g

Intellinet Wireless G Router, 802.11g

$55.95

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What's the Difference?

802.11b: Travels on the 2.4 GHz frequency, transfers 11 megabits per second (that's 1.375 megabytes per second).

802.11g: It also travels on the 2.4 GHz frequency, but transfers 54 megabits per second (that's 6.75 megabytes per second).

802.11n: It can travel on either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequencies, transfers 248 megabits per second (31 megabytes per second)

Why Does 802.11n Kick So Much Trash?

The main thing 802.11n has going for it is its new MIMO feature. MIMO, or "multi-in/multi-out" features more antennas and the ability to send/receive more data at once.

Wireless Draft 2.0 802.11n Router

Wireless Draft 2.0 802.11n Router

$72.95

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Before MIMO, wireless routers had a hard time understanding "Multipath" signals. These are the signals that bounce around walls and such before finally hitting the router, and they arrive a little later than the line-of-site signals because they've travelled over longer distances. 802.11g and 802.11b routers haven't been able to use these signals to their advantage because they would be recognized as interference. Not only could the older routers not understand Multipath signals, but these signals would actually slow data rates.

MIMO's multiple antennas can now send and receive at much faster speeds, thanks to Multipath signals. This, along with SDM (Spatial Division Multiplexing) gives 802.11n the ability to send and receive data over independent spatial streams under the same frequency. In simpler terms, 802.11n can make multiple and independent transfer streams over a single frequency.