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When it comes to wi-fi, "n" stands for "new"

By JASON BAILEY
Web/IT Admin

Like many technologies, wireless networking has evolved a number of times since it's inception. Today it's in the process of leaping forward once more.

The technology generally referred to as wi-fi is actually a series of wireless networking specifications, or amendments, that are collectively known as IEEE 802.11. Each wi-fi specification or amendment to 802.11 is denoted by a letter of the alphabet. The most common ones in use today are a, b, g, i and n.

Today, wireless "b" and wireless "g" are by far the most common, with maximum speeds of 11 Mbps and 45 Mbps (megabits per second), respectively. Both specifications have become so common that virtually all laptop computers built nowadays support both of them.

But a new 802.11 specification, dubbed "n", increases wireless speeds to more than 100 Mbps.

Such drastic increases in speed are accomplished using a technique called "MIMO," which stands for "multiple input, multiple output." This clever technique uses multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to achieve faster data transfer speeds and better signal reception and coverage.

The problem is, it's still in draft stages and hasn't been finalized yet.

What this means is that the specification is subject to change until it is finalized - something that isn't slated to happen until November of 2009. No one really knows whether the draft will actually face revisions or not.

This hasn't stopped manufacturers from building draft "n" networking equipment, however. Most major wi-fi manufacturers already provide a host of "draft n" products.

The potential problem for consumers today is that if the specification actually does change during the draft period, any previously purchased "draft n" equipment may be totally incompatible with forthcoming certified "n" equipment.

Whether or not consumers should buy "draft n" wireless equipment is a decision left to the consumer.

The bottom line, however, is that consumers should be aware of the potential risks of incompatibility they may face with current "draft n" wi-fi equipment.




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