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Now is the time to embrace "N"

By JASON BAILEY
Sun Advocate/Emery County Progress

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 - but this time, it's more of a formality.

After a very lengthy and arduous process, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) ratified the 802.11n wireless networking specification, which had been in draft status for quite some time.

The news opens the door for technology manufacturers to begin producing equipment that is compliant with the specification. Many avid computer users will welcome the news.

But not everyone is necessarily familiar with this new wireless specification. Wireless technologies tend to be one of the most interesting and equally confusing things to many computer users.

The wireless 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 this 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 "n" specification is also backwards compatible with most of the prior specifications, which means any equipment that supports "n" specification should also support the older "b" and "g".

Until recently, 802.11n was only a draft specification and was subject to change. But now that "n" has been formally ratified and approved by the IEEE, the specification is no longer in limbo. This means that consumers don't have to worry about compatibility when buying wireless "n" equipment.




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