A popular topic in magazines today is whether or not to upgrade your existing wireless equipment to the new pre-draft standard of 802.11n (dubbed pre-n). 802.11n is a new wireless technology which will not be ratified until next year. What is 802.11n? In short, it provides faster wireless speeds and better range than existing 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g technology. Whereas the fastest speed of 802.11g is 54 megabits per second (mbps), 802.11n promises speeds up to 300 mbps. This will surely please TiVo users. But should you ditch the router and cards you already have to buy pre-n equipment?
Mike Hogan of Entrepreneur magazine says yes. His rationale? He hooked up some equipment himself and it worked and it was nice.
In reality though, most people will probably not experience the seamless integration that Hogan bragged about. For starters, it is important to remember that 802.11n technology is not actually here yet. What is on the shelf is "pre-n" equipment. This equipment has not been certified to the 802.11n standard, which means you may experience compatibility issues when using different brands of equipment. For example, you may be used to using your Netgear brand wireless card on your laptop to connect to wireless access points anywhere you travel. But if you buy a Netgear brand pre-n card, you may have trouble connecting to some access points made by companies other than Netgear. Simply put, if your existing wireless network has equipment from various vendors, you may experience compatibility problems right out of the box.
Andrew Garcia provided a great technical analysis in the July 24th issue of eWeek magazine. Garcia pointed out that draft versions of the equipment "may not be compatible with shipping" versions of the equipment, meaning the actual 802.11n equipment released down the road. Garcia went on to note that "users could be looking at significant upgrades or even total overhauls of the draft based gear" once the 802.11n standard becomes mainstream.
Will you experience trouble as Garcia did, or will your new equipment work without issues as was the case with Hogan's? I can't tell you. But one thing to ask yourself right now is what would be the purpose of spending money on this pre-n equipment, knowing of possible compatibility and functionality problems? If you transfer hundreds of megabytes from PC to PC on your intranet, and are willing to shell out big bucks for a new pre-n router and pre-n cards for all of your PCs (both routers and cards start above $100.00 each), you may benefit from the faster transfer times. But if the primary use of your wireless network is so that multiple PCs on your network can access the Internet, you are not going to see much difference. The fastest cable and DSL broadband connections currently top out at around 9 mbps, so whether your wireless card can connect at 54 mbps or 300 mbps, it won't make a difference to your Internet speed. Kind of like having a card that can go 180 mph vs. a car that can go 250 mph. What difference does it make when you can't really drive over 75 mph anyway? Simply put, the faster speeds of pre-n equipment is not enough to justify its high cost.
What about range? If you're having coverage issues with your wireless network, you may be considering a shift to pre-n equipment to fix that. But if you are concerned about the costs, why not take a look at existing 802.11b and 802.11g long range products which can deliver ranges as good or better than pre-n gear, yet won't break the bank and WILL work seamlessly with your existing wireless network? Shameless plug in 3-2-1...we carry the Senao NL-2511CD ext2 PCMCIA card, for example, which has two external antenna ports, which, when used with an external antenna or two, will give you phenomenal coverage. If that laptop in the far corner of your house is not getting a good signal, buying one Senao card and antenna is a lot more cost effective than upgrading every single piece of equipment on your wireless network. Plus, when the 802.11n standard is finally ratified at some point in late 2007, it will be backward compatible with B and G networks, meaning you can continue to use the Senao card. The same cannot be said about pre-n equipment for sale in stores right now.