Q: What is the difference in all the wireless formats (802.11 b, a, g, n)?

A: For the most part, if you are interested in wireless networking for Internet access, it doesn’t matter much which implementation you go with, as they are all faster than any Internet access commonly available. However, if you are interested in wireless networking to share files across a local network, then the latest “n” standards may be of interest to you.

The 802.11 standard defines the types of wireless networks we are commonly familiar with today. The original standard (802.11 without a letter behind it) was not commonly used in the mainstream. Released in 1997, it topped out at 2 Mbps/Sec.

802.11b was the first mainstream wireless network implementation, defined in 1999. It uses the 2.4 GHz frequency range and runs at 11 Mbps/sec. 802.11b eventually was termed “Wi-Fi” by the then newly created Wi-Fi Alliance.

Released in 2003, 802.11g was the next implementation in the 2.4 GHz frequency range, supporting 54 Mbps/sec. It is also backward compatible with 802.11b. Some proprietary implementations of 802.11g can support speeds of 108 or 125 Mbps/sec. The Wi-Fi Alliance updated the “Wi-Fi” term to include a letter indicating which standard is being referred to (i.e. Wi-Fi b or Wi-Fi g).

802.11n is the next in the line of 2.4 GHz family. Currently, the “n” standard is not yet ratified, but there are already products available that use the proposed standard. These are called “draft n” or “pre-n” products. 802.11n will support speeds of up to 200 Mbps/sec, and will be backwards compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g.

Some of you may be wondering, “what about 802.11a?” Others are probably asking, “there’s an 802.11a?” In 1999, 802.11a was an extension to the original 802.11 standard that uses the 5.8 GHz frequency range. It supports 54 Mbps/sec, but since it does not use the 2.4 GHz frequency, it is not compatible with the 802.11b/g/n standards. As the letter sequence indicates, 802.11a was actually created before 802.11b. However, 802.11b was first to mainstream market. Due to the explosive popularity of 802.11b, the fact that 802.11a was not backwards compatible with 802.11b hindered its acceptance.

For more help with networking, wireless or not, feel free to contact Marcel.