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What should I realistically expect with 802.11n?

Last response: in Wireless Networking
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January 25, 2013 4:16:01 PM

Long story short, I recently started upgrading my home wireless network. I'm on the 25/25 Verizon FiOS plan and have been using the Actiontec 802.11b/g router. Range has been OK (I get slow speeds at the perimeter of my 1800-sq-ft ranch house and lose connection at the fringes on occasion; I can't connect to wifi when I'm standing right outside the house). I got the urge to upgrade when my new XBOX told me I might not be able to view high-definition content without and 802.11n upgrade.

When I read that 802.11n can yield 300 Mbps link speed (vs. 54 Mbps on 802.11b/g) and almost 4X the range, I was sold on the upgrade. I realize my internet speed will still be the bottleneck for internet access, but I can improve PC-to-XBOX streaming with better link speeds. And the potential to be able to sit on my back patio and access my network would be a plus with the improved range.

So I picked up an inexpensive Linksys e900 router. Problem is, I don't know if it was a good choice, or if my expectations were too high.

I've set it up to run wireless N only (leaving my Actiontec to handle the b/g; routers on channels 1 and 11, respectively). Configuration appears to be good (I'm no stranger to router configuration). The b/g router is on a desk in my home office, the n router is on the top shelf of a bookshelf nearby.

I am getting better link speeds, but not what I'd expect. My laptop shows that my Linksys signal is available at 144 Mbps. My tablet connects at 130 Mbps. My Android phone at 74. Right off the bat I was concerned because this router should theoretically indicate 300 Mbps link speeds. My laptop is telling me that only 1/2 of that speed is available.

So I proceeded to check signal range. I was shocked when I found that my devices were showing about the same signal as my b/g router. I'm still having issues at approximately the same locations in my home. Speed slows down consierably at the fringes of my home (no more than 30 feet from the router). I still can't get a signal right outside of my door. I installed a wifi analyzer on my Android tablet and found the signal from the 802.11n and 802.11 b/g routers to be about 3-4 dB difference in the room with the router and just about the same everywhere else in the house.

Any thoughts? I expected a signficant difference in the speed and signal benchmarks that I'm observing. Poor choice in router? Expectations too high?

Thanks.

January 25, 2013 4:57:24 PM

Well there are 2 things to look at.

First is the connection speed. Yes, the router can handle up to 300mbps, however you have to have both ends of the connection that can work at that speed. Most laptops will only use the 130 or 144mbps adapters (unless you purchase a 300mbps usb adapter) and tablets will use even slower ones, due to not needing the extra bandwidth.

Now the range is the hard part. Are you using the 2.4GHz band? or the 5GHz band?

The 3x range is in an "open" environment, with no walls or environmental variables that can affect range. Depending on the age and construction materials used in your house (lead paint, plaster, etc. ) that will significantly decrease the range, no matter what kind of signal you use. Every wall the signal passes through will decrease range, even if the materials are not necessarily difficult to pass through.

Unfortunately the router you picked up is going to have some range issues due to the antenna design. Routers with external antenna's are always going to offer the best range, and they can always be upgraded with higher gain antennas.

What if you were to set up the N router on one side of the house where you use more entertainment centered devices, and the G router on the other side of the house where performance is not as important? You can set them up as AP's and broaden your range that way.

Also, when using Wireless N, the 5GHz band will always have less range, due to the smaller radio waves not having the penetrating power that the larger 2.4GHz waves due. The signal will depreciate much faster.
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January 28, 2013 7:45:09 PM

Thanks for the response. I've since returned the Linksys e900 and purchased a Belkin dual-band model locally. It's definitely more stable on the 2.4 band than the Linksys (I'm getting good speeds at the perimiter of my house, although the signal definitely drops off in strength). It has the advantage of the 5 Ghz band (which my tablet uses); since i'm the only one in the neigborhood operating at 5 Ghz, I get a great signal at longer distances with this one.

All in all, the replacement cost me 5X as much, but I think it was worth it.
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