Wireless-n routers reviewed

Introduction

Setting up a wireless network, or any network in fact, used to be something of a black art, understood only by a few gurus in the IT departments of large corporations or universities.

However, in the last couple of years, wireless, or WiFi, networks have become commonplace. Many internet service providers (ISPs) provide home users with a wireless router as a standard part of their subscription, and large areas of the country are now covered by wireless networks set up in coffee shops, train stations and other public places.

The official technical term for this wireless technology is ‘802.11’, but different versions of the technology have developed over the last few years, with each new version offering even greater speeds. The first version of WiFi that was widely used was 802.11b, which offered data transfer speeds of around 11 megabits per second (Mbps). This was followed by 802.11g, which increased its speed to 54Mbps. Most of the wireless routers that ISPs give to their customers are still 802.11g models, and these provide perfectly adequate performance for most home and business users.

However, the latest generation of wireless routers use a standard known as 802.11n, or wireless-n, that provides speeds of up to 270Mbps. Strictly speaking these are known as ‘draft-n’ routers, as the IEEE – the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which oversees the development of international technology standards – is still mulling over the final details of the wireless-n standard.

You might think that this sort of speed is unnecessary. After all, most people’s internet connections run at 2-8Mbps, so having a wireless-n router at home or in the office isn’t going to improve the speed of your internet access. However, there are times when the computers on your home or office network need to communicate with each other at very high speed.

If you’ve downloaded a few films from the iTunes Store and need to transmit them to another Mac or the Apple TV in your living room, then you’ll welcome the speed of a wireless-n network. It will provide a much smoother playback of the video files as they travel across the network. Backing up large numbers of files onto a Time Capsule or simply transferring large files between machines will also benefit from the speed of a wireless-n network.

Existing 802.11g routers are cheaper and will probably meet the needs of most home users for the time being. However, buying a 802.11n router effectively future-proofs your home network, so you won’t need to buy a new router this time next year.