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What is 802.11n?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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802.11n is a newer standard of WiFi LAN, or wireless local area network technology, subsequent to standards 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. Its proper name is IEEE 802.11n, as it is a protocol developed by the international non-profit Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The number "11" indicates the IEEE working group assigned to 802 standards, and the "n" refers to a special task group within this body, known as TGn.

The IEEE 802.11n standard is scheduled to be reviewed by TGn in November 2005 and should debut in the marketplace sometime in mid-2006. It will reportedly offer quadruple the data transfer rates of the current fastest WiFi technology. It will also operate on the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) band, like 802.11b and 802.11g. This frequency does not require line-of-sight availability like 802.11a, which works in the regulated 5 GHz band.

To get an actual idea of the speeds expected in megabits per second (mbps), see the table below which compares the different 802.11 standards:

802.11b2.4 GHz5-11 mbps
802.11g2.4 GHz25-54 mbps
802.11a5.0 GHz25-54 mbps
802.11n2.4 GHz100-200+ mbps

IEEE expects a smooth transition to the 802.11n standard with backward compatibility built into new equipment, allowing consumers and businesses to upgrade network equipment gradually. The faster speeds will allow more robust applications to be effectively run over public hotspots and private LANs, and greater range is also projected.

Like previous advanced WiFi standards, 802.11n will utilize multiple receivers and transmitters, a technology known as MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output). This allows parallel streams of data transmissions, or spatial multiplexing. The 802.11n standard will also incorporate OFDM, or orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing. OFDM splits signal frequencies up into several modulated channels for increased throughput. Aside from private and commercial LANs, 802.11n is expected to support an array of personal electronics including handheld devices.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon191612 — On Jun 29, 2011

I agree for most use you may not get noticeably faster internet speeds for general browsing etc but for many people the performance for their WiFi N gear will be much better if they use the 5 GHz frequency.

It is therefore important if you are going to get a router to seriously consider a dual band router which can run 2.4GHz (fr G compatibility) and 5 GHz (for N devices) simultaneously.

By anon131596 — On Dec 02, 2010

I have just read that 802.11n can now have an output of up to 600Mbps. It can operate in both the 2.4GHz band or 5GHz band.

By anon96244 — On Jul 15, 2010

The speed difference between 802.11n and the older 802.11g is only apparent on the local network in most cases. Internet speed is capped by whatever plan the user is on, and only the fastest plans are in excess of 25-54mbps, the limit of 802.11g. In other words, 802.11g is already many times faster than the average person's Internet connection.

Businesses/people that have their computers networked together (that's where you see the speed increase) *and* people who have Internet connections in excess of 25 mbps are the ones to benefit from 802.11n. Bear in mind the -average- Internet connection is about 1.5mbps for DSL and 5 mbps for cable. A *really* fast connection is 10mbps. Faster connections are certainly available but are pricey and are not what most people have.

By JoseJames — On Jul 14, 2010

I think that the speed differnes between wireless standards 802.11g and 802.11n are not significant enough for the average internet user to see a difference.

An exception to this might be people who are fans of online gaming. Even then, much of the slowness in a wireless connection comes from the initial radio contact rather then the stream of data coming over an already established link.

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