The Wireless-N standard, properly known as IEEE 802.11n, has been in draft mode for over three years but is due for final approval in April. As such, the spate of Wireless-N devices that networking companies have had in the background for nearly as long is finally moving into the spotlight.
Linksys offers the WRT300N-UK Wireless N Broadband Router as a general-purpose, high-speed wireless router for home or small office use. It doesn’t include an ADSL modem, which you’ll need for a shared Internet link. The 802.11n standard specifies a transfer rate of 540Mbps, 10 times faster than 802.11g (Linksys claims 12x in tests against its own 802.11g kit), and a range of 50m indoors.
Physically the unit is a strange beast. It can be mounted flat on the desk or vertically in a supplied stand, has three aerials – the middle one looking like one of K-9′s ears – and a series of indicators on the front panel that are so dim it’s hard to tell which ones are on. At the back are four Ethernet ports and a fifth one for that ADSL modem.
The unit supports six wireless security protocols: PSK-Personal, PSK2-Personal, PSK-Enterprise, RADIUS and WEP. You’re advised to use one of them to prevent unwanted users jacking into your network.
As a real-world test, we took a 1GB mixed basket of files and copied them first across an 802.11g network, using a Linksys WRT54G router. This took a second over eight minutes. We then set up an 802.11n link, using the WRT300N-UK and the complementary WMP300N-UK Linksys Wireless-N PCI card and repeated the file transfer.
This time it took 4:53, so hardly 12 times the speed, though there was a 64 percent increase. The Linksys utility for the Wireless-N card reported a peak transfer rate of 300Mbps, but averaged closer to 200Mbps, some way below the theoretical maximum.
This test was completed with the router and card around 4m from each other, so signal strength was at 100 percent. We moved the two devices 10m apart, with a couple of partition walls between, and the basket of files took 6:05 to transfer, the Linksys software reporting a transfer rate of 117Mbps. The range is better than with Linksys’s 802.11g hardware, but doesn’t appear four times better as the box claims.
Within six months, virtually all wireless routers and cards will be to the 802.11n standard and prices will have dropped. At the moment, though, you’re paying a premium as an early adopter for a product which isn’t that much faster than 802.11g.
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