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There is a lot of wireless networking equipment available that claim to follow either the 802.11n final specification or, alternatively, (one of) its draft versions. Are there any appreciable differences in functionality between the final and draft 2.0 versions of the specification? For example, is it possible for devices following different versions to be incompatible?

Edit note: The original question targeted draft 2.0. However, this question is probably relevant to any of the draft versions. Draft 2.0 also happens to be the first released version, and is used on many devices.

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Yes -- you should get a certified router if the difference in cost is not an issue. –  drewk Jun 8 '10 at 16:59
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To everyone who closed "We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise". Compatibility and differences between revisions of standards is something that can be represented by facts and expertise. You simply need to look at the compatibility across revisions and indicate which features might not be in certain revisions. This is not something that is subjective or open to debate. Simply state the differences in feature sets and compatibilities/incompatibilities between the drafts. This can be done without stating any subjective opinions. –  AaronLS Sep 19 '12 at 5:04

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Wi-Fi Alliance added some important compatibility tests between their "draft N" and their "final N" certification programs. I recommend buying devices that have received official "final N" certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance. There's no good reason for things that are still on the market today to not have final-N certification. Companies that are still selling draft-N stuff and haven't gotten it re-certified as final-N either can't, because their stuff doesn't measure up, or they won't because they don't care much about updating this after they ship (good luck getting bug fixes out of them).

But that said, a bigger thing to look for as you're buying a router in mid-2014 is to get something that has dual-band concurrent 3x3. Being able to use both bands at the same time is a huge flexibility and performance win, and modern 3x3 radios can support data rates up to 450mbps, whereas the older (but still more common) 2x2 radios can only go up to 300mbps.

You want to see a Wi-Fi certificate that looks something like this.

Update 2014: Since mid-2013, you should be looking for dual-band concurrent 3x3 802.11ac (well, it'll be 3x3 N in 2.4GHz (216Mbps when using just 20MHz-wide channels to be a good neighbor for other networks and leave room for Wi-Fi) , but 3x3 AC (1300Mbps) in 5GHz)

You want to see a Wi-Fi certificate that looks something like this.

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The differences can be substantial, mostly in range and interoperability. –  drewk Jun 8 '10 at 16:58
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There is little difference between draft 2 and final. The additional final features are optional anyhow: networkworld.com/news/2009/… –  AaronLS Sep 19 '12 at 5:00
    
Not disagreeing with your statements, but I just wanted to note that. –  AaronLS Sep 19 '12 at 5:11
    
The link to the Wi-Fi certificate leads me to a login page of the Wi-Fi alliance. Could you please fix the link? –  Bart Arondson May 20 at 12:06
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@BartArondson I fixed the link rot, but also decided to update for the AC era. Since mid-2013, no one should be buying N gear anymore. Buy 802.11ac. –  Spiff May 20 at 16:09

The actual hardware in the router should be fine. The "draft" designation just means that the IEEE hadn't finalized the 802.11n standard at the time the equipment was made. They should be able to change this with a firmware update unless the IEEE makes a drastic change to the standard, which will not happen in all likelihood.

Get what you want if you need it and as long as it's from a big-name company there will be a firmware update to bring it to final 802.11n status.

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