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I currently own a LinkSys-WRT54GL 802.11a/b/g wireless router, and my ISP is Comcast Cable providing me with 15 Mbps (that's bits per second, I believe) download speed.

I am wondering if there is any benefit with using an 802.11n wireless router to access the Internet? The maximum theoretical speed of the WRT54GL router is 54 Mbps (802.11g), which is faster than the 15 Mbps provided by my ISP.

I know that 802.11n has a max bandwidth of 300 Mbps, and it would help for intra-house transfers, such as streaming video from one computer to another.

But is there any benefit to 802.11n for Internet activity, such as web browswing, gaming, and streaming video from Netflix?

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decreased latency maybe? N is also supposed to be better at working through/around walls etc –  Xantec Mar 17 '11 at 22:35

4 Answers 4

Wireless N has much greater transmission to cover more area or a larger area than g. Your n router will broadcast further such as to other buildings that g would not come close to.

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this is a very vague answer, and common knowledge, he's asking for more details. –  Sickest Sep 12 at 4:32

Your old router capable of running 802.11g will do just fine for 15Mbps internet speed as long as your client does not go into the weak signal zone.

So in terms of internet speed, upgrading to a wireless N router will not help much.

The only reason to upgrade to a wireless n router would be to increase your wireless speed when you are doing stuff within your home network, example transferring a file, streaming video internally etc.

Furthermore, you can do a simple test of your internet speed here: http://www.speedtest.net/

If you want, you can use a laptop to do a test to figure out if your internet speed is decreasing due to your wireless connection speed.

  1. Turn off the wireless connection on the laptop (through software or hardware button) and plug in a Ethernet cable from your router to your laptop.
  2. Do a speed test at http://www.speedtest.net/ and check what your Internet speed is. Do 2 or 3 tests to make sure that you have the correct numbers for download and upload speeds.
  3. Unplug the Ethernet wire and turn on wireless connection and do the same test again to check Internet speed. Again do 2 or 3 tests to ensure you have the correct numbers.

If the speeds are the same for your download and upload through both wired and wireless that means your wireless router is handling your Internet speed just fine and that an upgrade of router to wireless N will not help your Internet speed.

A side Note: This test might not work if your Internet speed is above 30Mbps and you are using a ISP who's bandwidth varies at different times during any given day (such as cable internet) and at the time of test your Internet speed is somewhat below 30Mbps. In this case you might get the same results through wire and wireless because even through a wire your Internet speed won't go above 30Mbps. In such a case, do the test when your maximum Internet speed can be achieved and then this test will show the difference between a wired connection and wireless connection.

So if you do this test at a time where maximum Internet speed can be achieved then this test should show you if your wireless connection is slowing down your internet speed.

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There is a problem with these so called maximum theoretical speeds of wireless routers. They are signaling speeds and they do not represent the speed of sustained data transfer through router, so even if those 54 Mb/s look higher than 15 Mb/s, that may not be so in reality.

Furthermore WiFi speeds are highly dependent on correct settings for both router and network card and sometimes even if computer is wirelessly connected at high speed to access point, some device in the area could be slowing it down.

Another thing to consider is signal strength and how it will affect computers. Sometimes computers will decrease speed of wireless connection if signal is too weak.

So to cut the long story short:

Just by analyzing, you probably won't be able to determine if the router is bottleneck on your network. My advice is to first connect a computer using wired connection to the router and do some Internet speed testing, in order to see what your speed really is.

After that, you should do tests on your internal WLAN to see if it can sustain such speeds.

Tool I like to use for speed testing is iperf (link to Window version). It is a bit hard to set up, but it will provide you with information on how fast your network is.

First step would be to test speed between one computer using wired connection and one computer using wireless connection. This should be able to simulate connection to Internet well enough and will provide you with information if the router is bottleneck. You could also do an Internet speed test on a wirelessly connected computer, but iperf will provide better results, unless modem-router connection is the bottleneck (and on such low speeds it usually isn't).

Next step would be to see what speed you can get between two wirelessly connected computers. It will probably be lower than the wired to wireless speed.

To run iperf, extract it to a directory on one of your drives and open command prompt. Navigate to directly where it is stored and run it. To go one directory up, use cd .. and use cd dir-name do enter a directory. You can also use tab to automatically complete names of long directories.

You'll need iperf on both computers for test, and one will ahve to be a server and one a client. On server run iperf -s and on client run iperf -c IPaddressOfServer

Do note that 802.11n access point will be affected by all problems affecting g access point, but will usually be affected to a lower degree.

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Well, first we need to clear up some misconceptions.

Firstly, wireless never operates at the quoted speeds.

True, the actual wireless communication may go at, say, 54Mbps, but the actual throughput of data is typically 60% of that. This is for two reasons:

  1. As well as the actual data, you have protocol and signalling information going over the same link. This takes up some of the available bandwidth.
  2. Wireless communication is very prone to errors, so data often has to be retransmitted.

For a 54g wireless you can expect to get around 20 to 30 Mbps of actual throughput.

Secondly, and this is the biggie, 802.11n does not work at 300Mbps. It works at 150Mbps, and some routers and adaptors allow a dual channel mode where it uses two channels at once in order to double the data rate. In order to use this mode, all wireless devices on your network have to both support it and be configured to use it. So if your laptop has built-in 54g then no device will be able to use the bonded 300Mbps when your laptop is turned on.

On a single-channel 802.11n network you can typically hope to get an absolute maximum of 80Mbps throughput on a good day if you have no other networks nearby and all your devices run at 802.11n speeds. I have 54g devices on my network and my 802.11n devices never get above 38Mbps.

So yes, internally you may see a speed increase, but it won't be the blistering speeds you are expecting from what they advertise. I have had to resort to 200Mbps HomePlug for my video streaming because the 802.11n is just too slow.

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If I go to 802.11n, I would get either the Linksys E3000 or the Apple Airport Extreme, both of which are dual-band (5.0 Ghz for 802.11n and 2.4Ghz for 802.11abg). Right now, I am getting 15 Mbs Internet download speed from Comcast through my old Linksys WRT54GL, which is the advertised speed from Comcast, so I'm pretty happy with that. That leaves about 54-15 = ~39 Mbps for intra-house streaming. No one else uses my wifi network except for me. –  stackoverflowuser2010 Mar 18 '11 at 17:51

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