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If a wireless router has a maximum data rate of 54 megabits per second over the air, does that mean 54Mbit/sec per client or is it shared between them?

For example if there were 10 devices all trying to saturate the bandwidth, would they all be able to do 54Mbit/sec or would each get around 5.4Mbit/sec?

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It is shared.

The best situation is up to 300 mbit/sec total. (e.g. 1 AP, 1 client). In practise it is a lot less because there is a lot of overhead in wireless and because speed drops rapidly if you move away from the AP.

Expect this to get significantly worse when there are multiple clients. E.g. 1 AP, 1 client, expect 300 mbit/sec total (real world in a nearby room: 10-15 MB/sec)
1 AP, 2 clients, (both active). Both maybe 5 MB/sec due to lots of retransmissions.
1 AP, 3 clients, ... even worse.

If you do not use wireless all the time (e.g. browse. download a page, read it while WiFi is idle) this works fine. If you have multiple computers running torrents or similar then you really do not want WiFi.


Post edit your post:

For example if there were 10 devices all trying to saturate the bandwidth, would they all be able to do 54Mbit/sec or would each get around 5.4Mbit/sec?

Best case each would get 5.4mbit.
Likely case: A lot less.

Note that wired does have cumulative throughput though most switches.

E.g.

               WIRED!

Computer A ----- S       A can communicate at 100mbit/sec to  B
                 w       At the same time 
Computer B ----- i       C can communicate at 100mbit/sec to  D
                 t 
Computer C ----- c       If A tries to communicate at 100mbit to both C and D
                 h       then speed will be shared
Computer D -----/
  • And if your communicating to the internet your internet speed is probably even lower than that. Best case you get 3-5mb/s total for all internet, anything more your going pay and arm and leg for, unless you live where google fiber exists. – cybernard Jul 13 '13 at 21:31
  • Fibre is not all that uncommon outside the US. – Hennes Jul 13 '13 at 21:35
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It's shared, but only in the sense that it's a "half-duplex" medium, meaning only 1 device can actually talk on the wire at once.

So if all other devices are quiet, the reminaing client would get near 54Mbps speeds (assuming everything else is ideal).

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