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What are advantages & differences between routers wireless g, n, n+ and dual band?

Posted on 2011-09-12
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Last Modified: 2012-05-12
There are so many different types of wireless routers.  My understanding is that wireless n is faster and stronger than wireless g, but I have read comments in the experts exchange database where members using wireless n have had bad results, especially if there is no direct line of sight between the computer and the router.  I will be using the router for computers on 2 different floors.  I understand the theoretical benefit to a dual band router, but is it really any better in practice.  What is wireless n+ & would it require modification to a computer to use it if the computer already can use wireless n?  Finally, there are a lot of different models of router from the same manufacturer.  What should I be looking for in deciding what to buy (including issues with firewalls)?  I know that in most cases, just because something is higher priced doesn't mean it is any better and that manufacturers often overstate things like speed.  I also don't want to pay for more features than I need.  If anyone has recommendations on particular hardware that they use, I would appreciate it.  Thanks for your input.
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Question by:bdrichatty
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Expert Comment

by:Davis McCarn
ID: 36529239
What has to be considered in choosing a router are the clients.  If even one of them is G, the router will slow to G speeds every time it connects and, in many cases, N routers are less capable in G mode than a native G router.
The one that bugs me silly, next, is the propensity to do away with external antennas.  Having antennas lets you aim the wireless signal to improve coverage and, since most are removable, you can further add amplifiers, stronger antennas, or place an antenna on a wire so you can move it (usually about 6 feet) to improve coverage.
What is of note is that newer "super G" or "108Mbps"  routers have much better noise rejection meaning the phone, microwave, or Nextel is far less likely to blow people off of the network.  The 2.4 Ghz spectrum is awfully crowded so this is a major plus.
Another consideration is MIMO, which, in short, means there are multiple wireless connections in the router.  All of the users willl share the routers bandwidth, so MIMO doubles their speed.
Rats, the only Super G MIMO routers now available are used or crazy priced.
The D-Links; however, can have their wireless type controlled: http://www.buy.com/prod/d-link-dir-615-wireless-n-300-router-d-link-dir-615-wireless-router/204556589.html
How many computers are you planning to connect?
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by:Darr247
Darr247 earned 350 total points
ID: 36529308
> I understand the theoretical benefit to a dual band router, but is it really any better in practice.
That depends if you have lots of competing 2.4GHz networks nearby. If so, then having 5GHz available will allow you to escape most such interference, assuming all your devices have dual-band capability too. 5GHz has a lower range than 2.4GHz but it should reach directly through the next floor without too many problems; The more-acute the angle grows, the thicker that barrier becomes, effectively. In cases where another AP is needed on another floor and running cat5e isn't possible, I usually recommend powerline adapters to effectively hard wire the AP to the rest of the network.

If you're in a rural area with no other networks nearby, 2.4GHz should work fine, even with only 3 non-overlapping channels available. Even using 20MHz 11n can still give you double the bandwidth of 11g.



> What is wireless n+ & would it require modification to a computer to use it if the computer already can use wireless n?
I don't believe "N+" is a standard, so they could be using it to indicate MIMO diversity, or that it can use the USB port to add network-attached storage or share a printer.  But if you have a computer that supports 11n, then it should work with wireless N+ on the same frequency band[s] (2.4GHz and/or 5GHz).



> Finally, there are a lot of different models of router from the same manufacturer.
> What should I be looking for in deciding what to buy (including issues with firewalls)?
The axiom "nobody has ever got fired for buying Cisco" comes to mind. And Linksys is the next-best, followed by D-Link. In my opinion.

Cisco uses a lot of proprietary hardware and firmware, though. But they often release GPL source code for their Broadcom-based Linksys offerings, which is then extended by 3rd-party firmware developers such as DD-WRT, HyperWRT, OpenWRT, et al. Buffalo also cooperates with 3rd-party developers; Netgear and Belkin, not so much (that may be because of using mostly Atheros chipsets and Atheros doesn't release GPL source like Broadcom... D-Link uses Atheros radio chipsets in many of their offerings, but they typically offer more-elaborate user interfaces on stock APs/routers, so people aren't as inclined to want to replace the firmware on those).

Peruse the previous buyers' reviews if you can, though all raves doesn't mean you'll be 100% satisfied... they can alert you to possible problems before you buy.
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Author Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36529430
I do have some follow-up questions based on the solutions provided.  1) DavisMcCarn mentioned that if even 1 laptop is wireless G, the router will slow to the wireless G speed.  I am planning on using up to 4 laptops on the network.  I believe that at least 3 of the laptops are wireless n capable. The router will be connected to a desktop via ethernet cord so I assume that whether it has wireless capability is irrelevant.  2) Dar247 seems to say that dual band only helps if the devices have dual band capability.  How to I check that?  I don't believe I have seen anything regarding dual band in laptop specs for laptops more than 1 year old.  Some of the dual band routers require you to switch to the band you want.  Others say they automatically switch depending on what is working better.  If the router switches to 5 GHz, will the transition be seamless while people are online?  Thanks again.
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Expert Comment

by:Davis McCarn
ID: 36530747
The N specification includes both 2.4 and 5.1Ghz frequencies and not all N devices use the 5.1.  Any that do are "dual band"; but, you would need to Google each device by its model number (from the device manager) to get it's specs.
You would do yourself a huge favor to connect the internet (WAN) directly to the router and the desktop to one of it's LAN ports.  Is there some reason you don't plan to do that?
Since G is faster than most ISP's offerings, I wouldn't be too concerned about the speed with 4 systems attached.

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Author Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36532281
I currently do have the internet cable modem connected to my existing router & the desktop connected to one of the router's LAN ports.  I currently suffer from periodic interruptions in wireless service (usually less than a minute) using my G router, expecially when more than 1 computer is using wireless at the same time.  I was told that switching to an N might help the situation because there is increased bandwidth of N over G.  From the expert advice I am receiving through Experts Exchange, it sounds the alleged benefits may not be true.  Also, there is no mention of dual band capability with my wireless card in my laptop.  From your comment, I assume that this means that a dual band router would do nothing more for me than the standard wireless N (unless I make sure that all of the laptops have wireless N and in order to benefit from the 5.1MHz band, the card would have to have dual band capability as well).  Otherwise, I will just have to deal with the possibility of interference on the 2.4MHz band.  Are most computers now sold with dual band or is this something that almost everyone needs to upgrade if they want to benefit from a dual band router? Am I correct in any/all of these conclusions?  Further thoughts?  Thanks.
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Author Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36532520
As a follow-up for anyone following this chain of questions/responses, following is some info regarding wireless N from someone who works for HP, but was providing information on a personal level, not as a representative of HP.  (I have the Broadcom 4314 wireless card to which he refers.)

"Here are some basic facts around Wireless N...

Wireless N Class operates in 2 frequency Band 2.4 & 5 GHz....
300 Mbps+ can be achieve only with 40 MHz Channel Width and if you have 2x2 Antenna Configuration (MIMO) both on transmission and receiving side.
In 2.4 GHz Frequancy Band, You will need to set Router to Auto Mode (Channel Bonding) to Achieve 40 MHz.
It will not support WPA and WEP wireless encryption.
On the Router side, they come is multiple types of  router sold as well, so you need to be careful in what you are buying into as well...

Single N Band Wireless Router: Works in 2.4 GHz only. Ex. Cisco Valet Wireless HotSpot, Linksys E1000, Netgear WNR2000
Selectable Dual Band Router: Works in either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz but not at the same time. Ex. Linksys 2000
Hybrid Dual-Band Router: Operates in both 2.4 & 5 Ghz bands, but 2.4 Ghz only works in the older Wireless-G Std.
Simultaneous Dual-N Band Wireless Router: Operates in both 2.4 & 5 Ghz bands Simultaneously by having independent Radios for 2.4 & 5 GHz. Due to independent Radios, these router have 2 SSID.
Coming to Broadcom 4314, yes, 73 Mbps is the best you can go...but there is a simple tweak in the driver that can push it to 150 Mbps but I have not been able to get that...

If the wireless card config is a/b/g/n, that it is most likely to connect to N - 5 GHz Frequancy band...Most Wireless card vendors to keep the cost low, have been putting out wireless card, that support only 2.4 MHz, as a single physical hardware will support b/g/n in one go... So the cards that are similar to Broadcom 4313, are Atheros AR9285, Atheros AR9002WB-1, Ralink RT3090... there can be more out there..."

First, it sounds complicated to get to the 40 MHz channel width.  Second, and more troubling is that he appears to say that wireless N doesn't support WPA or WEP wireless encryption.  I'm sure that's what we use now with our wireless G router.  What would we need to do to provide proper encryption if we do switch to a wireless N router?



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Accepted Solution

by:
Davis McCarn earned 150 total points
ID: 36533669
You had started this question with the unstated; but clearly implied, premise that you were adding wireless rather than replacing an existing one and that is a big difference.
If none of the PC's report they are running a slower speed than 54Mbps (right click the connection and choose Staus), you're making a mountain out of a molehill as you don't have a range issue and almost any newer router will help.
If this proves true, almost all of the new Linksys router are dual band, offer two SSID's (one can be set for G and WEP, the other WPA2 and N) and my only complaint is their lack of external antenna which becomes moot if all the PC's are currently connecting at 54Ghz.
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Assisted Solution

by:Darr247
Darr247 earned 350 total points
ID: 36533841
> I currently suffer from periodic interruptions in wireless service (usually less than a minute) using
> my G router, expecially when more than 1 computer is using wireless at the same time.
That's often caused by interference from competing networks, cordless phones, microwave ovens, et al.
For competing networks, you can look around with the free inSSIDer... it will show you nearby networks, if any exist, and how they overlap with yours, so possibly you can change your wireless to use channel 1 or 11 (instead of the usual default channel 6... or Auto, which might select a channel that overlaps a nearby network).
If that doesn't turn up anything, a tool like metageek's Wi-Spy might show you what's causing the drops. I have a Wi-Spy 2.4x, and it's worked great every time I've used it to look for interference.



> 300 Mbps+ can be achieve only with 40 MHz Channel Width and if you have 2x2
> Antenna Configuration (MIMO) both on transmission and receiving side.
Intel, Apple and Cisco also do not support 40MHz-wide channels in the 2.4GHz band, because that would use 2 out of the 3 non-overlapping 20MHz-wide channels available in the 2.4GHz band, leaving only 1 channel for legacy 11g/b devices, and also assuring interference with anyone else nearby trying to use a 40MHz-wide channel in the 2.4GHz band. Oddly, even though their parent company is Cisco, Linksys DOES allow using 40MHz-wide channels in the 2.4GHz band.



> It will not support WPA and WEP wireless encryption.
WEP can be cracked in about 5 minutes using a bootable ISO that's freely available on the net. WPA is really WEP with the password altered according to vectors negotiated during authentication... so while you cannot (currently) work backwards to crack the login password of WPA, your traffic can be captured and its encryption cracked to expose your data. That's why only WPA2 is supported by the 11n spec.



> Coming to Broadcom 4314, yes, 73 Mbps is the best you can go
I'm not sure why your HP friend said that...  it should be able to get 130 to 150 Mbps 11n connections even without 40MHz-wide channels.

Also, could you please look in Device Manager (Start->Run, devmgmt.msc [Enter] or Orb, type devmgmt.msc in the search box, and click the file that appears at the top in vista/7), expand Network Adapters (click the + on the left side of it), right-click the wireless adapter and choose Properties. On the Details tab, select Hardware ID from the picklist and see if it's actually a "PCI\VEN_14E4&DEV_4314" card. If it is, that is indeed a dual-band card and should be able to use either 2.4GHz or 5GHz 802.11n, with the proper drivers.
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Author Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36537364
Davis McCarn & others - Sorry if I misled anyone about the fact that I currently have wireless, it's just not working well & I am looking for the right way to upgrade if possible.

Dar247 - It looks like there are 8 other networks using 2.4 GHz and none using 5.1.  2 of the other networks look like they are using Channel 1 which is what it looks like I am using (the line for the networks spans from 0 to 3.  There are 2 networks on channel 6, 1 on channel 3, 1 on channel 9 and 1 on channel 10.  I don't see a channel for the 8th network.  How would I change my channel?

My current encryption is WPA-TKIP.

The HP guy posted to a forum related to the Broadcom 4313 wireless card.  In following your instructions, the hardware listed is PCI\VEN_14E4&DEV_4727&SUBSYS_145C&REV_01, also  PCI\VEN_14E4&DEV_4727&SUBSYS_145C103C also  PCI\VEN_14E4&DEV_4727&CC_028000 and also  PCI\VEN_14E4&DEV_4727&CC_0280 so the hardware you mentioned is not listed.

Thanks for your continuing help.
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by:Darr247
Darr247 earned 350 total points
ID: 36540626
14E4:4727 appears to be a BCM4313, which is 2.4GHz only... equivalent to the Dell 1501 wireless card
( http://www.broadcom.com/docs/linux_sta/README.txt )... Dell sold them with only 1 antenna connected, which would limit its speed. Can you access it and see if it has 2 or more antenna leads?  
What OS are you using, by the way?

I would switch the router to use channel 11. Even though the networks using 9 and 10 will interfere, it should be less interference than from the two others using channel 1. It sounds like your location would definitely benefit from a 5GHz radio and wireless adapter[s], since there are people nearby using channels that overlap. You should use only channels 1, 6 and 11. That inSSIDer program does present a graphical image of how the channels overlap, so having them stretch to channel 3 before they ramp down to barely overlap on channel 5 sounds about right.

I disagree somewhat with the way the g/n fallback was described previously. If the 2.4GHz 11n infrastructure device is set to use 20/40 Auto and an 11g client or infrastructure device is detected, it will fall back to using 20MHz-wide channels, but 11n devices can still talk faster than 54Mbps (it does not make everyone fall back to connecting at 11g speeds). If the infrastructure device is 'locked' onto a 40MHz-wide channel, 11g/11b devices will be unable to connect on either of the 2 channels being used for the bonded 40MHz-wide channel at all (that's exactly the situation which made Intel, Cisco and Apple decide not to support wide channels in the 2.4GHz band at all).
2.4GHz-WiFi-Channels.png
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Author Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36542990
3 final questions:  1) How do I change the channel of the current router & when I do, is there anything I need to do the laptops that are connecting wirelessly to it.?  2) Given everything that has been discussed, do you believe I should get a wireless N router assuming all of the computers are wireless N compatible (my son has his computer out of town for the next few days so I can't check.  The other 3 computers all can handle wireless N? 3) If I do get a router with 5.1GHz capability, is there some sort of adapter that can be used or do I need to get new wireless cards for any of the 4 computers that I want to be able to use that band and just keep any computers I don't switch over using the 2.4 MHz? (I assume that I can use a simultaneous dual N band router to allow all 4 computers to connect at the same time, it's just that some will be using the 2.4 MHz and some will be using the 5.1 MHz.  I know that if I use a selectable dual band router, only the computers that can access that band will be useable when the band is selected.)

Oops.  Last question.  How do I handle making sure that the 2 experts who have been so gracious and helpful get very high points & what would be considered very high?
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by:Darr247
Darr247 earned 350 total points
ID: 36544897
> 1) How do I change the channel of the current router & when I do, is there
> anything I need to do the laptops that are connecting wirelessly to it.?
Typically, you would login the web interface of the router and change it in the Wireless section of its setups. If you want specific instructions, you would need to tell us exactly what brand/model/version it is. You have said "existing router" but never said what it was.
And most laptops would not need anything done to them to make them connect to a different channel. Some 3rd-party connection managers allow forcing a connection on a certain channel, but windows' wireless zero configuration (WZC) service does not.



> 2) Given everything that has been discussed, do you believe I should get a wireless N
> router assuming all of the computers are wireless N compatible
If you can find one for a good price, I don't think it would be an especially-big risk. e.g. I bought a 2.4GHz-only Linksys 11n router (WRT160N v3) at the unlikeliest of places (Radio Shack) on sale for $50 last year, and it's worked fine ever since at my in-laws' cottage. I see a couple Linksys 'ashtray' models on newegg.com fairly cheap... the E2100L simultaneous dual-band for ~$105 shipped, or the Linksys E1000 (2.4GHz-only, which appears to be the replacement for the WRT160N) is about $53 shipped.



> 3) If I do get a router with 5.1GHz capability, is there some sort of adapter that can be used
There are dual-band wireless adapters that just plug into USB ports.  Here are some on newegg, by - Edimax, TrendNet, Linksys, LG and enGenius. I haven't tried any of those, so exercise due diligence and peruse the feedback on each before considering them. Newegg is pretty good about returns, but at some price point it becomes a balance between cost and frustration dealing with the shippers.



> & what would be considered very high?
It's been a while since I closed a question for points (I post questions most-often to zones that don't even allow points), but you should be able to split the 500 points among as many answers as you want, in any way you want, as long as the total points you assign adds up to 500.
e.g. you can split them among 2 answers for 250 points each, or 2 answers with 200 points on 1 and 300 points on the other, or 4 answers at 125 points each, or 5 answers at 100 points each, 5 answers with 300 pts on 1 and 50 pts on 4, et cetera, ad nauseam. If you make a mistake when closing it, you can even ask an admin (using the Request Attention link in your original post) to re-open it so you can try again.
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Author Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36544986
Thanks again for your help.  I'll try to figure out how to change the channel on the existing router (the BCM4313) and close out this set of questions & answers.
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Author Closing Comment

by:bdrichatty
ID: 36545070
The experts spent lots of time responding to multiple questions/comments throughout the chain related to my initial question.  I can't thank them enough for their efforts.
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