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What type of wireless device do I need?
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3G, WiMAX, 802.11?
 

The various wireless computer technologies out on the market can be very confusing. Basically, if you want long distance computer wireless connectivity you would look for a “3G” (referred to as 3rd generation, 4G is emerging too) mobile communications technology which may utilize interfaces such as GSM, TDMA, and CDMA, which would allow you to connect a mobile computer with a 3G type AIR card to a radio tower in the near vicinity (within a few miles) to connect to the internet. Realistic data transfer speeds for this technology are in the 56 - 300 Kpbs (Kilobits per second) range. Ideal 3G speeds range from 384 Kbps with a stationary or slow moving wireless device, to 128 Kbps in a vehicle and up to 2 Mbps (Megabits per second) with some fixed applications. This technology, while sometimes expensive, is very convienent as you can take your laptop almost anywhere and get connected to the internet or your corporate network.

 

WiMAX is a new emerging wireless technology that is even faster than 3G:  http://www.intel.com/netcomms/technologies/wimax/index.htm

 

With 802.11 technology, you have IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers - pronounced "I-Triple-E") standards like 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11c, 802.11d, 802.11f, 802.11g, 802.11i. This technology is used for connecting wireless business, school and home computer networks. Date transfer speeds are much higher with this technology as compared to 3G, but the wireless transmission distances are much shorter. You need to be located within roughly 1000 - 1500 feet outdoors (with no obstructions) to a wireless router, AP (Access Point), Base Station or "Hot Spot". Indoors the distance drops way down to 50 – 150 feet due to signal degradation from walls and other obstacles.

 

Wireless data transmission rates are affected by the distance that you are away from a wireless router or AP, use of WPA/WEP to encrypt your WiFi transmissions, physical obstructions, other WiFi device interference and network traffic. The most popular technologies that are readily available are: 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g (802.11n due out in November 2007 and "pre-n" is available now).

 

802.11a:  This technology operates in the 5GHz band and provides data transmission speeds of up to 54 Mbps. The 5GHz range is less crowded with devices than the 2.4GHz range, so there usually is less WiFi interference with other wireless devices (cell phones, cordless phones, microwaves, PDA’s - personal digital assistant or Palm type computers with wireless capability). 802.11a is still more expensive and less available than the popular 802.11b and 802.11g technologies simply because the 802.11b & g technologies were the first widely accepted wireless protocols. Even though 802.11a is faster, there are concerns about its wavelength range.

 

802.11b:  This is the most popular and readily available technology for wireless networking. It operates in the 2.4GHz band and provides data transmission speeds of 11-22 Mbps. This 2.4GHz band can be crowded though with other wireless devices (cell phones, cordless phones, microwaves, PDA’s), so if you still have that 800 or 900 Mhz cordless phone and you want to set up a wireless router or WLAN (Wireless LAN), hang on to it so it doesn’t interfere with your WiFi network.  

 

802.11g:  This is another popular and readily available wireless technology for wireless networking. It also operates in the 2.4GHz band and provides data transmission speeds of up to 108 Mbps with the Super G feature. This 2.4GHz band can be crowded though with other wireless devices (cell phones, cordless phones, microwaves, PDA’s), so if you still have that 800 or 900 Mhz cordless phone and you want to set up a wireless router or WLAN, hang on to it so it doesn’t interfere with your WiFi network.  

 

802.11nDue to be officially ratified by the IEEE ~ November of 2008, the initial theoretical speeds for 802.11n were to be in the 270-540 Mbps range, but have been scaled back to 248 Mbps. 802.11n standard will operate in the 2.5 or 5 GHz range. There is "pre-n" or "draft-n" release technology on the market now operating in the 200-300 Mbps range.

 

Interoperability:

  • 802.11n (draft-n) devices are backwards compatible with 802.11g, but not necessarily vice versa. If you are using an 802.11g card to connect to an 802.11n (draft-n) AP (Access Point) or router, the g device will only connect at g speeds. 
  • If you are using an 802.11n card to connect to an 802.11g AP (Access Point) or router, the n device will only connect at g speeds.
  • 802.11g devices are backwards compatible with 802.11b, but not vice versa. 
  • If you are using an 802.11g card to connect to an 802.11b AP (Access Point) or router, the g device will only connect at b speeds.
  • If you are using an 802.11b card to connect to an 802.11g AP (Access Point) or router, the b device will only connect at b speeds.

If you are not sure which technology you need, you can buy WiFi routers that incorporate the older 802.11b and 802.11g standards, or you can buy WiFi routers that incorporate all three (802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g).

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