Ten Tips and Considerations on Upgrading to Wireless N
By Eric Geier (NoWiresSecurity Founder
& CEO) - originally published on
Upgrading your home or office Wi-Fi
network to 802.11n—or Wireless N, as I'll refer to it—can provide
greater coverage, increased speeds, and overall better performance
for more demanding applications and devices.
However, just like everything else that appears too good to be true,
there is fine print. You wouldn't achieve these promised speeds and
performance levels by just plugging in the Wireless N (or now, Draft
N 2) gear "out-of-the-box," or without setting changes and careful
To help you maneuver through the upgrade, I've compiled ten tips,
hitting on important issues you need to know.
1. Use the Same Manufacturer for All Gear
Like the older wireless standards,
Wireless N is supposed to be standardized and work among devices
from other manufacturers. However, especially with the Wireless N
Draft products (before the official standard is complete), you might
find that gear from various vendors don't work well together.
It's best to evaluate the product offerings from the vendors, choose
the best, and stick with that manufacturer.
2. For Full Improvements, Replace Adapters
To get much improvement from upgrading your Wi-Fi router to
Wireless N, you must upgrade your computers and devices to the new
standard as well.
There are new technologies in the router that might help signals to
Wireless G clients; however in most cases you'll see only slight
3. Don't Mix Wireless B/G with N
Wireless N is supposed to be
interoperable with Wireless A, B, and G, but it doesn't always work
that way. Some older clients might not be able to connect at all,
even when the wireless router or APs are in mixed wireless mode.
Then when the older clients can connect, they'll slow down the
Some clients may take a heavy 80 percent cut in their throughput. To
prevent this problem, consider forcing the new APs to use only
Wireless N, and keep the old router or APs around to support the old
Although connections among users on the Wireless N router or APs
with Wireless G users will still be bottlenecked by the old clients,
the throughput cuts on a mixed mode Wireless N router or AP can be
4. By Default, the Higher Speeds Won't Work
With Wireless N you have the option of
using either 20- or 40MHz-wide channels, whereas Wireless G supports
only 20MHz. The larger channel footprint, in effect, makes it
possible to achieve higher throughput or transfer speeds.
To help reduce the possible interference to Wireless G networks
caused by using such larger channels, Wireless N products are
shipped with the smaller channel-width set by default.
Thus if you want to get the highest speeds for transferring files
between your newly equipped computers, you need to change this
setting on your router. Check in the basic wireless settings area of
the web-based utility.
5. Use 40MHz-wide Channels Only with Strong Signals
This serves as a disclaimer for the
above tip, about changing the default channel width to enable the
higher data rates—sometimes referred to as channel bonding. Though
the effect can be great, it works only with users that have a good
At a certain point, 40MHz-wide channels and a lowering signal will
start to negatively affect the throughput. The worse the signal
gets, the more negative its impact.
So if not all your computers are in a good range, you may actually
consider leaving the channel-width setting alone.
6. Carefully Select 40MHz-wide Channels
When using Wireless N gear with the
default 20 MHz-wide channels, there is no impact on the channel
availability, selection, and interference. You still use the three
non-overlapping channels of 1, 6, and 11.
However, if you are using channel bonding and making use of the
40MHz-wide channels, there is a major impact. Because the channel
frequency range used by the equipment doubles, it essentially means
you now have only one non-overlapping channel in the popular 2.4 GHz
band, and nine indoors for the 5GHz band.
Thus you need to carefully select the channels.
7. For Fastest Wireless-to-Wired Connections, Go Gigabit
As of now, Wireless N can provide more
than 100Mbps wireless connections, surpassing the 10/100Mbps speed
of most of the Ethernet ports on networking gear today. This also
applies to Wireless N routers and APs.
These ports can thus become a bottleneck in the network; slowing the
data rates down below 100Mbps.
This is the case, for example, when transferring files or
communicating between a wireless and wired computer connected to the
same Wi-Fi router, or two wireless computers connected to two
different APs on the same network.
Therefore, for best performance and to plan for the future, make
sure that all your gear supports gigabit Ethernet.
8. For Best Throughput, Take Advantage of the 5GHz Band
Wireless B and G gear use the (now
congested and interference-prone) frequency band of 2.4 GHz, while
Wireless A (primarily used in enterprises for high performance
applications) uses the 5 GHz band.
To take advantage of the less-congested band, for more channels, and
to enable higher throughput levels, Wireless N supports both bands.
Whether you can actually use either band depends upon the particular
networking equipment you have.
Most consumer and small business gear primarily supports only 2.4
GHz, while some dual-band equipment is available.
If your network requires the best performance possible, such as for
voice and video applications, consider using the higher band.
Just remember that the range will be reduced, simply because of the
laws of physics. When using Wireless N 5 GHz gear, you'll see about
the same ranges as provided by Wireless G.
9. For Best Performance, Don't Use WEP or WPA
Using the WEP or WPA/TKIP encryption
methods on your Wireless N network can dramatically reduce
To take advantage of Wireless N's great speeds, you need to use
WPA2/AES wireless security—either the personal (PSK) or enterprise
10. Make Use Of Your Old Wireless B or G Gear
As mentioned, don't throw out your old
networking gear after you upgrade to Wireless N! To get the best out
of your new toys, you'll want the computers and devices equipped
with the old clients to still use the old infrastructure.
Once you've upgraded everything, you might even find other purposes
for it, such as to extend your network. If you want to tinker around
with wireless stuff you could try out a replacement firmware, such