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The Different Wireless PC Network Standards

Wireless networking suffers from competition between different standards — some network standards are compatible with others, and some aren’t. And wireless networking has a handful of the most confusing names in the entire PC world, so make sure that you have a bottle of aspirin handy:

  • 802.11b: The original WiFi (short for wireless fidelity) supports a maximum transfer rate of 11 Mbps, which is just a little faster than the slowest wired Ethernet standard in common use.

    802.11b wireless networks can slow down significantly because of interference from other devices, such as cell phones, cordless phones, and even microwaves.

  • 802.11a: Contrary to its numbering, 802.11a is a more recent standard than 802.11b. 802.11a has a shorter range than 802.11b, and it’s incompatible with other standards. But it’s speedy, and it uses a rarely used broadcasting spectrum, meaning you get less interference and a better chance of achieving the best reception.

  • 802.11g: This standard is compatible with 802.11b and provides speeds as fast as 802.11a, but it’s in the interference-laden broadcasting spectrum.

  • 802.11n: A speedy standard that works with all members of the 802.11 family.

    But to get the absolute best performance from your wireless network, all your hardware should be 802.11n. Otherwise, things slow down for the older standards.

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