What is wireless N?
Wireless n routers are routers or access points which conform to one of the 802.11n standards for wireless local area networks. What this means is that routers conforming to this standard operate over a wider area than the previous wireless standards (802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g), and because of the way the n standard works the wireless routers are also faster. So you get a faster and stronger wireless signal for your wireless network.
Well, not so quick. Although, the wireless n or 802.11n standard has now been finalised, many manufacturers sold routers before it was. If you look closely you'll see that on the box for some wireless n routers or modem routers it will actually say "draft n" or "draft 2". These were two drafts of the standard that manufacturers seized upon and used to get wireless routers and modems with the above advantages onto the market early.
But does it matter if you buy one of these or go for the full 802.11n wireless standard?
The good news is that if you buy all your kit from one manufacturer then all draft 1 equipment will work just fine and will be quicker and provide a stronger wireless signal over the older 802.11g standard. Draft 2 routers and modems are safer still as draft 2 is agreed to be compatible with the final standard. So draft 2 kit should allow you to mix and match manufacturers kits. You are safest of all with the full standard but in reality there isn't a huge difference between draft 2 and the full standard.
What about the wireless AC standard?
This is a brand new standard, which is still in early draft form. Some early kit is starting to appear, but this is still very early days and this networking equipment doesn't give the full benefits of the new standard, and inter-manufacturer compatability is unknown. Also, the AC standard operates in the 5GHz radio band rather than the 2.4GHz band used by the other standards, so equipment supporting it won't always be backwards compatible. Unless you need this standard for some reason we'd suggest avoiding this standard until 2013.
To give you an idea of the differences between the standards:
|Standard||Max Speed||Distance (outdoors)|
|802.11a||54 Mbit/s||120meters or 131yards|
|802.11b||11 Mbit/s||140meters or 153yards|
|802.11g||54 Mbit/s||140m or 153yards|
|802.11n *||248 Mbit/s||250m or 273yards|
|802.11n MIMO||450 Mbit/s||250m or 273yards|
|802.11ac||500 Mbit/s||250m or 273yards|
|802.11ac MIMO||1.73 Gbit/s||250m or 273yards|
* including drafts 1 and 2
Distance is affected by the number and density of objects in the way.
Other differences you'll notice will be that wireless n routers tend to have multiple aerials (normally 3 or more) unlike the 802.11g routers which normally had only one or two. The benefits of having a faster wireless link that can send High-definition tv or faster internet access around your home are clear, and the increase in signal strength means that the quality of connection will be better with fewer interruptions and greater distance available to you. With wireless n you really can work on the laptop in the garden.
The time is right to get a wireless n router or modem router. For our ratings of the various options available to you why not check out our reviews of wireless n routers.