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Guide to mixing wireless standards

Mixing wireless standards - will wireless n play nicely with 802.11a,b and g?

The 802.11n or wireless n standard offers a number of benefits over the older 802.11 a, b and g wifi networking standards.

Although the 802.11 a and b standards have virtually disappeared now, there are still a number of places to get wireless g (802.11 g) routers, and many people will still have equipment that uses this older standard (e.g. a Playstation 3).

So, the question is, if you buy a new wireless n (802.11n) router for your home, will your wireless g gadgets work with it? The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, but you may not get the full benefits of the wireless n standard.

If you are running an all wireless-n network, i.e. everything connecting to the network is wireless n then, you will have no problems and everything will run at full wireless n speed. If you are running a wireless n network with some older wireless b or g devices connecting to it, then in order for these older devices to keep up the network has to slow itself down. This means you do lose some of the speed benefits of the wireless n network even on other wireless n devices.

Most routers will give you an option to switch wireless network modes, some of the more common descriptions are explained below:

•Legacy mode - allows the a/b/g standards to communicate with a wireless n router, everything runs at the slowest speed.
•Mixed mode - allows a/b/g devices to communicate with a wireless n router at wireless G speeds but with some N benefits.
•Full n mode - this only allows wireless n devices to communicate with the router, and gives all the benefits of wireless n.

Newer routers will switch between modes automatically for you, so you can be confident you are always getting the best speed/range available to you.

Do note however, that for some manufacturers certain security settings, may force the router to work at slower speeds (e.g. WPA1 on Netgear routers).


If you have the choice between wireless g and wireless n - always go for n. Almost every router will work with the older standards, you will get some benefits of the newer standard, and when you finally get rid of the old wireless g devices that are connecting to your network, you will see the full benefit of wireless n.

Note: Throughout this article where the term router is used, this applies equally to modem-routers.

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