What’s The Difference Between Wireless A, B, G, And N?

Gnomie Craighton Miller writes:

Dear Chris,

I am a die-hard fan of your show. Last weekend I went out to buy a new wireless router, and when I walked into the store I was overwhelmed by all the options: Wireless A, B, G, and N. I got so confused that I just left! After going home and doing my research, I have a better grasp on the differences between these types of wireless routers, so I thought I’d share this info with your readers in case they’re ever in the same situation.

Wireless A, first introduced in October of 1999, was the first wireless model available to the public. It had a maximum bit rate of 54 Mbit/s and could only go 100 feet before the signal was lost.

Also released in 1999 was Wireless B. This had a really slow bit rate at a maximum of 11 Mbit/s, but what you lost in speed you gained with distance and you could go about 150 feet.

After that came Wireless G. Like Wireless A, it had a maximum bit rate of 54 Mbit/s, but you could also get the distance of Wireless B’s 150 feet. Most modern (as of this writing) wireless households have Wireless G; it’s currently the most common type of wireless router throughout the world.

Wireless N is the relatively new kid on the block. This is next gen wireless and has a maximum bit rate of 74 Mbit/s and can go about 230 feet. It’s also said that Wireless N travels at a higher frequency and can go through solid objects faster. Instead of running on a 2.4 GHz network like Wireless A, B, and G, it travels on a 5 GHz network.

My computer is pretty new and I wanted Wireless N for the speed and range, but my computer wasn’t cut out for it. Then I figured out that many of the Wireless N devices (like the Belkin N Wireless Router) come with mixed wireless that delivers the fast speeds like Wireless N but are compatible with Wireless G.

Hope this is somewhat helpful!

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • M. Free

    What, no mention of MIMO or Super G?

    M. Free

  • JD

    Nice summary. A mild addition and some factoids.

    802.11A was on 5 GHz. B started on 2.4 GHz., G is on 2.4 GHz with B. Not all Pre-N(N) will have 5 GHz or be dual band, though the Mac stuff does include it because it’s version of Pre-N has A as well. N standard is broad.

    Check the logo the WiFi folks are putting on the boxes now. Helps identify what standard and band that device uses. Any device which does not include A will only be on 2.4 GHz.

    The “channels” assigned on 2.4 GHz overlap some, those on A don’t. More power is allowed in some countries on 5 GHz.

    These bands are ISM, industrial, scientific and medical, assignments. This a place where unlicensed, low power devices like this may go, along with microwave ovens and cordless phones. The lower part of the 2.4 GHz band is shared with other users, like the amateur radio service. This is one reason I’d use a higher channel assignment on 2.4 GHz, get a bit further from the shared frequencies _if_ hams are using their version of WiFi in the area.

    Some more info at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WLAN_channels
    Good visual depiction of 802.11b frequency/channel assignment http://www.moonblinkwifi.com/2point4freq.cfm

    As far as real world use goes, if the centre frequency of the channel and geography/distance provide enough separation things should work fairly well on 2.4 GHz.

    Cheers, JD

  • La Verne

    This was very helpful. Not chock full of techno-babble. Easy to understand. Thank you!!

  • John

    Thanks, This helps a lot.

  • http://none Jim

    how do I convert from wireless B to wireless G?

  • victor

    thank you for all the info

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