The ABCs of Wireless Home Networking

the-abcs-of-wireless-home-networkingMy wife’s a smart lady, but a couple of weeks ago we were replacing our home wireless router and she found herself a bit stumped. So she did what any smart person does when faced with something unknown; she asked a bunch of questions.

During her gentle 3rd Degree, I realized the questions she was asking were the same questions I’ve been seeing lately in my email and online and a new “How-To” article series was born, this time on the home wireless network.

These articles are geared toward those folks who know little to nothing about wireless networks and this first one, specifically, covers the ABCs of wireless networking.

The Alphabet of Networking

When you start researching or looking at wireless routers, you might see things like “wireless-g” or “wireless-n” come up in the descriptions. These letters refer to the router’s “communication standard” set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

First appearing on the market in 1999, 802.11b is the oldest of IEEE’s wireless networking standards. Its top networking speed was a roaring 11Mbps (megabits per second) and operated in the 2.4GHz band (more on this in a minute).

In 2003, IEEE released a new standard – 802.11g. Thanks to its higher speed (54Mbps) and reduced cost, consumers clamored to the new technology.

Then, in 2009, the latest of the wireless alphabet standards was released; 802.11n. This is the technology most used today and can operate in either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, meaning it gets less interference from everyday items.

The next generation of wireless standards is 802.11ac, which is supposed to be ratified by IEEE this year, but it’s not a standard yet. What this means is, different companies’ technologies may not yet be compatible with each other. For the moment, we suggest that you wait before investing your money in any “ac” wireless products.

Battle of the Bands – Single vs. Dual-band

The next thing you have to understand when choosing a router is whether you need single-band or dual-band.

Band refers to the “frequency band,” or grouping of radio frequencies, used by your wireless devices. For a wireless network, that currently breaks down into two choices: Single-band and Dual-band.

Single-band b, g, and (some) n routers are limited to the 2.4GHz frequency band. The 2.4GHz band is also used by household items such as older model cordless phones, microwave ovens and baby monitors which means your wireless network can get pretty congested if you’re surfing the net while also nuking dinner and talking on the phone.

Dual-band n routers can use both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. In the 5GHz band, there’s no interference from other everyday and wireless devices.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a router that can support n in both bands simultaneously or you’ll end up reducing all your current 2.4GHz n devices down to the slower “g” speed (see the next section).

Up to Speed

Finally, let’s talk about speed. The speed of your network is determined by two things: your internet speed, which is determined by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your home or local network speed which is determined by your router and connected devices.

Normal ISP speeds run from anywhere between 3 Mbps to 30 Mbps.

In practice, most routers are actually faster than your ISP, so the speed of your network for internet surfing will be different than the speed of your network for transferring files from one device to another.

For example, let’s say you’ve saved a video to one computer in your home network, but you’re watching it on a second device, like a laptop or tablet. It’s going to be incredibly fast (if you’re using wireless-n) because it’s streaming internally, using only your home network.

If, however, you’re watching a video on YouTube or Netflix, it’s streaming through the internet. Because that speed is determined by your (ISP) it will never be as fast as streaming that video across your internal network.

As an interesting tidbit, wireless-b, which is no longer used, gave users a speed of 11 Mbps. When wireless-g technology hit the market, that speed increased to 54 Mbps. Now, wireless-n can give you up to 300 Mbps.

When wireless-ac standards get ratified, that speed will theoretically increase to a whopping 7Gbps (gigabytes per second). Now we just need to convince the ISPs to catch up to our home networks!

Next week’s article will cover how to actually select the router you need for your home network. If you don’t want to wait that long, or if you have any questions or need help, feel free to call us at 1-888-863-3033 or email us at and we’ll be happy to help you.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto

8 Responses to “The ABCs of Wireless Home Networking”

    • Jon Bristow

      Hi Nikki! You may, as long as you give full credit for the article and link back to our site. And I’m happy that you enjoyed the article enough to want to share it.


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