April 14, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
FAQ: Wi-Fi alphabet soup
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What are the pros and cons of various Wi-Fi standards?
802.11b is the oldest and currently the most widely used Wi-Fi standard. Consumers have considerable choice in gear, which is often cheaper than products supporting newer standards such as 802.11a and 802.11g. 802.11b has lower bandwidth and shorter range compared with other types of Wi-Fi.
802.11a has higher throughput than 802.11b, but is not compatible with 802.11b or 802.11g. It has been the least popular flavor of Wi-Fi, although manufacturers are beginning to include it in products alongside 802.11b and 802.11g.
802.11g is faster than 802.11b and is compatible with it. But, like 802.11b, it is more susceptible than 802.11a to interference from common household appliances, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens, that operate in the 2.4GHz radio band.
MIMO transmits data at the highest rates, but it is not an industry standard. In addition, products based on MIMO generally cost more than devices based on 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g.
Can I combine products based on different Wi-Fi standards?
The 802.11g and 802.11b standards are compatible. That means if you have an 802.11b client, such as a notebook, it can connect to an 802.11g access point.
The 802.11n is also expected to be compatible with its Wi-Fi predecessors. MIMO products are already on the market and manufacturers have made it a point to make them compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g-based products.
Products based on 802.11a are not compatible with products based on other Wi-Fi standards.
Compatibility is becoming less of a problem, however, as manufacturers increasingly support all three Wi-Fi standards in their devices.
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