The New Wireless

I can still remember the event that made me really want wireless networking. I was sitting in a very boring developer meeting that had nothing of any interest or relevance for me. I day-dreamed about important things like lunch.

Then things went from bad to worse as the meeting started one of those silly go-nowhere arguments. It was at this point that I realised that the developer next to me wasn’t earnestly taking notes on his shiny TiBook (they were new and cool at the time) but was reading some website about digital cameras. This looked far more interesting than a pointless debate about code check-in comment style and I had to resist the urge to read over his shoulder. I then knew that I wanted the flexibility of that be-anywhere portable connection.

I’ve had wireless at home since soon after that meeting, starting with 802.11b at 11Mbps, then upgrading to the faster 54Mbps 802.11g when that was released. This upgrade was partly spurred by buying a new digital camera – loading 400kB photos over the old conenction wasn’t too bad, but the new camera’s 2000kB files just took too long.

We’ve been waiting for the next standard (802.11n at ~300Mbps) for some time now and it’s still not finished. That hasn’t stopped a number of manufacturers releasing equipment based on the draft standard, including Dlink and the DIR-655 that retails for just under $300. Of course you also need your computer to support 802.11n (many modern laptops do).

There has been some scepticism about the real performance advantages of using 802.11n, with some people reporting disappointing results that are hardly faster than 802.11g. Here’s the results from my simple test of copying a 1GB file (distance of a few metres from the access point, 802.11n network using mixed g/n).

Network Speed
802.11g (54Mbps) 2.3MB/sec
802.11n (300Mbps) 5.8MB/sec

That’s roughly 2.5 times faster. I’m happy with that.