802.11n Wi-Fi in Computer Networking

Each networking standard is faster than the one before it

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WiFi Alliance

802.11n is an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) industry standard for local Wi-Fi network communications, ratified in 2009. It replaced older 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g Wi-Fi technologies but was itself superseded by the 802.11ac in 2013. In turn, the newest standards, 802.11ax and 802.11ay, are expected to be fully deployed by late 2019.. Each standard is faster and more reliable than the one that came before it and is generally backward-compatible.

The Wi-Fi Alliance refers to the various technologies by a simplified Wi-Fi version number. In this scheme, 802.11n is known as Wi-Fi 4.

The packaging of any Wi-Fi device you purchase will reflect which of these standards the device supports.

Key Wireless Technologies in 802.11n

802.11n uses multiple wireless antennas in tandem to transmit and receive data. The associated term MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) refers to the ability of 802.11n and similar technologies to coordinate multiple simultaneous radio signals. 802.11n supports up to four simultaneous streams. MIMO increases both the range and throughput of a wireless network.

An additional technique employed by 802.11n involves increasing the channel bandwidth. As in 802.11a/b/g networking, each 802.11n device uses a preset Wi-Fi channel on which to transmit. The 802.11n standard uses a larger frequency range than the earlier standards, which increases data throughput.

802.11n Performance

802.11n connections support maximum theoretical network bandwidth up to 300 Mbps, depending primarily on the number of wireless radios in the devices. 802.11n devices operate in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.

802.11n vs. Pre-n Network Equipment

In the last few years before 802.11n was officially ratified, network equipment manufacturers sold pre-N or draft N devices based on preliminary drafts of the standard. This hardware is generally compatible with current 802.11n gear, although older devices might require firmware upgrades.

The Successors to 802.11n

802.11n served as the fastest Wi-Fi standard for five years before the 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) protocol was approved in 2014. 802.11ac offers speeds ranging from 433 Mbps up to several gigabits per second, which approaches the speed and performance of wired connections. It functions entirely in the 5 MHz band and supports up to eight simultaneous streams.

The industry expects full deployment of two more successors, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and 802.11ay — dubbed high-efficiency wireless — in late 2019. Both expand the bandwidth and speed of their predecessors.