Are 802.11b and 802.11g Compatible?

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Getty Images/Malte Mueller

The 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi networking standards are generally compatible. An 802.11b router / access point will work with 802.11g network adapters and vice versa.

However, a number of technical limitations affect mixed 802.11b and 802.11g networks:

  • An 802.11b client will get no better network performance connected to an 802.11g router (access point) than it does when connected to an 802.11b router. Such a connection is limited by the speed of the 802.11b adapter.
  • An 802.11g client will experience slower network performance connected to an 802.11b router than to an 802.11g router. Such a connection is limited by the speed of the 802.11b router.
     
  • When both 802.11b and 802.11g clients are connected to an 802.11g router, the performance of the 802.11g clients can suffer. In the worst case, all 802.11g clients will slow down to have the same network speed as the 802.11b clients. More typically the 802.11g clients experience some degradation in performance, but they still perform noticeably faster than their 802.11b counterparts.
     
  • The same encryption must be used on all devices on the Wi-Fi network. 802.11g devices often support more advanced encryption options than older 802.11b devices. For example, some 802.11g routers and network adapters support WPA, but many 802.11g products only support the weaker WEP. Stronger encryption options cannot be used on the 802.11g equipment if the 802.11b equipment does not support them.

    In summary, 802.11b and 802.11g equipment can share a Wi-Fi LAN. If set up properly, the network will function correctly and perform at reasonable speeds. Mixing 802.11b and 802.11g gear can save money on equipment upgrades in the short term. An all-802.11g network provides the best wireless performance and is a worthy long-term goal for homeowners to consider.