What Is Wireless N Networking?

Where does Wireless N fit in the Wi-Fi picture?

Wireless N is a name for wireless computer network hardware that supports 802.11n Wi-Fi. Common types of Wireless N equipment include network routerswireless access points, and game adapters.

Belkin N1 Wireless Router
Belkin.com

Why Is it Called Wireless N?

The term Wireless N came into popular usage starting in 2006 as network equipment manufacturers began developing hardware incorporating 802.11n technology. Until the 802.11n industry standard was finalized in 2009, manufacturers could not rightly claim their products as 802.11n compliant.

The alternative terms Draft N and Wireless N were invented to distinguish these early products. Wireless N remained in use later, even for fully compliant products, as an alternative to the numeric name of the Wi-Fi standard.

How Fast is Wireless N?

When Wireless N first debuted, it was an improvement over the previous Wireless G and Wireless B standards. It was practically a mandatory upgrade, especially with increasing broadband speeds.

Wireless N can achieve a theoretical bandwidth of 300 Mbps. Later Wireless N devices used multiple antennas to achieve higher rates. However, none compare to the speeds of later Wi-Fi generations.

For comparison, Wireless AC, which followed Wireless N, has a theoretical maximum of 1 Gbps per antenna, up to a maximum of between 5 Gbps and 7 Gbps total. The latest iteration, Wireless AX, better known as Wi-Fi 6, steps up to a maximum of around 11 Gbps.

What Can Wireless N Do?

Even though Wireless N falls behind its successors, it's not entirely incapable. Wireless N is capable of handling most common uses, including streaming video.

Wireless N, at 300 Mbps, is enough to handle standard definition and some high-definition video streaming. You can watch Netflix, YouTube, or listen to music on Spotify just fine.

The issues start when you want to do those things across multiple devices, or you have too many devices on your network at once. Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 were built with the awareness that people were connecting more and more devices, with the rise of streaming and smart devices. So, these are designed to handle more connections than Wireless N.

As a result, you'll see Wireless N slow down as you connect more devices. Streaming to one or two devices works well. Add more, and you'll see buffering and lag. Gaming over Wireless N probably isn't a great move, either.

Is it Worth Using Wireless N?

In short, no. The only reason to choose Wireless N is its cost. The standard is fairly old, making any Wireless N devices relatively inexpensive. However, so is Wireless AC (Wi-Fi 5). Wireless AC devices are available nearly everywhere for a reasonable price. The substantial upgrade over Wireless N makes that choice clear.

If you have a Wireless N device, it might be worth considering an upgrade. You may have noticed your connection slowing down over time. The falling cost of Wireless AC makes it accessible to nearly everyone, and the upgrade is painless, due to Wireless AC's compatibility with the standards that came before it.