802.11g offers faster transfer but not without bottlenecks

Is 802.11g really better than 802.11b?

In one respect, it is. Networks using the IEEE 802.11g wireless standard can, in theory, transmit content at a rate of 54 Mbps. 802.11b networks, on the other hand, have a maximum bandwidth of only 11 Mbps.

802.11a, like 802.11g, also has 54 Mbps, but

transmits in a different band and is therefore not compatible with either 802.11b or 802.11g.

Despite this, there’s not necessarily an advantage of installing 802.11g instead of 802.11b cards in notebook PCs or handheld devices.

For one thing, 10 Mbps to the client is more than enough bandwidth for most business users. This assumes, of course, that most business users aren’t transferring photos or video files, and if they are, then it’s not for business purposes.

Even more importantly, though, one of the major reasons people are buying 802.11 cards is so they can access the Internet through Wi-Fi hotspots. Many hotspots have either 802.11b or 802.11g access points, but the speed at which they access the Internet is, in many cases, much slower than 10 Mbps.

For example, a group of Toronto businesses recently installed a hotspot that uses 802.11b because the Internet connection is only 1.5 Mbps over a DSL line (see Business Association offers free Web access using 802.11b APs, page 8).

For a mid-sized or large company with access to more than 10 Mbps to the Internet, it stands to reason that an 802.11b connection could cause a network bottleneck. If this was not the case, few companies would have adopted 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet.

If the experience Rotman School of Management is any indication, organizations with heavy bandwidth needs will avoid 802.11 wireless (please see Business school handles expansion with managed Ethernet switches, page 18).

Some research firms are optimistic about the prospects for 802.11g. In its networking Industry Snapshot for the second quarter of 2003, Evans Research Corp. says the availability of 802.11g is an “”encouraging development”” that will help ensure enterprise Wi-Fi access points have “”strong momentum”” throughout this year.

It’s unlikely a user is going to adopt Wi-Fi simply because 802.11g is available. Other factors, such as the availability of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security, are just as likely to play a role. This isn’t to suggest that users won’t buy 802.11g cards in droves. But it would be ironic if speed to the client was a major factor in the acceptance of 802.11.

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