Maximizing the Speed of an 802.11n Wi-Fi Network

The 802.11n Network

The 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) protocol has been around since 2009 and allows a network to operate on two frequencies. One is a low-band frequency with data throughput reaching peaks of up to 2.4 GHz, while the high-band allows data burst speeds up to 5 GHz.

In theory, an 802.11n router can reach peaks up to 600Mbps on a dual-band configuration in ideal conditions. You can double the channel speed, and it has more data subcarriers. Remember, however, that this is only a raw throughput potential shared by multiple channels.

Realistically, the actual user data will have to share this bandwidth with the required overhead protocols, which can take up to 50% of the transmission. This protocol overhead is necessary to keep devices in the network communicating correctly and to preserve the data’s integrity.

The rated 600Mbps speed is more of an aggregate, and the actual volume of user data that’s pushed per second would be a lot less than that.

802.11n MIMO

802.11n was also the first to introduce MIMO (Multiple-In and Multiple-Out). This RF (Radio Frequency) wireless technology allows the use of many antennas to transmit and receive data traveling in multiple signal paths.

It effectively doubles, triples, and quadruples signal throughput with each matching antennas that you add on the transmitter and receiver end. It also increases the network’s range.

More expensive routers with more antennas will give you a more powerful signal and faster throughputs, improving the overall network performance and your internet experience. A 4x4 MIMO 802.11n router can handle up to four data streams with multiple antennas.

802.11n Channel Bonding

Additionally, 802.11n can use channel bonding to increase throughput. This method allows a device to transmit and receive multiple data streams simultaneously on two adjacent 20 MHz channels. In effect, this bond forms a single 40 MHz channel.

However, conflicts will arise if other devices or nearby networks are also using one of the channels in the bond. There’s a considerable possibility of interference because of this signal overlap, which could seriously hamper your network’s overall performance.

It will be easier if you live out in the woods. The chances you’d be interfering with your neighbor’s Wi-Fi network and vice versa would be slim. It becomes more of an issue on the 2.4 GHz band with only 11 channels allowed in the US, and where only three don’t overlap.

With the few available channels reduced further by channel bonding, even fewer devices can use the lower-band. On the 5 GHz band, however, there are 23 non-overlapping channels. Typically, only a few devices use the high-band allowing more room for the channel bonding method.

You’re in luck if your router also has a MIMO feature. It will dramatically reduce the compromise in signal quality and range to make channel bonding a more viable solution.

How to Set Up Channel Bonding in 802.11n

802.11n routers and devices usually have channel bonding disabled by default to keep this interference at a minimum. You can log in to your router’s web interface. Find a Setup tab or page that has WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) settings. Find the Channel Width setting, which usually has 20MHz as default. Change it to 40MHz to allow channel bonding.

In Windows, open the Device Manager and find your wireless network adapter under Network Adapters. Right-click on it and choose Properties. Under the advanced tab, look for either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz channel width. Selecting 20 MHz disables channel bonding while Auto allows the router to determine the optimal channel width.

Emil S.

Emil is a Data & Design Specialist with a degree in BS Information System, specializes in Admin Support & Creative Design.

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