Wireless technology makes it possible for you to connect your laptop, video game console and other devices from your home, without the use of dozens of feet of networking cable. This same technology allows you to use the Internet when waiting in an airport or relaxing at a coffee shop. Improvement to wireless technology, such as the development of 5 GHz frequencies instead of 2.4 GHz, help wireless networks become more efficient, like their wired counterparts.
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Wireless devices, such as routers, are capable of broadcasting network signals at specific frequencies. These frequencies are measured in units such as gigahertz (GHz). Both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies are used by wireless routers and connected devices, ranging from laptops to video game consoles. Wireless-G and Wireless-B devices -- also known as 802.11g and 802.11b devices, respectively -- are especially common and rely upon 2.4 GHz frequencies, while Wireless-N routers are capable of broadcasting at both frequencies.
The 2.4 GHz frequency has the advantage of fast transmission rates, which is important when you are downloading or uploading many files or large files from your computer on a wireless network. Wireless-N routers, which broadcast on the 5 GHz frequency, also provide high throughput in terms of speed, and both technologies are relatively inexpensive. Thus, you can purchase either a Wireless-G, B or N router -- or compatible adaptors -- from your local electronics store for comparable prices.
Because many devices, including microwaves and cordless phones, also use the 2.4 GHz frequency, Wireless-G or B routers may have more trouble establishing and keeping a consistent connection. You can reduce this interference by using fewer devices that rely upon the 2.4 GHz frequency. However, if you are in a location where many devices transfer wireless signals, such as an office or apartment building, you may wish to upgrade to a 5 GHz wireless device instead, because this frequency tends to be less crowded.
Frequency is only one difference between wireless routers that are currently on the market. Wireless-N routers have nearly double the indoor range of Wireless-B and G (2.4 GHz) routers, with a range of 230 feet compared to a range of 125 feet. Outdoor range for Wireless-N signals reaches a maximum of 820 feet, while G and B signals reach only 460 feet. Of course, if you already own a laptop or other device that will be receiving a wireless signal, you should purchase a wireless router that uses compatible technology. Because Wireless-N routers are capable of broadcasting at 2.4 GHz, they are backward-compatible with devices that only receive Wireless-B or G signals. However, this will reduce the efficiency of the wireless router.
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