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Can 802.11 protocols be used with GPRS connectivity?

Can 802.11 protocols be used with GPRS connectivity? Find out from our wireless networking expert, Lisa Phifer.

Can 802.11 protocols be used with GPRS connectivity?

802.11 and GPRS are two alternative wireless technologies -- they transmit different link layer protocols over different radio frequencies, using different modulation techniques.

Your question is kind of like asking "Can a car can be used with a motorcycle?" or "Can one person drive both at the same time?" The answer is no. Can one person own both and use them at different times? Absolutely. The trick is deciding which one to use, depending where you want to go and when. Or, if you can't afford to buy both, deciding which fits you best.

If you're trying to decide whether to purchase 802.11 or GPRS, consider where you will require wireless Internet connectivity. If you will need to be connected inside buildings, from a device that's not moving, at multi-megabit data rates, then choose 802.11. If you need to be connected outdoors, when actively traveling throughout a city or region, and can live with throughput less than 50 Kbps, GPRS (or a faster 3G wireless service) is better.

If you have a device with both 802.11 and GPRS -- like an iPhone -- then you can make the best of both worlds. When you're indoors and close to a home, office, or hotspot 802.11 AP, you'll get much faster service. When you go outside, you can fall back to GPRS, remaining connected to the Internet but at much slower rates. Connection manager software on dual-mode wireless devices can help coordinate this transition.

This was last published in February 2008

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