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How many more users will 802.11n wireless access points support?

Learn about the upgrades in 802.11n wireless access points; including speed, data rates, and bandwidth from wireless networking expert Lisa Phifer.

We're planning to replace our old .g access points (APs) with a new .n system. How many more users will new 802.11n wireless access points (WAPs) typically support?

By using MIMO antennas, advanced signal processing techniques, and wider channels, 802.11n increases an AP's total bandwidth. For example, an 802.11g AP operating at 54 Mbps can carry about 22 Mbps of data, while an 802.11n AP using 2x2 MIMO and a 40 MHz channel can operate at 300 Mbps, yielding data throughput of about 125 Mbps. An AP taking maximum advantage of all 802.11n features could potentially operate at 600 Mbps, further increasing effective throughput.

In a WLAN, available bandwidth is shared among all of the clients that use each channel. The more contention there is for a channel, the lower the throughput experienced by each client. However, 802.11n's higher data rates mean that each message takes less "air time" to transmit, making the channel more readily available to other clients.

As a result, an 802.11n AP can either support many more clients using the same old applications, or give the same old number of clients the ability to use higher-throughput applications like streaming video.

The bottom line: the number of users an AP can support depends on application mix. You can expect today's 802.11n APs to give you 5 times more bandwidth than 802.11g. How you spend that capacity is up to you.

This was last published in July 2008

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