Have you ever been at a friend’s house and noticed how much faster their Wi-Fi connection is than yours?
If you find this happening, first make sure you are comparing apples to apples. I.e., are you using the same Internet Service Provider (ISP) and paying for the same speed tier?
Next, if you discover you and your friend have the same ISP and internet package, you’re going to want to read today’s article to get a better understanding of what’s going on with wireless speeds.
The IEEE 802.11 standard defines the parameters for wireless local area networks (WLAN or Wi-Fi).
The first version of the 802.11 family of standards was defined in 1997. At that time, the maximum speed (aka data rate or bandwidth) for WLAN was 2 Mbps at 2.4 GHz.
This initial specification was expanded in 1999 to include the “a” and “b” variations. 802.11a offers a speed of 54 Mbps at 5 GHz. 802.11b offers a speed of 11 Mbps at 2.4 GHz.
Even though the 802.11b standard had a lower bandwidth, it was more successful. Manufacturers found it easier to implement the 802.11b standard in their devices.
In 2003, the 802.11g standard was introduced with a maximum 54 Mbps at 2.4 GHz. This standard wasn’t fully backward compatible. It only worked with 802.11b.
The next major change was 802.11n. This standard was backward compatible with all the other specifications, while having the capability to run at up to 600 Mbps. It uses both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.
In 2013, IEEE defined the 802.11ac standard that can go up to 1300 Mbps at 5GHz, and is compatible with b/g/n standards.
Since the names of the standards are a little tricky to remember and keep straight, the Wi-Fi Alliance has taken pity on us and come up with simpler names:
- Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n),
- Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), and
- Wi-Fi 6 (802.ax).
A higher number designates newer technology. (In fact, Wi-Fi 6 is still in development.)
Differences between Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5
Most of the routers and devices on the market today use either the Wi-Fi 4 or Wi-Fi 5 standard. Let’s look at the differences.
Frequency and Signal Distance
Besides speed, a noticeable difference between the two standards is the frequencies at which they operate:
- Wi-Fi 4 uses both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz
- Wi-Fi 5 can only use 5 GHz
What’s the significance? In general, higher frequency bands allow faster speeds, but lower frequency bands can travel longer distances.
That being said, you’re not likely to find much difference in signal strength between Wi-Fi 5 with 5 GHz and Wi-Fi 4 with 2.4 GHz. Why? Because fewer devices in your home are using 5 GHz, so the signal is likely to encounter less interference.
When older wireless routers (e.g., those using Wi-Fi 4) send out signals, they broadcast it in all directions. With beamforming technology, the router determines where the connected devices are and concentrates the signals in that direction.
Wi-Fi 5 has beamforming built into the standard, making it more efficient. This also makes it less important that your router be centrally located in your home.
Because it’s a newer specification, Wi-Fi 5 routers and devices are more expensive.
What About 802.11ax?
The next big Wi-Fi standard (now in development) is 802.11ax. This standard is expected to support 4x to 10x faster speeds than existing Wi-Fi. But it isn’t expected to be available until late-2019 at the earliest.
Even when it does become available, we don’t recommend traders immediately make the switch. It will take some time for 802.11ax devices to become stable and affordable.
Although trading over a Wi-Fi connection is not our first choice, trading over a wired connection is not always possible.
Traders should have a basic understanding of wireless options so they can make the best possible decision when it’s time to invest in a new trading computer or router.
Stay tuned for our next post where we get more specific about what traders should look for when buying Wi-Fi components for their trading setup.
There are more trading computer tips like this in our buyer’s guide. Check out our “How To Buy a Trading Computer” e-book.
Remember, we are here to help with all your technology-related questions. If you think of additional questions about computer hardware or other questions, give me a call. My team and I are here to help. We’re happy to answer any of your questions about trading computers via phone: 800-387-5250.
Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash.