Wireless networking products are never modest in their performance claims. However, Belkin's new Wireless Pre-N Router (£120) and Notebook Network Card (£40) promise – and deliver – dramatically faster speeds and much better range than their fastest 802.11g predecessors.
Not only is the new gear compatible with 802.11g and 802.11b equipment, in tests 802.11g clients actually performed better on a network based upon the Pre-N router. (The Pre-N name refers to the 802.11n standard that is still in development. More on that later.)
This impressive performance wouldn't matter if you used a wireless network only to share broadband internet access (which tops out at 1 to 1.5Mbps) and were happy with the range of your existing setup. But Belkin's Pre-N products would clearly benefit users who want to move large files, stream video or extend the range of their home or small-office Wi-Fi network.
The Pre-N products achieve their performance gains mostly by using technology called MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output), in which a number of antennas transmit many unique data streams in the same frequency channel (other Wi-Fi products transmit data in a single stream in a single channel).
Belkin says it calls the products "Pre-N" because some implementation of MIMO is almost certain to be the basis for the IEEE's upcoming 802.11n standard, the successor to today's 802.11a/b/g standards. Certified 802.11n products likely won't appear until early 2007. When they do, it's possible that Belkin's equipment will be incompatible with the certified gear.
But if you want to improve your net's speed or range, there’s no reason to wait the two-plus years until the 802.11n standard is finalised.
In tests transferring data between a PC connected to the Pre-N router via ethernet and an IBM ThinkPad R40 notebook equipped with the Pre-N PC Card, throughput speeds from a distance of 10 feet were between 37Mbps and 42Mbps, with an average of 40Mbps. When we ran the same tests with a network using Belkin's own 802.11g router and PC Card, throughput ranged from just 13Mbps to 23Mbps, with an average of 20Mbps.
When the notebook was moved some 50 feet and several rooms away from the PC and router, the Pre-N throughput declined, as would be expected. Speeds ranged from 12Mbps to 3Mbps, with an average of 20Mbps. But the 802.11g PC Card and router could not transfer data at all.
However, when the 802.11g router was replaced with the Pre-N router, the notebook with the 802.11g card was able to connect from 50 feet, though at speeds more akin to the slowest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11b. And when an 802.11g notebook was connected to a network that otherwise included all Pre-N equipment, the network didn't slow down.