November 14, 2008
| by Ben Hardy
Simultaneous, dual-N band wireless routers are helping to accelerate the widespread wireless streaming and sending of audio, video, and data content throughout the home. With two simultaneously operating radio bands, these devices maintain the wireless status quo of networked printers, PCs, and peripherals and integrate wirelessly transmitted HD video and audio content for the home’s entertainment needs.
A simultaneous, dual-n band wireless router essentially doubles one’s wireless bandwidth, providing two access points across two frequency bands, the 2.4 frequency and 5 frequency. This long-winded description is best broken down into its parts, to fully appreciate what these devices can do for the home. A router that operates simultaneously across two bands enables users to access the network for web-browsing on one band (2.4) while the other band is used for streaming of HD video or online gaming. The ability to switch from one band to the other reduces the interference effect caused by other networks or devices using the 2.4 frequency, such as cordless phones. More importantly, dividing the home’s wireless load between two frequencies ensures that time-sensitive applications like streaming audio or high-definition video get the required bandwidth for maximum performance. Of course most readers are familiar with the benefits of the latest 802.11n (“Wireless-N”) technology. Wireless-N offers longer ranges (some claim up to four times as much as 802.11g) and faster speeds (claims of 12 times the speed of 802.11g are common). The dual-n router brings wireless-n capability across both frequencies, with backward compatibility for a/b/g devices.
Linksys, NETGEAR and D-Link all have dual-n band routers on the market today. Consumers should look at the fine print. The earliest dual-n band routers weren’t “simultaneous” in nature, nor were they technically “dual-n band.” One type of almost-there router, dubbed a “Selectable” dual-n band router by one manufacturer, was able to operate in either the 2.4 GHz or 5 band, but not both at the same time. That same manufacturer also labeled “Hybrid” dual-n band routers as those with Wireless-N technology only supported in one of the frequency bands, while the other lagged behind in 802.11G.
A simultaneous, dual-n band wireless router is an essential fixture in the bandwidth-hungry home. We’re talking about the home with the serious HD content, online gaming fiends, whole-home audio set-up, and internet addicts. Routers restricted to one frequency band quickly see bandwidth eaten up by simultaneously-running applications like VoIP, video streaming, and Internet browsing. The simultaneous dual-n band routers allows households to see wireless online gaming consoles (Wii, Xbox 360, etc.) used at the same time VoIP calls are made and simple web-browsing is performed, without a drop in performance. Applications like online-gaming, HD video or audio streaming, and VoIP tend to operate best on the 5 frequency. Enabling Wireless-N capability on this frequency – as well as the 2.4 frequency – brings the best of both worlds to the meet a home’s wireless needs.
Features to Look For
Netgear, Linksys, D-Link and others like them are all putting out their new dual-n band routers to compete with one another. There can be a few startling differences and technological omissions from brand to brand, and though we won’t play favorites, we do encourage readers to consider these must-have features:
- “True” dual-n band: This means both the 2.4 and 5 frequency bands support 802.11n (Wireless-N). In some devices, Wireless-N is only supported in one of the frequencies, while the other lags behind in 802.11g (also called “Hybrids”). “Selectable” dual-n band routers are even worse, operating in either the 2.4 or 5 band, but never both at the same time.
- USB support: A router isn’t a router if you cannot connect a network printer, hard drive, or flash-based USB storage device.
- Gigabit support: Without Gigabit support, your wired throughput will be limited. Look for Gigabit WAN and LAN options.
- Prioritizing: This particular feature will go by a couple different names, depending on the manufacturer. D-Link calls it Intelligent QoS Prioritization Technology; Linksys has Entertainment Optimized Networking. Whatever the name, it is the router’s ability to analyze the wired and/or wireless traffic and prioritize certain applications like HD video, VoIP, and online gaming, to make sure they are given bandwidth priority to eliminate lagging, delays, and interruption.
The simultaneous dual-n band wireless router is still new enough that it no manufacturer’s version can yet be hailed the “perfect product.” Some have been criticized for set-up woes, other for inconsistency in the wireless signal and connectivity. Consumers are advised to do the research before purchasing, and consider customer reviews and ratings.
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.