In the Lab: Michael Brown Re-examines 802.11n Draft 2.0 Routers

Nathan Edwards

I believe in real-world testing, but since I was living in an apartment when I wrote our router roundup in the November issue, I tested the products in our corporate office. I suspected that this environment—with its concrete floors and ceilings, aluminum-stud walls, and multiple wireless networks—would be more hostile than the typical home.

Imagine my surprise when the benchmark results in the environment of my newly built house turned out to be remarkably similar to my office results. Since the MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology at the heart of the 802.11n standard benefits from bounced and reflected signals, I presume that the concrete floors and ceiling and the aluminum studs actually enhanced the routers’ performance—bouncing and multiplying the signals as they traveled to the remote client.

My new home is located on what was once a dairy farm, so I had earlier hypothesized that the absence of competing wireless networks would result in much better performance. Now I think that all the metal and concrete in the office was more conducive to MIMO’s signal propagation than my home’s wood-frame construction.

Two aspects of my house’s design had a highly negative impact on range and throughput. The routers had a difficult time penetrating my double-walled, double-insulated media room. The room is fabulous from an acoustic perspective, but it’s practically a Faraday cage when it comes to wireless (I hard-wired it with CAT5e). Reaching clients outside the house was also difficult because the exterior walls are clad in dense fiber-cement siding.

Despite all this, I still think my house is a better real-world environment than the office. You’ll find additional information about my Wi-Fi testing methodology at my blog .

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