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Review of Pre-N Routers

If you need to rev up your wi-fi now, a pre-n router could do the trick.

Wi-fi has come a long way since 802.11b. We keep getting more range and bandwidth at more affordable prices, and now it's time for the next great leap forward to 802.11n. Well, almost. The 802.11n protocol is still being hashed out. But there are already a host of MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) hardware options on the market that will take you most of the way there. MIMO is an 802.11n component technology that sends multiple signals caroming around your site to find the surest path to multiple smart antennas. The upshot is better coverage over greater distances than 802.11g.

We still have some waiting to do before the new 802.11n standard and the specific flavor of MIMO to go with it get settled. In the meantime, businesses that have an immediate need for greater range and performance than basic 802.11g offers can turn to the recent crop of MIMO routers. If your office has dead spots or you're looking for a better mix of speed and range, you're a good candidate for pre-n MIMO hardware.

Just what kind of range gains can you expect? They vary from site to site, but the Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router (F5D8230-4) boasts 800 percent wider coverage over standard 802.11g adapters. You'll hear a lot of comparative stats like that when looking at MIMO devices because adapter placement, office partitions and passing co-workers can affect signal efficacy. How about speed? Also relative, but always better. Buffalo Technology's AirStation MIMO Wireless Cable/DSL Router (WZR-G108) provides up to eight times the speeds you're used to with 802.11g. You'll find the greatest speed gains at the edges of your network, where older Wi-Fi protocols would normally fade. One notable Buffalo feature is its AirStation One-Touch Secure System, a quick way to get your WPA security up and running. Your other adapters also need to be equipped with the One-Touch system to take advantage.

To get familiar with the multiple-antenna setup you'll be seeing in the latest routers, check out the D-Link DI-634M Wireless 108G MIMO Router. For an affordable $106 (all prices street), it features four antennas--two horizontal and two vertical--and a Quick Router Setup Wizard. The Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router with SRX200 features a four-port 10/100 switch for $99, and the three-year warranty is a nice perk. In the same price range is SMC Networks' Barricade g 802.11g MIMO Wireless Cable/DSL Broadband Router, which is based on a 54Mbps 802.11g access point and includes a four-port Ethernet switch.

The Netgear RangeMax 240 steps on the gas with up to 240Mbps of sheer speed when used in conjunction with RangeMax 240 adapters. That's equivalent to wired Ethernet and hints at the speeds 802.11n will reach. Most MIMO-enabled routers reach about 108Mbps.

Here are some things to remember when you go MIMO: You'll want to stay with hardware from the same vendor, since interoperability can be iffy among pre-n hardware. Your existing 802.11b/g hardware should benefit from MIMO's extended range, but the biggest performance boosts will come from upgrading across the board. And there's no guarantee that your current MIMO hardware will get along with the yet-to-be-ratified 802.11n standard, so only upgrade if you won't mind a possible standards mire later on.

Shopping List Get your wireless network on the fast track and bring dead spots to life with one of these routers.
MANUFACTURER/
MODEL
CONTACT FEATURES PRICE
Belkin
Wireless Pre-N Router (F5D8230-4)
(800) 2-BELKIN
www.belkin.com
Four-port LAN switch,
16MB memory
$149
Buffalo Technology
AirStation MIMO Wireless Cable/DSL
Router (WZR-G108)
(800) 456-9799
www.buffalotech.com
Four-port 10/100 Ethernet
switch, One-Touch Secure System
$149
D-Link
DI-634M Wireless 108G MIMO Router
(800) 326-1688
www.dlink.com
Four-port LAN switch,
Quick Router Setup Wizard
$106
Linksys
Wireless-G Broadband Router
with SRX200
(800) 546-5797
www.hp.com
Four-port LAN switch,
three-year warranty
$99
Netgear
RangeMax 240 Wireless Router
(888) NETGEAR
www.netgear.com
Four-port LAN switch,
touchless Wi-Fi security
$170
SMC Networks
Barricade g 802.11g MIMO Wireless
Cable/DSL Broadband Router
(800) SMC-4YOU
www.smc.com
Four-port Ethernet switch
touchless Wi-Fi security
$100-
$130

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This article was originally published in the March 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finding MIMO.

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