Monday, July 14, 2008
Posted by Jason Dunn in "Digital Home Talk" @ 02:00 PM
I had a particularly frustrating experience last week that reminded me of my utter contempt for the un-finished wireless protocol that is 802.11n. I do a bit of computer consulting when I have time for it, and someone needs my help, so I was assisting someone with the setup of a laptop. He had purchased an HP dv6700 "Thrive" laptop based on my reccomendation (it's one beautiful machine!) and he also purchased a Linksys WRT160N 802.11n router based on the recommendation of the salesperson at Best Buy. He didn't ask me what kind of wireless router to buy. Can you guess where this is going? He spent over an hour on the phone with Linksys tech support trying to get this router working with his laptop, but he was never able to get a connection that lasted for longer than a few seconds. He returned the Linksys router and tried again with the same model, with the same results. That's when he called me for help.
I was initially hopeful that it wasn't an 802.11n compatibility issue, thinking to myself "Ok, brand new laptop, brand new router, surely they've worked things out by now?". I spent over an hour trouble-shooting this one issue, managing to get a slightly stable connection after first creating a hard-wired connection and running Windows Update (which delivered an Intel wireless chipset update), but the connection didn't last through a sleep/resume - it refused to see the network after that point. I checked for a new router firmware update (there wasn't one), and even forced the router into 802.11g mode (it didn't help). I eventually advised my client to return the fancy Linksys router and ask for a Linksys WRT54G. I came back a few days later, set up the old 802.11g router in five minutes, and had a fast, stable connection that worked through their entire house (and into the back yard). You know, the way setting up a wireless router should work.
I'm usually a big fan of the "next big thing" in technology, but I've seen more problems with 802.11n than I care to remember. When it works, it works great - but unless you're fortunate enough to have just the right chipset in your mobile device and just the right chipset in the wireless router, you're in for a world of frustration. The various comittees involved in finalizing the 802.11n spec have failed the entire technology world: by not locking the technology down and creating the standard, they've allowed all of the wireless router manufacturers to flood the market with incompatible products that destroy consumer confidence in wireless networking. I'll continue to recommend 802.11g routers over 802.11n products until such time as the technology is matured enough for real-world usage. Until then, 802.11n is dead to me.