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Time: August 18th, 2023

This blog post talks about the 802.11 n vs 802.11 ac comparison and basic definitions of both. The comparison makes sense as it allows you to understand the differences between the two widely used wifi technologies.

What is 802.11n?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) introduced the 802.11n wireless networking standard, generally referred to as Wi-Fi 4, in 2009. Following 802.11a, 802.11b, & 802.11g, it is the fourth generation of IEEE 802.11 wireless networking standards.

In comparison to its predecessors, 802.11n offers faster data transmission rates and greater range. It utilizes multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology and works in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. MIMO enables the use of many antennas for data transmission and reception, boosting overall throughput and enhancing the dependability and quality of the wireless signal.

Multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), 40 MHz channels for the PHY (physical layer), frame aggregation for the MAC layer, and security enhancements are just a few of the features that the 802.11n standard adds to the preceding 802.11 standards. This standard's goal is to increase network speed and data rate compared to the two earlier standards, 802.11a and 802.11g. While retaining the same spectrum as 802.11a, it also uses MIMO-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) to boost data rates.

What is 802.11 ac?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) introduced the 802.11ac wireless networking standard, sometimes referred to as Wi-Fi 5, in 2013. The IEEE 802.11 wireless networking protocols, which also include 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n, are now in their fifth generation. 

The improvements made by 802.11n are built upon by 802.11ac, which offers even faster data transfer rates, greater range, and superior overall performance. It only uses the 5 GHz frequency spectrum and incorporates several new technologies to improve wireless communication.

The 802.11ac wireless standard for home and business networks is now widely adopted. However, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and 802.11ay (Wi-Fi 6E) have subsequently replaced them and offer even more advancements in speed, capacity, and effectiveness.

802.11 n vs 802.11 ac: A Comparison

It is still important to compare the two protocols, especially for customers who might have older devices or certain network requirements that call for a backward-compatible solution, even though 802.11ac has mostly replaced 802.11n due to its higher performance. The developments made through time and the evolution of wireless networking may both be understood by studying the enhancements made in each iteration of Wi-Fi technology.


1. Band of Frequency:

802.11ac: Only uses the 5 GHz frequency spectrum for operation.

802.11n: Operates in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands.

2. Multiple-Input MIMO (multiple-output) technology

802.11ac: Uses beamforming technology for better signal directionality and supports up to 8 spatial streams.

802.11n: Uses MIMO technology and can support up to 4 spatial streams, however, it lacks explicit beamforming.


1. Rates of data transfer:

802.11ac: Increased data transfer rates of up to several gigabits per second (Gbps) are supported by 802.11ac.

802.11n: Supports data transfer rates up to 600 Mbps, which is slower than 802.11ac.

2. Range:

802.11ac: Offers greater range than 802.11n, particularly when combined with beamforming technology.

802.11n: Offers a respectable range but can have a little less coverage than 802.11ac.

3. Reverse Compatibility

802.11ac: Designed to work with 802.11a/b/g/n devices and be backward compatible with earlier Wi-Fi protocols.

802.11n: This Wi-Fi protocol is also backward compatible with 802.11a/b/g devices, enabling communication.


1. Widest Channel:

For enhanced data capacity, 802.11ac introduces greater channel widths of up to 160 MHz.

Supports channel widths up to 40 MHz in 802.11n.

2. Modulation:

802.11ac: Uses more sophisticated modulation techniques, like 256-QAM, for better data encoding & faster communication rates.

802.11n: Compared to 802.11ac, 802.11n uses 64-QAM modulation, which offers lower data speeds.

3. Beamforming:

802.11ac: For improved signal strength and performance, 802.11ac introduces explicit beamforming, which enables access points to concentrate wireless transmissions onto particular client devices.

802.11n: Although certain devices might offer implicit beamforming, 802.11n does not support explicit beamforming.

4. Performance:

802.11ac: In comparison to 802.11n, 802.11ac provides greater overall performance, faster speeds, and higher throughput. Supports data transfer rates up to several gigabits per second (Gbps).

802.11n: Offers high performance but is slower and less capable than 802.11ac. Supports up to 4 spatial streams and supports data transfer rates of up to 600 Mbps. 

Wrapping Up:

This post compared the 802.11 n vs 802.11 ac in terms of functions, upgrades, and performance. It's important to note that 802.11ac has essentially taken the role of 802.11n as the wireless network standard. However, several variables, such as device capabilities, network settings, interference, and proximity to the access point, affect Wi-Fi availability and performance.

802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) is now the Wi-Fi standard that businesses utilize the most. Due to its enhanced performance, greater data transfer rates, and overall better reliability compared to the more dated 802.11n standard, it has become the default option for many businesses.

802.11ac is a good choice for enterprise deployments because it provides faster speeds, more capacity, and improved support for high-density situations. In order to handle the demands of numerous users, applications, and devices in enterprise contexts, MIMO technology, broader channels, and beamforming help enable quicker and more stable connections.

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