What is IEEE 802.11n?

What is 802.11n? What are its main features?

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- everything RF

Jul 9, 2022

IEEE 802.11n is a wireless networking standard that increases wireless local area network (WLAN) speed, improves reliability, and extends the range of wireless transmissions. It is an amendment to IEEE 802.11 and was published in October 2009. This standard introduced the use of MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) in Wi-Fi to increase the data rate in home and business WLAN networks. 802.11n compliant electronic devices are labeled as Wi-Fi 4 by the Wi-Fi Alliance (a non-profit organization that owns the Wi-Fi trademark).

Note: Though Wi-Fi 4 was a game-changer for the Wireless Industry, there have been significant technological advances in Wi-Fi technology since its development. This has resulted in Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6E and the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 Technology.

Key Features and Purpose of 802.11n

The 802.11n standard builds on previous 802.11 standards by adding features such as multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), 40 MHz channels to the PHY (physical layer), frame aggregation to the MAC layer, and security improvements with other features. The purpose of this standard is to improve network throughput and data rate over the two previous standards—802.11a and 802.11g. It also uses MIMO-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) to increase the data rate while maintaining the same spectrum as 802.11a.

802.11n devices can be used in 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. With the introduction of MIMO, multiple antennas can be used to simultaneously transmit/receive multiple streams of data, thus increasing the throughput of a wireless network. Typically, 802.11n supports up to four simultaneous streams. However, MIMO requires a separate radio-frequency chain and analog-to-digital converter for each MIMO antenna which increases its cost compared to non-MIMO systems.

Key features of 802.11n

Parameter802.11n standard
Frequency2.4 or 5 GHz
ModulationMIMO - OFDM
Bandwidth (MHz)20 or 40 MHz
Number of Spatial Streams1, 2, 3, or 4
Maximum data rate (Mbit/s)600 Mbit/s

Data Rate of 802.11n Standard

IEEE 802.11n devices can provide a data rate of up to 600 Mbps and supports both 2.4/5 GHz bands. This maximum data rate of 600 Mbps increases the throughput 10x that of the 802.11g network. It can achieve a data rate from 54 Mbit/s to 72 Mbit/s with a single spatial stream in a 20 MHz channel with one antenna. If there are no nearby microwave, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi emissions, 802.11n can achieve speeds up to 150 Mbps using two 20 MHz channels in 40 MHz mode. If more antennas are used, 802.11n devices can achieve speed up to 288 Mbps in 20 MHz mode with four antennas or 600 Mbps in 40 MHz mode with four antennas and four spatial streams.

The Successors to 802.11n 

IEEE 802.11n was superseded by 802.11ac in 2014, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) in 2019, and 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6E) in 2020. 802.11ay (Wi-Fi 7) is up next with each standard being faster and more reliable than the previous and are generally backward-compatible. 

What is IEEE 802.11?

IEEE 802.11 is a set of IEEE wireless computer networking standards that govern wireless local area network (WLAN) communication transmission methods. Today, they are commonly used in their 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax versions to provide wireless connectivity in homes and businesses. These standards specify a set of protocols for implementing the WLAN. IEEE 802.11 is used in most home and office networks to allow wireless communication between printers, smartphones, laptops, and other devices and access to the Internet.