54Mbps is *not* better than 11Mbps!

This week we find ourselves back at our old ‘home’ RV park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  This park has Coach Connect as their Wi-Fi hotspot provider and it is very good.  So, we were quite surprised when a fellow RVer here said to us, “The Wi-Fi here is not so good.”  When we pressed him further, he explained that it is *only* 11Mbps when he much prefers those that operate at 54Mbps.  Oh My.  Another misinformed user.  He was convinced that 54 meant a better Web-browsing experience for him than 11.  Jim tried to tell him, but he had no interest in listening to the explanation of why it makes no difference.  I hope you will!

First, let’s review the measurement.  11Mbps stands for 11 Megabits per second.  Mega=1 million.  You also see measurements like 56Kbps.  That stands for Kilobits per second.  Kilo = 1 thousand.  So, 1Mb = 1,000 Kb.  A typical dial-up modem speed of 56Kbps is about the same as .05Mbps – right? 

Now, take a look at this diagram. 

  network-speed-diagram.gif

Notice that the 11Mbps or 54Mbps is only within the WiFi Hotspot or wireless local area network (WLAN).  Only traffic between the computers and the Access Point/Router travels at those speeds.  The speed of data flowing from the Internet is only at 1.5Mbps (normal U.S DSL speed).

Think of it like a hose, or a pipe.  The pipe of data from the Internet carries 1.5Mbps.  Imagine a 1.5 inch diameter.  That dumps into the pipes in the Wi-Fi Hotspot which carry 11 or 54Mbps.  Anything over 1.5 is simply wasted.  So, the fact of a Wi-Fi hotspot operating at 54Mbps is irrelevant to the speed of browsing on the Internet.  It’s the Internet connection that counts. 

So why does the salesperson at the computer store tell you that that the G equipment (54Mbps) is so much better than the B equipment (11Mbps?)  Because he’s not referring to a public Wi-Fi Hotspot.  He’s thinking of an office network where workers need speed to share files and printers within the office, or a home network where kids are playing multi-computer games.  The speed within the network makes a big difference in those situations.  But not in an RV park!  In fact, the B type networks can actually go a little farther than the G’s.  So, which would you rather have in an RV park?  A Wi-Fi Hotspot that is 50 times faster than the source Internet connection, or a Hotspot that is only 10 times faster and goes a little farther distance?

So, how do you know what your Internet speed is anyway?  Hopefully, you now know that it is *not* by looking at the speed of your Wireless Network connection – that should be 11 or 54.  What we’re looking for is the speed of the stream of Internet data that makes it to your computer. 

What we want is ‘Broadband.’ Wi-Fi is broadband, it should be a lot faster than a dial-up connection.  Broadband is usually defined as greater than 200Kbps download speed.  Look at that number closely.  200Kbps = .2Mbps, right?  A nice, fast connection will be 800Kbps or more.  800Kbps = .8Mbps.  I’m telling you you have a fast connection, and you’re not even at 1Mbps!  If you want to see these numbers on your computer, go to a site like www.DSLReports.com or www.TestMy.net.  They have tools that will send data to your computer and calculate the speed.  These numbers are very interesting, but I don’t put a whole lot of store in them.  There are so many factors that can affect the numbers, like latency (delay) if you’re on a satellite connection, or the number of other users on the network and what they’re doing. 

The only thing that really counts is your browsing experience.  Can you get to websites quickly?  Do pictures appear fast?  Can you view a video without pauses?  A good test would be to watch one of our computer tutorial videos from www.GeeksOnTour.com.  Try the one on Connecting to a Wi-Fi Hotspot.  If you can open that link and have the video start right away then play all the way through without pause, then you’re on a good, fast Internet connection.  If the playback hiccups, stops, or starts over, then you don’t have enough speed on your Internet connection to keep up with the play.  You can pause the playback until the download catches up.

I guess I have to mention the ‘N’ type of wireless networks.  There will always be the new, improved version!  N wireless network products are supposed to be faster and go farther than any of it’s predecessors.  You should now know that the faster part doesn’t matter for public Wi-Fi hotspots.  The farther part would be awfully nice though, wouldn’t it?  The problem is that if you buy an ‘N’ wireless adapter for your computer, it will only go farther if you’re at a Wi-Fi hotspot that uses an ‘N’ router/access point.  And, it needs to be the same brand name as yours as well, because there is no standard for N’s yet.  In other words, don’t waste your money.

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2 Responses to 54Mbps is *not* better than 11Mbps!

  1. The only throughput that matters is the actual speed that you get between two points. DSL Reports is my preferred speed testing site.

  2. Joe Forrester says:

    Great article and clear explanation.

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