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Three-stream Wi-Fi hits the mark

In 3-stream vs 2-stream tests, 7 MIMO-based access points deliver impressive performance increases

By Craig Mathias, Network World
March 26, 2012 12:07 AM ET

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And in the "far case scenario" (when the distance is about 7 meters but the signal travels between the basement and second floor of our test location) the improvement is a still-remarkable 39.18% - a good deal more than we expected.

In fact, we were very impressed by these results overall and thus would encourage anyone in the market for WLAN equipment to consider three-stream products.

Here's a short summary of each product's performance:

Cisco Linksys: Price $159.99

In the two-stream baseline test, the Cisco Linksys came in next to last, at 74Mbps in the near-distance test; and dead last at 62Mbps in the far-distance test. But when we turned on three-stream MIMO, the Linksys delivered 190Mbps and 125Mbps respectively, which puts it in second place overall. Not only that, the Linksys delivered improvement rates for three-stream over two-stream of 158% and 100% respectively.

D-Link: Price $99.

The D-Link DIR-665 is a low-cost consumer device that finished in the middle of the pack. In the near-distance test, D-Link improved from 91M to 123Mbps (up 35%) and in the far-distance test, D-Link went from 68M to 91Mbps (up 34%.)

Belkin: Price $99

The Belkin N750 is the other under-$100 device in our test. Belkin's far-distance test results were at the bottom of the pack - 64Mbps for two-stream results and 72Mbps for three stream. Its near-distance results were much better - 87Mbps to 157Mbps, for an improvement of 80%.

Netgear: Price $179.99

Netgear was our top performer in terms of total throughput, delivering 223Mbps in the near-distance test, and 128Mbps in the far-distance test.

Meraki: Price $1,199

Meraki scored well in our near-field test, coming in third with three-stream throughput of 184Mbps. In the far-distance test, Meraki was in the middle of the pack, with 89Mbps, a 35% increase over Meraki's two-stream performance.

Xirrus: Price: $6,450

The Xirrus price is a bit deceiving, since the Xirrus Array comes with eight separate radios. In terms of performance, Xirrus trailed the pack in the near-distance test, with a three-stream throughput of 115Mbps, but Xirrus performed near the top in the far-distance test with 93Mbps.

Cisco: Price: $1,495

The Cisco 3600 AP delivered 77Mbps in the near-distance, two-stream test and 179Mbps in the near-distance, three-stream test, an improvement of 133%. In the far-distance tests, Cisco went from 65M to 97Mbps, a 50% improvement.

Interestingly, the test of the two-stream baseline access point (a Netgear WNDR3800) showed a modest improvement in performance when using the three-stream client, leading to the conclusion that, just as 802.11n clients used backwards-compatibly with 802.11g infrastructure to yield a "better g than g" effect, similar "better than n" performance should result when using a three-stream client with two-stream access points.

The WNDR3800 also, remarkably, had the best two-stream near-distance and second-best two-stream far-distance performance, perhaps more than anything suggesting maturity in firmware and overall two-stream system implementation.

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