Three-stream Wi-Fi hits the mark

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

The rapid adoption of 802.11n has become a significant milestone in the history of wireless LANs. The MIMO-based technologies used in most 802.11n systems provide enough throughput, reliability, and rate vs. range performance to effectively remove the last major barriers to the broad adoption of WLANs in the enterprise.

But there is a broad range of options specified in 802.11n, and, consequently, many products with highly varying performance are on the market. A given 802.11n product is usually categorized by the number of spatial streams, with nominally 150Mbps of throughput possible per stream, assuming a 40 MHz. channel and a short guard interval.

Today, 600Mbps, via four streams, is the upper bound of the 802.11n standard, with two-stream implementations at nominally 300Mbps the effective norm. But we're starting to see a significant number of three-stream access points promising up to 450Mbps coming into the market.

We'd heard, anecdotally, about a 10% to 15% effective performance increase in three-stream products, which, while not bad, wouldn't set the world on fire. For this test we set out to do a level-playing-field analysis of three-stream products, using three-stream access points from seven different vendors and a two-stream access point as a baseline. Both enterprise-class and consumer/SMB-class products were tested in order to explore a broad range of options.

Is your 802.11n installation already obsolete?

The seven, three-stream access points are: Cisco Linksys E4200, D-Link DIR-665, Belkin N750, Netgear WNDR4500, Meraki MR24, Xirrus XR4830 and Cisco 3600. Our baseline AP was a Netgear WNDR 3800.

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