For the longest time, conventional wisdom held that using older Wi-Fi devices on a wireless network built for the latest standards would slow it down. In reality, however, there are only a few situations when that might happen. To clear up the rampant misinformation about this topic, here’s the definitive answer to when and how old devices might slow down your Wi-Fi network.
The Basics of Wi-Fi Network Operation
No matter which generation of Wi-Fi networking technology you use in your home, it will operate in much the same way. Wi-Fi uses radio waves, either in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz ranges, to transmit data. The major difference between the various flavors of Wi-Fi is how they use those frequencies and the maximum data throughput they support.
Networks that transmit within the 2.4 GHz spectrum split the spectrum up into 14 subchannels and select one to transmit and receive data on at any given time. As a result of the limited space in the spectrum, only three channels in the 2.4 GHz space don’t overlap with others.
On the other hand, networks that transmit in the 5 GHz range have 24 channels to work with, and none of them overlap. Plus, the shorter wavelength of 5 GHz radio waves makes it easier to transmit data at higher speeds at the cost of decreased range.
The Types of Old Devices That May Cause Trouble
There’s a common misconception that using Wi-Fi devices that use different frequency ranges on the same network will lead to slowdowns. This is part of where the idea that mixing old and new devices guarantees speed trouble on your network comes from. However, this is not exactly accurate.
In reality, multiple Wi-Fi standards support the use of both frequency ranges. Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) use both frequencies to support maximum throughput at short ranges and maximum network reach at longer ranges. Plus, each successive Wi-Fi standard includes backward compatibility, so you don’t have to replace every older device you own each time you buy a new Wi-Fi router.
There is one specific combination of Wi-Fi standards that seems to cause trouble, backward compatibility notwithstanding. It happens when you use a Wi-Fi 2 (802.11b) device on a Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) or newer network. Fortunately, Wi-Fi 2 devices slowly started disappearing from store shelves in the early 2000s, although they still appear in rare instances today.
Why Is Wi-Fi 2 Problematic?
There are a variety of reasons that Wi-Fi 2 devices will slow down newer networks. The first is that they demand a handshake that includes a long preamble. A preamble is how a Wi-Fi device notifies other devices on the network that it’s about to transmit data. Newer devices use a short preamble, which takes half as much time to execute. Unfortunately, all devices sharing a network must use the same preamble type, so a Wi-Fi 2 device will force your whole network to slow down to accommodate it.
Wi-Fi 2 devices also transmit and receive data at a far slower rate than devices with updated Wi-Fi. While newer devices can stick to their high speeds for most of the time while sharing a network with Wi-Fi 2 devices, there are some exceptions. One is traffic signaling packets, which all devices on a network must be able to hear. This means newer devices will have to wait to receive slower clearances to send and receive data while sharing a network with a Wi-Fi 2 device.
Plus, the overall slower throughput of Wi-Fi 2 devices means more congestion on your network. The good news is that most devices connecting on the 5 GHz spectrum won’t be affected by slowdowns created by Wi-Fi2 devices, which transmit on the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Test the speed of your internet connection here!
Don’t Cripple Your Wi-Fi
The bottom line is that it’s a good idea to try and remove older devices from your home Wi-Fi network as soon as possible. In most cases, getting rid of Wi-Fi 2 devices shouldn’t be hard since most are already obsolete. However, you should always try and upgrade all of your devices to newer standards just as soon as you’re able to avoid any incompatibility issues or slowdowns.
That way, all of your devices can take advantage of the maximum speeds required to get the most out of your blazing-fast internet service from GVEC Internet. We deliver high-speed wireless and extreme-speed fiber internet options for residential, business, and enterprises in Gonzales and other areas in South Central Texas, and we’re committed to helping our customers take the greatest advantage of what we have to offer. To take advantage of our special offers and enjoy reliable, affordable internet where you live, call GVEC Internet today!