The standard for wireless products has been 802.11b, capable of reliable but relatively slow network speeds. Shortly after the 802.11b standard was finalized, products flooded onto the market and prices fell quickly. Until recently, the shelves at CompUSA were loaded with 802.11b routers and USB adapters and PC Cards and the like.

Behind the scenes, the finishing touches were being put on another wireless standard, 802.11g. Last year the final 802.11g standards were adopted and the manufacturers began their serious push to develop 802.11g equipment.

802.11g is compatible with 802.11b, but it can move data five times faster than 802.11b traffic. The difference isn’t very important for most small businesses and home users today, but it will become more noticeable as we start increasing our network traffic with more devices – and especially when we start moving video files from place to place with the next generation of home media devices.

All of a sudden prices dropped on 802.11g equipment and suddenly it’s the wireless equipment of choice. Don’t throw away your existing 802.11b routers, but the shelves are now loaded with 802.11g equipment at prices similar to the 802.11b devices a few months ago. In this world of pinpoint inventory control, there don’t even seem to be any 802.11b devices at fire sale prices; they’ve just disappeared in favor of comparable 802.11g equipment.

Here’s an article about the rapid shift to 802.11g and the “death” of 802.11b.

It’s all good news except for one odd development: manufacturers are experimenting with various more or less proprietary ways to increase speeds or extend the range of wireless networks. You can’t be positive that equipment from different manufacturers will work together. In general, you can increase your chances of success if all of your equipment comes from the same manufacturer – especially the routers, repeaters, and antennas broadcasting the signals. Here’s an excerpt from an article on Tom’s Networking about the new generation of bridges and repeaters urging you to buy from a single manufacturer to avoid frustration.

Rant: It feels like a return to the 80s when it was commonplace to wrestle with incompatible hardware. Welcome to the world of “choice” and “innovation.” Maybe there will be an explosion of exciting new products – but so far I mostly see confusion and anger from consumers who aren’t adequately advised about the limitations on their purchases. We may get nostalgic for the days when Microsoft was dictating the specs for everything.

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