Wrap Up and Conclusions
So now that you know how fast these products go, what to buy? If you are looking for whole-house wireless coverage for primarily data needs (email, web browsing) and maybe some audio streaming, then any of these products will do. But the least desirable from a price / overall performance view are the ParkerVision products, because they are limited to 802.11b speeds (5Mbps or so), yet still charge a very hefty premium. I mean, really folks, with the going rate for 11b cards at around $15 and routers around $20 (with rebates), who can justify spending $80 for an 802.11b D2D CardBus adapter and $160 for a router?!
Updated 11/27/2004 As of 11/22/204 ParkerVision reduced the price of its router to $99.99 and the card and USB adapters to $79.99 each. While this is a welcome step in the right direction, the products still have a significant price premium compared to other 802.11b products.
So that narrows the field to Super-G based products and the Belkin Pre-N. Again, either of these products will serve you well for whole-house coverage, but at speeds fast enough for heavy data networking plus video and audio streaming. The Pre-N gear, however, will give you more speed margin, since speeds in my indoor tests tended more toward 40Mbps vs. 20Mbps for the NETGEAR Super-G products. If you want to reach beyond your four walls, however, yet keep speeds high, the clear choice is Belkin's Pre-N duo, which clearly delivered more stable throughput, even at very long distances.
Since Super-G based products are available from multiple vendors, you'll have more flexibility with pricing if you go that way. As I write this, you can pick up the single-band (11b/g) equivalents of the WGU624 and WG511U - the WGT624 and WG511T - for as little as $70 and $45 respectively, or $55 after rebate from Amazon in the form of the WGTB511T Wireless Super G Kit. If you decide to spring for the "Double 108" pair that I tested, you'll end up spending around $160 vs. around $230 - $250 for a Belkin Pre-N setup, which is 11b/g only. I expect prices to stay high until other manufacturers come out with Airgo-based products, which I wouldn't expect until early in 2005 from what I hear.
It's clear that Airgo has really come up with something special with its True MIMO technology, which is the clear throughput vs. range winner in my testing. But before you rush out to buy Belkin's Pre-N products, keep a few things in mind.
First, "Pre-N" is neither 802.11n, nor can even be considered "pre-802.11n". I'm not just saying this to keep the Wi-Fi Alliance happy - who has threatened WLAN certification excommunication to any vendor that even infers that its products have 802.11n capabilities. Instead I went right to the source and asked Airgo for their official position on the upgradability of True MIMO-based products to 802.11n when the standard is ratified. Carl Temme, Airgo's Director of Marketing, had this response:
"Pre-n is shorthand for "Wi-Fi compatible 802.11a/b/g products that offer MIMO OFDM extensions." Pre-n gives the significant benefits of 802.11n along with Wi-Fi compatibility today.
Pre-n does not mean interoperability with future 11n products in the 11n modes. To the extent that 802.11n products coexist nicely in the network with Wi-Fi products (which we all should hope and believe that
they will) it means that 802.11n will coexist with pre-n products."
While this doesn't directly answer the question of whether Airgo "Pre-N" products will be able to be upgraded to 802.11n products, it does say that Pre-N will nicely coexist with 802.11n products when they come along. The bottom line is that you should not expect that Airgo True MIMO-based products will be upgradable to 802.11n...at least not at this point with 11n ratification over a year away by most accounts.
Second, if wireless bridging and repeating or ability to attach higher-gain antennas is important to you, then you'll be disappointed, since the Belkin products support neither. I don't know that this is a big deal, though, given the phenomenal range provided with the product as is.
Finally, realize that the current Pre-N products still are 2.4GHz (802.11b/g) based, and that spectrum is crowded and getting more so every day. So if you're struggling with interference from neighboring 11b/g networks, you won't find any relief by switching to Belkin's Pre-N products. Note also that I haven't addressed in this report how well Pre-N products play in mixed networks. My preliminary tests say it plays well, but this important subject bears a closer look, which you should expect soon.
In the meantime, if you're looking for the fastest, longest range 2.4GHz consumer wireless stuff currently on the planet, then Belkin's Pre-N based on Airgo Networks' True MIMO is it. It's real. It works. And it will simply amaze you.