Old devices that use 802.11b Wi-Fi are a problem. They can slow down modern Wi-Fi networks simply by operating on the same channel nearby. Your neighbor has such a device, and it brings down your Wi-Fi. There are plenty of myths and rumors being exaggerated, however, rogue 802.11b devices can certainly slow your network.
Is it that much of a slow-down?
Many people misunderstand how much an 802.11b device actually affects a newer network. They believe that if they have such a device on an 802.11g/802.11n network, it will go down right to 802.11b speeds because of compatibility reasons.
This is not true. Even if you have an 802.11b device on your Wi-Fi network, it will not slow down things this far. However, the effect is still there, and if you have an 802.11b, it is going to slow every other device on that network down somewhat.
Are neighbors in danger?
Some people think that if there is an 802.11b operating near them, it will slow down all nearby networks like a plague. This is not entirely true, although there is a catch to it.
If the device is on your network, it is going to affect your devices, obviously. If the device is on a different network near you, it will depend on the wireless channel. If your neighbor’s network is on a channel that overlaps with yours, you get affected. If the channels are different, your Wi-Fi is safe.
What’s the problem?
802.11b is a fairly ancient Wi-Fi standard, as it was released in 1999 and supplanted by 802.11g in 2003. Today’s modern Wi-Fi routers use diverse modulation techniques for transmissions, and they must adjust their settings to make sure older 802.11b devices can understand them, which slows things down a bit.
The old wireless B devices also transmit considerably slower, and their slow conversations consume the airwaves and force modern, faster devices to wait longer to communicate. Imagine all your Wi-Fi devices having to take turns. When the 802.11b device’s turn comes up, it has to communicate slowly, and then every device must wait longer for it to finish talking to the router.
Yes, you can replace all your 802.11b devices and even disable 802.11b on your Wi-Fi router. However, if someone nearby uses such a device on an overlapping channel, your Wi-Fi network will still be slowed down by the 802.11b device.
The solution is switching to 5 GHz Wi-Fi. A modern 802.11ac router will use 5 GHz Wi-Fi for 802.11ac and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi for your older 802.11b devices so they can continue to connect. Even older 802.11n routers often offer ‘dual band’ configurations that let both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz devices connect. Another benefit is that you will see much less interference from nearby Wi-Fi networks on 5 GHz.
And what kind of router and devices do you have? Share your configurations with us in the comments below! For more security wisdom, check out our articles on common home networking mistakes and tips for strengthening your wireless defenses!