Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why You Need to Be Wired Part 1

This post goes into all the gory details why using wi-fi to play games online is a bad idea. If you don't care so much as to the why, just find yourself an Ethernet cable and use that.

So wi-fi is great for a lot of things. For downloading items on your laptop or browsing the interwebs it is great. Even for flash games, which download and run on your local machine it works wonderfully.

It is no wonder next generation console makers would include it. In fact the Wii doesn't even have an Ethernet port. It's cheap to add and has wide spread appeal. That said, I've hit the single biggest disservice to gamers I've ever seen.

So, for those who don't know, 802.11a started at 5 Ghz. It was faster, less prone to interference but the signal only went ~50' and the components were expensive. Thus entered 802.11b/g. These two standards used the 2.4 Ghz range to get 3 times the range. 802.11b had a much reduced data rate, but 802.11g finally brought back 802.11a speeds with the extra distance. All is golden right?


As you may or may not be aware, 2.4 Ghz was open as that's the frequency microwaves used. Additionally some portable phones used this frequency as well. Now some are saying how bad could it be?

Imagine a still lake. Now imagine a throwing a rock that water and creating a wave. Also imagine a guy on the other side who measures the time between waves. You can "send" him information and he can receive it. That's your normal wi-fi signal. Nice, clean waves without a lot of interference. Then someone gets the idea to microwave nachos. It's like throwing an injured baby seal into the lake. All the thrashing and such interferes with your nice clean waves. The listener (router) cannot tell what to listen to easily, so it spends extra time filtering out the noise and only looking at the biggest waves, thus degrading the speed. The same thing happens with those 2.4 Ghz phones.

So here's the second and more important piece, do you know why microwaves operate at 2.4 Ghz? It's because that's the wave length which water absorbs. And we have these annoying bags which are filled 2/3 with water walking around all the time. Most people call them family and/or friends.

Furthermore, with the PS3 and Wii, the controllers are Bluetooth based. Again, wireless and you guessed it, at 2.4 Ghz. Add in neighbors and other interference, you're lucky to ever get a signal.

Now I know some of you are saying, but what about 802.11n. Doesn't that run at 5 Ghz? Yes and no. 802.11n uses both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz to increase bandwidth and maintain backwards compatibility. This means your bandwidth can change drastically at a moment's notice. Plus as more and more devices move to 802.11n, we are going to have the same crowding problem we have with 802.11g.

Okay, so we've talked about why you're signal will degrade and cause problems, but so what? Even at the most degraded levels you still get 11Mb/s which far exceeds your cable modem so who cares.

Well there's a second piece we've glossed over. That's protocol overhead and latency added. I'll add that in part 2 of this series.


  1. Nice Post. Luckily for me Only six words made any sense whatsoever. Ethernet cable it is then. :-)

  2. Very educational. Creepy that these waves are going into my body too by the way!


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