Everyone needs wireless capability when it comes to their electronics. Most all devices now come with built-in WiFi that make connecting to a network easy.
Sometimes though built-in wireless cards can break, need upgrading, or simply need more distance to get a good signal.
This is where USB wireless adapters become useful. While some devices can be opened up and internal card upgraded such as a laptop using a USB adapter is much more simple.
What Is a USB Wireless Adapter?
A USB wireless adapter is a electronic device that converts wireless signals to USB giving a device WiFi ability.
They are also sometimes called wireless dongles.
Wireless USB adapters come in all shape and sizes from long range to small and stubby.
The protocols they use also can vary.
What are Wireless Protocols?
802.11 is a number given to WiFi protocols.
802.11 always has a letter that follows it that shows which WiFi protocol the adapter can use.
For example 802.11n or Wireless-N is the most widely used protocol today.
Here are the main 802.11 protocols
|802.11b||1999||11 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz|
|802.11g||2003||54 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz|
|802.11n||2009||150/300 Mbit/s||2.4 GHz|
|802.11ac||2013||866.7 Mbit/s||5 GHz|
The frequencies a adapter uses is also important so that it is compatible with a network.
Until 2013 only the 2.4 GHz band was used.
2.4 GHz is still used the problem is that it has become overcrowded with other wireless devices fighting to get a signal through.
When two signals collide wireless electronics must resend the data slowing down a whole network.
To help with this overcrowding problem the 5 GHz band has been introduced for use with WiFi.
Most new electronics now come with the ability to use 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band.
When a adapter uses both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies it is called a Dual Band adapter.
Keep in mind just because the 5GHz frequency is new doesn’t make it better in some scenarios.
For example a 2.4 GHz wireless adapter can transmit farther than a 5 GHz signal.
The reason for this is that lower frequencies simply travel farther than higher frequencies and can pass through barriers such as walls easier.
Transfer Data Speeds
Wireless-AC has the fastest transfer speed available at up-to 866.7Mbps.
Wireless-N has the second fastest speed at max 300Mbps.
Some dual band adapters can use both frequencies (2.4GHz/5GHz) to get up to 1200Mbps theoretical speeds.
Keep in mind distance and any obstacles such as walls will always slow down a WiFi signal. The theoretical speed of any wireless device most often can never be reached and depends on the environment they are in.
USB wireless adapters that have larger dBi antennas are better at carrying a signal than small dongles with built-in antennas.
Getting a adapter with a bigger antenna will not guarantee a better signal at a distance as other factors come into play.
For example a bigger dBi antenna may be able to receive a signal from farther away but not transmit back. Transmission also depends on the watts a wireless dongle puts out.
So What USB Adapter Is Right For You?
A wireless dongle must have the drivers for the operating system that is being used.
For example if Windows 10 is being used be sure it is Windows 10 compliant.
The router being used is also important. Most new routers are dual band while old routers will only be able to transmit and receive at 2.4GHz.
If you are unsure about the router being used be sure to get dual band USB adapter so that it will work with any router.
Read Here For Our Pick of USB Wireless Adapters 2016.
Buying the right adapter is simply a matter of matching it to your operating system and network.
If you are unsure of the network being used be sure to buy a dual band USB dongle that has Wireless-N support as it will work on most any setup.
Things to Know about Protocols and Frequencies.
2.4 GHz does not work with the new AC protocol.
5 GHz works only with Wireless-N and AC protocols.
Wireless-N or 802.11n works in both bands 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.