The original Wi-Fi specs saw two different types of Wi-Fi, the most common being the 802.11b standard using frequencies around 2.4GHz, and offering connection speeds of up to 11 Mbits/sec – at the time, a seemingly impossibly fast speed which no-one would ever need.
The less common (and more expensive implementation) was the 802.11a standard using frequencies around 5.0 GHz; although more expensive, it offered longer range and faster connect speeds. While therefore probably a ‘better’ product, the 802.11b was more than enough for almost everyone, and as a result, it prospered while the better but more expensive standard languished. We guess that well over 90% of all Wi-Fi equipped devices only support the 2.4 GHz frequency band as a result, even though they will surely support more recent versions of the standard such as 802.11g and 802.11n (which allows for both frequency bands to be used).
New products are slowly starting to offer affordable Wi-Fi on the 5 GHz spectrum. This is generally ‘better’ for most of us, much of the time, because the spectrum is less congested, the signals can sometimes travel further, and the bandwidth may be greater. Most recently, we have even seen T-Mobile giving away wireless routers to its customers (its ‘Personal Cell Spots’, requiring only a $25 deposit), making it more and more likely that you’ll have opportunities to connect to dual-band Wi-Fi.
However, the chances are your laptop computer’s built-in Wi-Fi card doesn’t support 5 GHz. Even if it does, there is a very good reason to add an external Wi-Fi card – if you are traveling, you often will find yourself in a situation where you can access multiple Wi-Fi signals, and so if you have two Wi-Fi connecting devices and the excellent Connectify Dispatch software, you could connect to two hotspots simultaneously, giving you perhaps twice the bandwidth you’d have with only one. We recommend you should do this.
There are many different Wi-Fi modems out there, and of course the best approach is to get one that simply plugs straight into a USB slot in your laptop. We have formerly used a TP-Link unit that we bought back when 5 GHz was uncommon and expensive, but now with the growing prevalence of 5 GHz (and the growing congestion of 2.4 GHz) and the much better values, it became time to have another look and to get an updated device.
It took a lot of careful parsing on Amazon to uncover true dual band devices. Some devices referred to ‘dual antennas’ but were single band, and others, while supporting the 802.11n dual-band specification, did not actually have the dual bands needed. Then, to our delight, we found a familiar name and an excellent product at a great value price – the Kinivo WID340, currently priced at a mere $18 on Amazon. It is a typical shape and size of USB plug-in gadget, much the same as memory stick/thumb drives, and weighs next to nothing (for the literal-minded among us, its weight is 0.4 ounces).
We chose that unit accordingly, and have been delighted with it in use subsequently. We tested it with both a Windows 7 and a Windows 8.1 laptop, and setting the unit up and using it was easy and straightforward in both cases. It can also operate on Mac and Linux powered computers, but we did not test this. We also placed a test call to Kinivo’s customer support, which was answered quickly and competently by a friendly tech person. Of course, we’re perhaps a little biased when it comes to Kinivo, because they are located in our own home town of Redmond, WA. But even if you too don’t live in Redmond, you’ll probably find them an excellent choice also.
The device comes with a tiny CD-rom that has drivers and a copy of a helpful 20 page user manual. It has a one year warranty.
Note that a manual process is required to add the 5 GHz drivers in Windows 8.1. But this was clearly explained in the manual and easy to do.
Once the drivers were loaded, the unit worked perfectly and with no problems. It is claimed to be able to connect to Wi-Fi networks at speeds of up to 300 Mbps, and that may well be true, but we’ll confess we had no idea how we could test such a claim, because we have nothing else that operates at such an enormously fast speed. Our LAN is 100 Mbps, and our internet connection is 35 Mbps. So all we can say on that front is that the Wi-Fi part of the overall network is no longer one of the slower parts.
Perhaps, when connecting to other networks elsewhere, the astonishing speed capabilities might occasionally be useful, because in a congested network with occasional brief periods of spare capacity it can quickly use all the available capacity to get the data requested.
Note there is a new Wi-Fi standard appearing – 802.11ac – which allows another way of connecting to both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi devices. This new standard is still evolving, and it seems there will be a revised version of it published some time in 2015, at which point it will probably make sense to make sure that new devices you get support this new standard as well as the current reigning champion, 802.11n. This Kinivo adapter, while supporting 802.11n, does not have support for the present 802.11ac standard, but we don’t really care – the $18 cost is hardly a capital investment needing a long period of use to be amortized.
You can read more about 802.11ac here.
If you don’t already have the ability to connect to Wi-Fi networks on 5 GHz, then you should consider adding this, and now you can get Wi-Fi USB sticks like this Kinivo WID340 for as little as $18.
If you already do have the ability to connect to Wi-Fi networks on 5 GHz, you still might want to consider buying one of these devices so you can connect to two networks simultaneously with the Connectify Dispatch software and get greater internet bandwidth.