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What is the actual real-life speed of wireless networks ?

There are many wireless standards in use today, and newer technologies can bond multiple channels/frequencies together to achieve higher throughput.

First, keep in mind that in data communications, speed is measured in kilobits (or megabits) per second, designated as kbps, or Mbps. You can check our bits/bytes conversion calculator for reference.

Below is a breakdown of the various 802.11 WiFi standards and their corresponding maximum speeds. Theoretical wireless speeds (combined upstream and downstream) are as follows:
802.11b - 11 Mbps (2.4GHz)
802.11a - 54 Mbps (5 GHz)
802.11g - 54 Mbps (2.4GHz)
802.11n - 600 Mbps (2.4GHz and 5 GHz) - 150Mbps typical for network adapters, 300Mbps, 450Mbps, and 600Mbps speeds when bonding channels with some routers
802.11ac - 1300+Mbps (5 GHz) - newer standard that uses wider channels, QAM and spatial streams for higher throughput

Actual wireless speeds vary significantly from the above theoretical maximum speeds due to:
distance - distance from the access point, as well as any physical obstructions, such as walls, signal-blocking or reflecting materials affect signal propagation and reduce speed
interference - other wireless networks and devices in the same frequency in the same area affect performance
shared bandwidth - available bandwidth is shared between all users on the same wireless network.

In addition, net IP layer throughput of WiFi is typically 60% of the air link rate due to WiFi being half-duplex with ACKs, and being CSMA/CA. The number of simultaneous connections, and even the type of wireless security can affect and slow down some older routers with inadequate processors/memory.

Below is a breakdown of actual real-life average speeds you can expect from wireless routers within a reasonable distance, with low interference and small number of simultaneous clients:
802.11b - 2-3 Mbps downstream, up to 5-6 Mbps with some vendor-specific extensions.
802.11g - ~20 Mbps downstream
802.11n - 40-50 Mbps typical, varying greatly depending on configuration, whether it is mixed or N-only network, the number of bonded channels, etc. Specifying a channel, and using 40MHz channels can help achieve 70-80Mbps with some newer routers. Up to 100 Mbps achievable with more expensive commercial equipment with 8x8 arrays, gigabit ports, etc.
802.11ac - 100+ Mbps typical, higher speeds (300+ Mbps) possible over short distances without many obstacles, with newer generation 802.11ac routers, and client adapters capable of multiple streams.

See also:
Is 5GHz Wireless better than 2.4GHz ?
Wireless Network Speed Tweaks

  User Reviews/Comments:
by j7n - 2014-03-22 03:19
Good article. Would be nice to clarify if "downstream" means access point to station. If so, is there a ratio or reserved bandwidth for the opposite direction?
by anonymous - 2014-03-31 03:51
small number of simultaneous clients ? But we need to know how many users ?
by Philip - 2014-03-31 07:20
Yes, downstream refers to traffic from the access point to clients. Reserving bandidth for upstream traffic (client to ap) would depend on the implementation/ap firmware/QoS/software/client drivers.

The number of simultaneous clients is mentioned because the available throughput is shared between all clients, i.e. 4 clients will each be able to only get 1/4 of the speed. With a larger number of simultaneous clients, they also compete for a small portion of the 2.4GHz spectrum, causing more interference. Residential access points can't handle much more than 10-15 active simultaneous clients. Some commercial aps can reach 100 clients.
by Peter - 2015-01-25 23:23
Sorry to quibble, but i'm getting 126Mbps on my 802.11ac wifi right now. Linksys WRT1900AC talking to a MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013). Short distance, but there are other devices around.
by Manimaker - 2015-02-01 04:51
I am getting 250MB/s with Asus ac1750 with about 6 other wireless networks and with just 2-3 other android devices
by Wojtaszek - 2015-02-01 15:51
I have 802.11n and 160Mbps (Fritzbox 7390).
by anonymous - 2015-02-10 18:00
250MB/s ? you need to get your facts right mate.
by anonymous - 2015-02-28 06:57
I am using an ASUS RT-AC87U with a generic Broadcom based AC Wireless card on an ASUS laptop. With this configuration I can at times see speeds at around 20 MB/s, but most of the time I'm in the range from 12 MB/s to 16 MB/s.

So for the person claiming speeds at 250 MB/s, I guess it's a typo. But if you can find a 3x3 or 4x4 AC network card, I guess you could see 250 Mbps speeds.
by anonymous - 2015-03-13 16:08
Wireless throughput maxed to 36 MB/s, average 30 MB/s on Asus AC87U sending / AC68U receiving, attached to NAS (bridge mode). AC Adapter on PC is Asus AC 56. File size appr. 10 Gb.
by anonymous - 2015-03-25 18:15
The router/wireless card combo is critical to maximum performance. I'm using the AC86U and the pce-AC68. I'm seeing speeds (albeit over only 10feet) of 65MBps (not Mbps) straight out of the box. The AC87 firmware is probably not optimized yet as some reviews seem to find it slower than the AC68. The tri-band pci adapter makes a huge diffference.
by anonymous - 2015-04-08 23:54
People that claim high speed with short distance: Big deal! This argument is silly. No one cares if you can run wifi fast at short distance.

802.11ac really only works on 5ghz, and typical homes will perform poor over the 2.4ghz. which makes 802.11ac very corner case and useless. I can not reach over 20mbps where I need it...
by Steve - 2015-06-07 06:52
I see 59 Mbs from a Archer C7 v2 router, comcast blast internet, to my laptop Sager NP5160 40 feet away in another room. Rooms are open and angled to where it is almost a straight shot. I have a Intel 7260 ac dual channel wifi card.
by anonymous - 2015-07-25 20:44
I know that many people may not believe it. I have TW Cable internet line 300 Mbps. Late at night, with I am the only one to use, I got 300 Mbps by using TWC and ATT speed testst.
Over the weekend, we could have 15 devices, laptops, tables, at the same time. We have 5 laptops and 3 iPads in house by ourself. Add other kids play games, watch movies, utube, too slow for normal speed. Only 3 new laptops and 3 tablets can get 5G speed, others just got 2.4 G speed.
Just info to people don't believe fast speed, 72 bucks per month, I don't spend much money for phone, just enough and normal over the air TV.
by anonymous - 2015-07-27 23:02
Just info, Verizon plan could get up to 600 MBps. Check it out.
by anonymous - 2015-07-28 00:39
try wifi extender, dual band, 2.4 and 5 G
by anonymous - 2015-08-04 19:55
Verizon Fios only works in their area. 5G is only for short distance.
Use WIFI extender will help for the whole house. 2015 laptops, computers use AC or mixed will be faster
by anonymous - 2015-08-04 20:39
With fast speed, just downloaded Windows 10, > 2MB real fast.
by BetterHomeWifi - 2015-08-12 15:37
A WiFi extender will probably cut your speed in half. To get more WiFi coverage with good speeds, add hardwired access points.
by Tino - 2015-08-25 17:26
just run Powereshell cmdlet "get-netadapter -includehidden" to gel all your network adapters shown and you'll see your actual active network adapteradapter with its current link speed (eg 108 Mbps)

also try tor run Powershell cmdlet "netsh wlan show interface" and you'll see your actual active network adapter showning the actual maximum possible link speed (eg 150Mbpsup and 150Mbps down)

mentioned values I've reached by using the Netgear router WNDR4500 and the WLAN adapter TP-LINK Archer T2U (both with newest firmware!)
by Quatermass - 2015-09-24 09:47
Let's not confuse Link speed with real speed.
A N300 router will on average give you around 75Mbps. It may say in the software you've got a 300Mbps link. But in reality it isn't any where close.

I guess the Marketing boys have won that particular battle. :)
by Philip - 2015-09-24 10:57
They count speed in both directions (there goes 50%), and with protocol overhead you can get a maximum throughput of ~40% of the rated "speed", if you are lucky enough to have a client that supports the multiple streams at all.
by anonymous - 2015-09-25 15:13
Thanks. So when the speed test said "300 mbps", what does it mean?
by Mick S - 2015-10-25 06:36
With an ASUS RT 87 situated about 11 feet away from a MacBook Pro (2015), using Speedy Net to measure actual transfer speed I am getting 512 MegaBITS (not bytes), this is with a transfer from my Mac Pro using the app Speedynet to measure it.

Using a WiFi app on Mac Appstore which shows link rate, I am getting between 867 Mbps and have seen 1700 a few times. We have a fairly large house and so have a few WAPs (Wireless Access Points), consisting of an ASUS AC3200, ASUS RT87 and Asus AC66U.

Router is an Edge router lite and wired connections are via Netgear "Smartswitches" and Cat 6 Cable.

The RT87 apparently as issues with the 5GHz band, but I run Merlin firmware, switch off 2.4 GHz on almost every WAP, (only have 3 Chromecasts using 2.4 and a Brother laser printer). In the time I have had the RT87 I have had no issues.

The AC3200 while initially off to a rocky start has got better and better, I now actually let Smart connect assign devices and it usually gets them right, in fact I am tempted to retire one of the other WAPS and replace with either another AC3200 or try the Netgear R8000, (just for the variety).

BTW the Edge Router lite is a bargain and with 1.70 of the Firmware, easy to set up, I get near wire speeds on wired transfers and found that web pages load far faster. (Virgin Cable 155d/12u (soon to be 200d/12u))
by anonymous - 2015-10-30 11:40
With Qualcomm Atheros AC wave 2 wireless chipset in Notebook and Archer C5, tested download speed is 90MB/s, wired Lan gets 90MB/s so Qualcomm Atheros wireless chip equals hardwired ethernet Lan chips, this is why Qualcomm atheros is the prized wifi chipset of consumers in the know.
by DaCHeF - 2015-11-21 10:54
I have a Netgear WNDR3800 N300 router acting as an AP. I am about 15 feet away in the same room using an Intel Advanced-N 6205. I am on 5GHz. I regularly get 25+ MB/s. I see over 220Mbps when I check task manager mostly. I must be extremely fortunate.

Multiple APs always help. If you have a large home, then be prepared to wire it up to provide closer APs in your main living areas. It ain't cheap to do, especially if you want quality APs, more than what most consumer devices will provide you.

5GHz has a short distance, but is much less congested. If I try 2.4GHz here, the performance is junk (on account of all of my neighbors using the same - no matter the channel). However, for distance unless you want to spend a fortune, 2.4GHz has to do.
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