A Practical Performance Comparison Between 802.11n and 802.11ac Standards


It is well known that the technological performance level of wireless communications in open frequency bands has increased considerably in the last years. Today, many devices that we use is based on wireless communications. This article aims to achieve a practical comparison between 802.11n and 802.11ac performance standards. Practical determinations were made through performance measurements in a wireless communications infrastructure, built by interconnecting pairs of wireless access point equipment, located in close proximity, to ensure maximum performance. The performances of IEEE 802.11ac and 802.11n standards were studied using the traffic measurement method, observing the necessary bandwidth and the response time for different sizes of data packets generated in the testbed communication infrastructure. An important aspect that was taken into consideration refers to the constant monitoring of resources load used for communication processes (CPU load from routers used in test process), to ensure that determinations were not compromised by hardware limitations of the equipment used.

Keywords: 80211n80211acwireless standardsperformance measurementsmonitoring resources


The IEEE 802.11ac is nowadays the most advanced standard for data transmission over a wireless

environment. This communication standard can be briefly characterized by the following significant features:

  • providing high-throughput communications, reaching Gbit/s speed level;

  • proposing the migration to a cleaner 5GHz spectrum;

offering the opportunity for the implementations having mixed frequency bands for data

transmission, in the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz;

supports more performant MIMO (Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) mode for

transmission antennas, that can be used to send information simultaneously to multiple clients, up

to four simultaneous MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) downlink clients;

superior Modulation and Coding Schemes (MCS) with high signal modulations as QAM -

Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM 256);

space multiplexing thought SDMA (Space Division Multiple Access), up to eight spatial streams

(compared with for in 802.11n MIMO);

commonly, the 802.11ac standard has 10 MCS (Andrew von Nagy, 2013).

Wireless technologies are widely implemented in the most diverse devices (IEEE, 2016). Wireless

chips are currently encountered on tablets, smartphones, TVs, game consoles, printers and the list could

continue. In parallel, to support the equipment growth, multiple wireless networks must be deployed in

various places, which include institutions, schools, shopping malls, universities and others. Wireless

hotspots with Internet access are also commonly installed in public areas, where any user can connect and

access resources it needs (Ong et al., 2011).

Lately, with the passing years, it is found that one of the trends of communications market

development is represented by the IT services migration into the cloud, to ease the use of resources. In the

early era of data communications, the first services were not very specific requirements on parameters, but

in our time, there are some services that require certain parameters to be within certain limits (delay, jitter,

packet loss) to function properly. In this sense, we can exemplify with the streaming video services, which

are very popular today (Park, 2011).

2.Purpose of the Study

The Wi-Fi standards have evolved over time, aiming to surmount the 802.3 Ethernet standard

performances, by providing the necessary resources and support to the current communication services.

(Punal, Escudero, & Gross, 2011; Cha et al., 2012; Bellalta et al.,2012).

This article is proposing a performance appraisal of IEEE 802.11ac, having the previous standard,

802.11n, as a reference (Dianu, Riihijarvi, & Petrova, 2014). Performance measurements regarding traffic

speeds, available bandwidth, volume of date packets sent or lost over data links having various physical

medium characteristics, such as frequency and channel bandwidth are presented in the following sections.

2.1.Research Methodology

To achieve the proposed objectives there was used an operational stand based on two wireless

routers, provided by the company Asus, RT-AC66U series. The technical specifications of this device

state that the maximum global amount of wireless traffic that can be delivered is 1.7Gbit/s. Since there are

wireless connections and technologies, the expected effective throughput is normally beyond this

maximum data transfer value. For example, in any wireless link, it will be traffic control sessions

necessary to maintain the connection flows.

In the proposed experiments one router was used as configured in the AP (Access Point) mode.

And a different firmware than the default was used, to increase the communication capabilities, compared

with those provided by the standard firmware version. On the AP mode router was used a DD-WRT

firmware version because it permits to test communication facilities on both concern frequency bands, 2.4

GHz and the 5 GHz separately. The second router was used in the AP-Client mode, so the WAN port was

not used and the IP allocation facility, the DHCP server was disabled. For the client router, the

configuration was realized with the original firmware, since that it is providing sufficient resources for the

Media Bridge mode interconnection. Two usual laptops with Intel processor i3 / i5 and 4GB / 8GB of

available RAM have been used for generating and receiving the testing data traffic.

2.2.Generic Testbed

The first idea of this practical evaluation is to test the maximum transport capacity of the wireless

testbed system. For obtaining a ground reference, in the initial phase, an Ethernet cable was used between

laptops. The maximum transport capacity obtained was 720Mbit/s.

For a synthetic overview, in Figure 1 is presented a representative image of the evaluation

infrastructure used for practical determinations.

To generate packets between the two test laptops there was used the iperf utility (Tirumala, Qin,

Dugan, Ferguson, & Gibbs, 2016) a common Linux connections testing application, with five parallel


The command used for starting the iperf server:

#iperf -s -i 1

For the client mode was used in the following form:

#iperf –c server_ip –i 1 –P 5 –t 60

Figure 1: Specific testbed representation.
Specific testbed representation.
See Full Size >

The second idea of the evaluation method is to determine the transport capacity, taking into

consideration the maximum number of packages that can be transported by the wireless link. For this

matter, another Linux utility was used the well-known ping tool. With this utility, the response time from

source to destination can determine and the packet loss where there are any. Considering that this model

of router has a MIPS processor at a frequency of 600 MHz, a special attention was focused on monitoring

resources (the processor load level), to ensure the no hardware limitations will affect the testing process.

In the following determination, there will be notices about the router’s processor load during the tests.

In conducted experiments, 802.11ac showed better results in terms of data traffic values, as

expected. What is important is to notice the reached performance level and the differences in other

standards. The general results are presented in Table 1 .

Table 1 -
See Full Size >

As it could be observed, in terms of response time and packet loss we can pull some conclusions.

During the tests, there was obtained satisfactory results for the minimum package size (64 bytes). Our

practical determinations were stopped at the 10,000 PPS (packets per second) level, where the response

time parameter was presenting a good value (1-2 ms) and there were no losses.

The next sets of tests were made at the maximum level of package size parameter that can be

enforced with the ping utility (65,508 bytes). The results showed that the 802.11n in 20 MHz band did not

achieve satisfactory results, and were not included in those presented in this paper, as can be identified in

following tables (Tables 2 - 8 ) and graphically interpreted in Figures 3 - 6 :

Table 2 -
See Full Size >
Table 3 -
See Full Size >
Table 4 -
See Full Size >
Table 5 -
See Full Size >
Table 6 -
See Full Size >
Table 7 -
See Full Size >
Table 8 -
See Full Size >

3.Results Interpretation

The general results from Table 1 can be graphically represented as in Figure 2 . It can be seen that the CPU load is increasing according to the growth of used bandwidth.

Figure 2: CPU resource utilization and available bandwidth.
CPU resource utilization and available bandwidth.
See Full Size >
Figure 3: 802.11N in 5 GHz, PPS 100, 200 and 300 cases
802.11N in 5 GHz, PPS 100, 200 and 300 cases
See Full Size >
Figure 4: 802.11AC in 5 GHz, PPS 100, 200 and 300 cases
802.11AC in 5 GHz, PPS 100, 200 and 300 cases
See Full Size >
Figure 5: 802.11N results for 20, 40 and 80 MHz
802.11N results for 20, 40 and 80 MHz
See Full Size >
Figure 6: 802.11AC results for 20, 40 and 80 MHz
802.11AC results for 20, 40 and 80 MHz
See Full Size >


In this paper, there are presented the results from an analysis study over the communication

performances provided by the IEEE 802.11ac standard. Although IEEE 802.11ac is an evolved wireless

standard, regarding IEEE 802.11a, as shown by the practical determinations from this paper, there are

considerable performance differences to pull through in the future implementations regarding the Ethernet

standard, which is being still the preferable solution for reliable data communications.

Given the order of the WiFi standards development, it is in the offing that the results to be better

for newer standards. Experiments showed in this article are made under real conditions and have shown

important practical differences between the widely and common used wireless standards, that can be taken

into consideration at the projecting and deployment of new wireless network infrastructures.

The article can be viewed as a basis for future similar comparative measurements when new waves

and generation of wireless standards will be available (802.11ax, 802.11ad, LiFi and others

communication standards that will be developed).


  1. Bellalta, B.; J. Barcelo, D. Staehle, A. Vinel, and M. Oliver, (2012). On the Performance of Packet Aggregation in IEEE 802. 11ac MU-MIMO WLANs. IEEE Communications Letters, vol. 16, no. 10, pp. 1588-1591, October.
  2. Cha, J.; H. Jin, B. C. Jung, and D. K. Sung, (2012). Performance comparison of downlink user multiplexing schemes in IEEE 802. 11ac: Multi-user MIMO vs. frame aggregation. in Proc. of IEEE WCNC'12. IEEE, pp. 1514-1519.
  3. Dianu, M. D.; J. Riihijarvi and M. Petrova, (2014). Measurement-based study of the performance of IEEE 802.11ac in an indoor environment, Communications (ICC), 2014 IEEE International Conference on, Sydney, NSW, pp. 5771-5776, doi: 10.1109/ICC.2014.6884242
  4. Ong, E. H.; J. Kneckt, O. Alanen, Z. Chang, T. Huovinen, and T. Nihtila, (2011). IEEE 802. 11ac. Enhancements for very high throughput WLANs. inProc. of IEEE PIMRC'11. IEEE, pp. 849-853.
  5. Park, M. (2011). IEEE 802. 11ac: Dynamic bandwidth channel access . inProc. of IEEE ICC'11. IEEE,
  6. pp. 1-5.
  7. Punal, O., H. Escudero, and J. Gross, (2011). Performance comparison of loading algorithms for 80 MHz
  8. IEEE 802. 11 WLANs. in Proc. of IEEE VTC Spring'11. IEEE, pp. 1-5.
  9. Tirumala, A.; F. Qin, J. Dugan, J. Ferguson, and K. Gibbs (2016), Iperf: The TCP/UDP bandwidth
  10. measurement tool. Current version available online at http://code. google. com/p/iperf/.
  11. Von Nagy, Andrew (2013). Aerohive High-Density Wi-Fi Design &Configuration Guide v2, Aerohive
  12. Networks.

Copyright information

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

About this article

Cite this paper as:

Click here to view the available options for cite this article.


Future Academy

First Online




Online ISSN