Selecting and Configuring 802.11b USB Wi-Fi Adapters and Dongles

Laptops and tablets are designed for productivity on the go, and a USB wireless adapter can boost that output by providing access to hotspots. Connect to any available wireless network whether at home, working in the office, or sitting in an internet cafe. There are many generic wireless USB adapters to choose from, including devices that support dual bands, high-speed connectivity, high-gain antennas, and much more.

What is an 802.11b Wi-Fi USB adapter or dongle?

Dongle and adapter mean the same thing in this context and refer to accessories that connect to desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and other devices in order to add capabilities. In this case, the dongle connects via USB and adds the facility to connect those machines to wireless networks. The 802.11b designation refers to the 802.11 wireless data transmission specification and the b amendment in particular. Each new amendment enhances or refines the specification in some manner.

Are wireless 802.11b USB adapters backward and forward-compatible?

Generally, yes. The 802.11 networking standard allows for backward and forward compatibility between adapters and other devices, but it does depend on the brands and models involved. When there is compatibility, the 802.11b adapter will be limited to the performance allowed by the 802.11b standard regardless of the upper capabilities of the network overall. These include:

  • Operation in the 2.4 GHz range
  • A maximum data rate of 11 Mbps
  • An effective TCP data rate of 5.9 Mbps
  • An effective UDP data rate of 7.1 Mbps
Does the USB version matter?

USB or Universal Serial Bus, is a computer interfacing specification. As new USB versions are released, the specification allows for better performance. USB devices are backward and forward-compatible, but a USB adapter will also be limited to the performance supported by its version. USB 1.0 allows for a transfer rate of 12 Mbps, so any USB version will work for this wireless networking.

How far can a USB wireless adapter reach?

Wi-Fi USB adapters are designed to function within the confines of a wireless personal area network, or WPAN. Therefore, you can expect any generic adapter to reach 30 feet or 10 meters. However, consider that 2.4 GHz is prone to interference from phones, microwaves, Bluetooth, and so forth. Therefore, you may experience less than the optimal transfer rate of 900 or more Mbps the further away from the source you are.

How do you configure and connect a Wi-Fi USB adapter?

Attach the adapter via an available port. If your computer does not automatically recognize it, you may have to install drivers. Your adapter may have a dedicated configuration panel, and those settings can also be accessed via the network settings for your OS. Your device should automatically search for available hotspots. Choose the appropriate connection from that list and provide a password if necessary.