A Tale of Two Throughputs
So, what are these numbers, anyway? Are they lying to us?
In a word, no. But they are potentially misleading. Numbers like these most certainly represent throughput that you’ll never see at Layer 7. Under ideal circumstances, through, you may see them at Layer 1. If you’re not an engineer, Layer 7 is the Application layer of the ISO OSI model -- that part of a network’s protocol stack that talks to an application. This is the only throughput that ultimately matters.
Layer 1 is the Physical Layer -- the radio signaling itself. But note that the PHY carries everything -- user data, network protocols, control messages, everything. In short, there’s a lot of overhead in any network architecture; 802.11/Wi-Fi is no exception. And the PHY signaling rate can and will change over time, upshifting and downshifting in response to changing radio conditions resulting from a variety of technical and environmental artifacts.
So, what you get at Layer 7 is a lot less than the peak possible at Layer 1. And, by the way, the same is true on wire. Those are, after all, radio waves moving over copper or fiber. And, yes, given a particular standard, some vendors do a much better job of building products that narrow the gap between Layer 1 and Layer 7 and maximize throughput regardless.
— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung