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Can Western Digital fix your wireless network woes?

  • WD MyNetN900C.jpg

    A new router from hard drive giant Western Digital is intented to improve the quality of wireless video pumped off the Internet and around your home network.Western Digital

  • WD MyNetN900C 1.jpg

    The new Western Digital My Net N900 Central, a new router from the hard drive giant that may smooth weireless video.Western Digital

Is your home network slow? Does that streaming Netflix movie look blocky and digitized? It’s not your ISP. It’s you.

After all, Time Warner or Comcast merely provides the straw -- you bought everything on your home network that drinks from it, said Western Digital (WD), the world’s biggest hard drive maker. And not everything sips fairly, at the exact same rate.

On June 14, WD announced its solution to that problem and the company's entry into a new market: The My Net family of wireless routers connect to your modem and guide the countless data packets flowing on your network smoothly to your computers, tablets or whatever.

A proprietary traffic cop called FasTrack built into those routers detects entertainment traffic from Netflix, Hulu Plus and similar services and ensures that it gets the green light on its commute to your gaming console, media player or smart TV.

“With so many people within the home simultaneously watching movies, playing games and browsing the Web via their iPad, iPhone, Xbox and other devices, the network demands placed on today’s connected home have grown exponentially,” said Jim Welsh, executive vice president for WD's branded products and consumer electronics groups.

Indeed, Nielsen data shows that 33 percent of consumers streamed a movie or TV show from the Internet during the fourth quarter of 2011.

'The network demands placed on today’s connected home have grown exponentially.'

- Jim Welsh, executive vice president for WD's branded products

A demonstration by WD showed how the Netflix service automatically detects network congestion and steps down the quality of the video it pipes to your home. If junior fires up an online video game, dad and mom will feel it as they watch "The Wire" downstairs. A My Net router prevented such degradation of quality.

The My Net N900 Central, the big bucks model in the new lineup, is a dual-band router with a built-in 1TB or 2TB drive for automatic wireless backup and four wired, gigabyte Ethernet connections. The top of the line is pricey, however, at $299.99 and $349.99, respectively. Also available without integrated storage for a more reasonable $179.99, the router runs at up to 900 Mbps thanks to several antennae that transfer data using the common 802.11n specification.

The 802.11n specification actually has a top speed of 150Mbps; the My Net 900 is a dual-band router, with each band carrying three streams at that speed: 150 × 3 = 450Mbps per channel, and two channels get the router to that 900 number.

Traditional router makers like Netgear have been moving to adopt a new, faster specification for a planned fifth-generation wireless technology, cleverly called 802.11ac. 802.11ac has a top speed of 433Mbps or so, three times faster than the .n varietal. But first generation models will be limited to 1.3Gbps, according to a recent PCWorld article.

Still, that speed should be substantially faster, groups promoting it claim -- and the first handful of devices using it are seemingly around the corner.

WD said it would embrace the technology eventually, but sees limited demand for the unfinished 802.11ac specification at present. The company's argument: Why not use the bandwidth you currently have more effectively? 

“Our successes in creating Connected Home solutions with our WD TV media players and personal cloud products have given us valuable insights into the network-overload problems of  home wireless users,” Welsh said.