IEEE Wireless Wi-Fi networking 802.11 standards

IEEE Wireless Wi-Fi networking 802.11 standards

Wireless communication standards IEEE 802.11 are in place to ensure some degree of uniformity and standardization in the wireless industry. IEEE stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. This organization sets standards which manufacturers of computer hardware have to follow to ensure interoperability of their hardware.

Nowadays there are several common standards in the wireless industry.

Why do we need IEEE standards?

Before we introduce specific communication standards, we have to provide some basic information about the general regulation in the wireless industry. The transmitter in the wireless access point sends out radio signals to wireless clients (for example your laptop). Wave length and frequency are the two most important characteristics of any radio signal transmission. To ensure reliable communication between the wireless access point and any wireless client, simply said, their wave lengths and frequencies at which they operate have to be compatible. Standardization and regulation of used frequencies needs to be in place so that the whole wireless industry can produce components which understand each other.

Several standards are being used and freely available in the market today. The IEEE 802.11 standard currently comes in flavors from A to Y. Besides the IEEE 802 standards, there is also the Bluetooth and several others.

Now, let's learn about each of the most commonly referenced standards. We list them from the latest to the newest. If you want to get to know the standards chronologically, read this page from bottom up.

IEEE wireless standard 802.11n

802.11n is the latest Wi-Fi standard that is being used by general public. We dedicate a separate page to this wireless communication standard. You can find more details on the next page: Wireless networking: Wi-Fi 802.11n standard.

IEEE wireless standard 802.11g

The 802.11g wireless communication standard started appearing in the market in 2003 and was the third wireless LAN communication standard being widely used by devices sold to the general public. The 802.11g attempts to combine the best of both the 802.11a and 802.11b. It is a major improvement over the 802.11b standard in terms of data bandwidth.

Similarly to the 802.11b standard, the 802.11g also operates in the 2.4 to 2.4835 GHz radio waves range. The 802.11g standard operates at a maximum raw data rate of 54 Mbit / sec. After deducting for communication overhead, this translates to some 19 Mbit / sec of net throughput.

How 802.11b compares to 802.11g? They both operate in the same radio waves range; therefore, the 802.11g suffers from the same interference as 802.11b. Microwave ovens, phones, Bluetooth devices, and others can interfere with your wireless signal causing communication problems. The advantage of 802.11g is its higher speed of 54 Mbit / sec.

Wireless network design note: When designing your wireless network, it is important to determine beforehand whether you need to stay backward compatible. Enabling the 802.11b standard in your 802.11g wireless network will significantly reduce the speed of the overall 802.11g network because a lot of communication overhead is needed for a multi-standard network. If you do not need to be backward compatible, it is a good idea to operate with a single standard, the 802.11g.

Compatibility: The 802.11g standard is backwards compatible with 802.11b. This means that 802.11g wireless access points will work with 802.11b wireless network adapters and vice versa.

IEEE wireless standard 802.11b

The 802.11b standard provides data rates up to 11 M bit / sec in the 2.4 to 2.4835 GHz range. Signals in the 2.4 GHz range can pass through walls relatively readily; therefore, this standard allows for greater distance between wireless access points than the 802.11a standard. The 802.11b standard supports relatively small data rates to allow for multiple concurrent applications that take advantage of streaming video and such. If a wireless network is operated at a lower data rate, the effective range increases.

The 802.11b standard has one disadvantage that limits the effective data bandwidth. In practice, the maximum 802.11b throughput that an application can achieve is about 5.9 Mbit / sec if communicating via the TCP protocol or 7.1 Mbit / sec if using UDP. That is because of a significant protocol overhead. Even the speed of 5.9 Mbit / sec can hardly be accomplished in the real world.

Because this standard operates in the 2.4 to 2.4835 GHz range, its signal is susceptible to interference (microwave ovens, cordless phones, etc.). When signal quality becomes an issue, your wireless router will likely scale down to 5.5, then 3.3, then 2, then 1 Mbit / sec (this is also known as Adaptive Rate Selection).

Products following the 802.11b are stamped with the Wi-Fi™ logo and referred to as Wi-Fi devices.

IEEE wireless standard 802.11a

The 802.11a standard provides data rates up to 54 M bit / sec in the 5.15 to 5.35 GHz and 5.725 to 5.825 GHz U-NII wireless signal bands. Since the size of the spectrum in the U-NII bands allows room for 12 non-overlapping channels, while the 2.4 GHz ISM bands spectrum that is used for the 802.11b standard allows only three channels, operating in the U-NII bands is far less vulnerable to interference.

However, at the higher frequency (5 GHz), more path loss occurs due to increased absorption of the radio-waves energy by walls and other solid objects. There are also implemented higher data rates in this spectrum which contributes to the decrease of the effective range. These two factors may require more access points be installed to effectively cover an area comparable to that of 802.11b.

802.11a products are stamped with the Wi-Fi5™ logo. The Wi-Fi logos certify that the product will work with any other Wi-Fi certified device, regardless of manufacturer.

How 802.11a compares to 802.11b? 802.11a provides significantly higher aggregate bandwidth and reliability (less dropped connections, less interference) advantages over 802.11b/g. The effective overall range of 802.11a is slightly less than that of 802.11b/g.

Standard 802.118

The IEEE has approved a new WLAN standard called 802.118 a few years ago. This standard provides raw data speeds of 54 Mbit / sec in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. This standard does not seem to be making its way to consumers.

IEEE 802.11a versus IEEE 802.11g versus IEEE 802.11n

Chipsets that include all 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n capability are being sold in the market. There is also technology being developed to allow the communication between overlapping 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n networks which makes it easier to stay around longer with the "older" technology and not to accept new market trends. Although the 802.11g seems to be the most commonly used standard these days, there are still many users that use 802.11a. 802.11n will most likely be the choice when the price of 802.11n capable devices drops since this standard combines the best of all currently used technologies.


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