IEEE 802.11 Standard

A wireless LAN (WLAN) is a data transmission system designed to provide location-independent network access between computing devices by using radio waves rather than a cable infrastructure.
In the corporate enterprise, wireless LANs are usually implemented as the final link between the existing wired network and a group of client computers, giving these users wireless access to the full resources and services of the corporate network across a building or campus setting.

802.11 Standards

802.11 - The original WLAN standard

802.11a - High speed WLAN standard for 5GHz band, supports up to 54mbps

802.11b - WLAN Standard for 2.4GHz band, supports 11mbps

802.11e - Describes QoS, Quality of Service requirements for all IEEE WLAN radio interfaces

802.11f - Defines inter-access point communications to facilitate multiple vendor-distributed
              WLAN networks

802.11g - Defines an additional modulation technique for 2.4 Ghz band. Intended to provide speeds
               up to 54 Mbps.

802.11h - Defines the spectrum management of the 5 Ghz band for use in Europe and in Asia Pacific.

802.11i - Address the current security weaknesses for both authentication and encryption protocols.

Compatibility Matrix






Calculator (XLS)

Frequency range

2.4 GHz, DSSS
Direct Sequence Spread

5 GHz, OFD
Orthogonal Frequency
Division Multiplexing

2.4 GHz, OFD
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing


Data rate





Compatible to





Number of Channels

3, non-overlapping

8, non-overlapping

3, non-overlapping


Typical Indoor Range

30m @ 11mbps
90m @ 1mbps

12m @ 54mbps
90m @ 6mbps

30m @ 54mbps
90m @ 1mbps


Typical Outdoor Range
Line of Sight

without directional antenna
120m @ 11mbps
460m @ 1mbps
with directional antenna
up to 5km (and more)

without directional antenna
 30m @ 54mbps
305m @ 6mbps
with directional antenna
up to 5km (and more)

without directional antenna
120m @ 54mbps
460m @ 1mbps
with directional antenna
up to 5km (and more)


Data Rates

11, 5.5, 2 and 1 Mbps

54, 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 9, and 6 Mbps

54, 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 8, and 6 Mbps







802.11a Standard

802.11a, is much faster than 802.11b, with a 54Mbps maximum data rate operates in the 5GHz frequency range and allows eight simultaneous channels.

802.11a uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), an encoding scheme that offers benefits over spread spectrum in channel availability and data rate.

Channel availability is significant because the more independent channels that are available, the more scalable the wireless network becomes. 802.11a uses OFDM to define a total of 8 non-overlapping 20 MHz channels across the 2 lower bands. By comparison, 802.11b uses 3 non-overlapping channels.

All wireless LANs use unlicensed spectrum; therefore they're prone to interference and transmission errors. To reduce errors, both types of 802.11 automatically reduce the Physical layer data rate.
IEEE 802.11b has three lower data rates (5.5, 2, and 1Mbit/sec), and 802.11a has seven (48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 9, and 6Mbits/sec). Higher (and more) data rates aren't 802.11a's only advantage. It also uses a higher frequency band, 5GHz, which is both wider and less crowded than the 2.4GHz band that 802.11b shares with cordless phones, microwave ovens, and Bluetooth devices



802.11b Standard

With 802.11b WLANs, mobile users can get Ethernet levels of performance, throughput, and availability.

The basic architecture, features, and services of 802.11b are defined by the original 802.11 standard. The 802.11b specification affects only the physical layer, adding higher data rates and more robust connectivity.

The key contribution of the 802.11b addition to the wireless LAN standard was to standardize the physical layer support of two new speeds,5.5 Mbps and 11 Mbps.

To accomplish this, DSSS had to be selected as the sole physical layer technique for the standard since, as frequency hopping cannot support the higher speeds without violating current FCC regulations. The implication is that 802.11b systems will interoperate with 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps 802.11 DSSS systems, but will not work with 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps 802.11 FHSS systems.

The original 802.11 DSSS standard specifies an 11-bit chipping?called a Barker sequence?to encode all data sent over the air. Each 11-chip sequence represents a single data bit (1 or 0), and is converted to a waveform, called a symbol, that can be sent over the air.

These symbols are transmitted at a 1 MSps (1 million symbols per second) symbol rate using technique called Binary Phase Shift Keying BPSK). In the case of 2 Mbps, a more sophisticated implementation called Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK) is used; it doubles the data rate available in BPSK, via improved efficiency in the use of the radio bandwidth. To increase the data rate in the 802.11b standard, advanced coding techniques are employed.

Rather than the two 11-bit Barker sequences, 802.11b specifies Complementary Code Keying (CCK), which consists of a set of 64 8-bit code words. As a set, these code words have unique mathematical properties that allow them to be correctly distinguished from one another by a receiver even in the presence of substantial noise and multipath interference (e.g., interference caused by receiving multiple radio reflections within a building).

The 5.5 Mbps rate uses CCK to encode 4 bits per carrier, while the 11 Mbps rate encodes 8 bits per carrier. Both speeds use QPSK as the modulation technique and signal at 1.375 MSps. This is how the higher data rates are obtained. To support very noisy environments as well as extended range, 802.11b WLANs use dynamic rate shifting, allowing data rates to be automatically adjusted to compensate for the changing nature of the radio channel. Ideally, users connect at the full 11 Mbps rate.

However when devices move beyond the optimal range for 11 Mbps operation, or if substantial interference is present, 802.11b devices will transmit at lower speeds, falling back to 5.5, 2, and 1 Mbps. Likewise, if the device moves back within the range of a higher-speed transmission, the connection will automatically speed up again. Rate shifting is a physical layer mechanism transparent to the user and the upper layers of the protocol stack.

One of the more significant disadvantages of 802.11b is that the frequency band is crowded, and subject to interference from other networking technologies, microwave ovens, 2.4GHz cordless phones (a huge market), and Bluetooth [ Wireless Standards Up in the Air]. There are drawbacks to 802.11b, including lack of interoperability with voice devices, and no QoS provisions for multimedia content. Interference and other limitations aside, 802.11b is the clear leader in business and institutional wireless networking and is gaining share for home applications as well.


802.11g Standard

Though 5GHz has many advantages, it also has problems. The most important of these is compatibility:

The different frequencies mean that 802.11a products aren't interoperable with the 802.11b base. To get around this, the IEEE developed 802.11g, which should extend the speed and range of 802.11b so that it's fully compatible with the older systems.

The standard operates entirely in the 2.4GHz frequency, but uses a minimum of two modes (both mandatory) with two optional modes [ Wireless Standards Up in the Air]. The mandatory modulation/access modes are the same CCK (Complementary Code Keying) mode used by 802.11b (hence the compatibility) and the OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) mode used by 802.11a (but in this case in the 2.4GHz frequency band). The mandatory CCK mode supports 11Mbps and the OFDM mode has a maximum of 54Mbps. There are also two modes that use different methods to attain a 22Mbps data rate--PBCC-22 (Packet Binary Convolutional Coding, rated for 6 to 54Mbps) and CCK-OFDM mode (with a rated max of 33Mbps).

The obvious advantage of 802.11g is that it maintains compatibility with 802.11b (and 802.11b's worldwide acceptance) and also offers faster data rates comparable with 802.11a. The number of channels available, however, is not increased, since channels are a function of bandwidth, not radio signal modulation - and on that score, 802.11a wins with its eight channels, compared to the three channels available with either 802.11b or 802.11g. Another disadvantage of 802.11g is that it also works in the 2.4 GHz band and so due to interference it will never be as fast as 802.11a.