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IEEE 802.11 is a set of media access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) specifications for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication in the 2.4, 3.6, 5 and 60 GHz frequency bands. They are created and maintained by the IEEE LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802). The base version of the standard was released in 1997 and has had subsequent amendments. The standard and amendments provide the basis for wireless network products using the Wi-Fi brand. While each amendment is officially revoked when it is incorporated in the latest version of the standard, the corporate world tends to market to the revisions because they concisely denote capabilities of their products. As a result, in the market place, each revision tends to become its own standard.
The 802.11 family consists of a series of half-duplex over-the-air modulation techniques that use the same basic protocol. 802.11-1997 was the first wireless networking standard in the family, but 802.11b was the first widely accepted one, followed by 802.11a, 802.11g, 802.11n and 802.11ac. Other standards in the family (c–f, h, j) are service amendments and extensions or corrections to the previous specifications.
802.11b and 802.11g use the 2.4 GHz ISM band, operating in the United States under Part 15 of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission Rules and Regulations. Because of this choice of frequency band, 802.11b and g equipment may occasionally suffer interference from microwave ovens, cordless telephones and Bluetooth devices. 802.11b and 802.11g control their interference and susceptibility to interference by using direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) and orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) signaling methods, respectively. 802.11a uses the 5 GHz U-NII band, which, for much of the world, offers at least 23 non-overlapping channels rather than the 2.4 GHz ISM frequency band, where adjacent channels overlap - see list of WLAN channels. Better or worse performance with higher or lower frequencies (channels) may be realized, depending on the environment.
The segment of the radio frequency spectrum used by 802.11 varies between countries. In the US, 802.11a and 802.11g devices may be operated without a license, as allowed in Part 15 of the FCC Rules and Regulations. Frequencies used by channels one through six of 802.11b and 802.11g fall within the 2.4 GHz amateur radio band. Licensed amateur radio operators may operate 802.11b/g devices under Part 97 of the FCC Rules and Regulations, allowing increased power output but not commercial content or encryption.
In 1991 NCR Corporation/AT&T (now Alcatel-Lucent and LSI Corporation) invented the precursor to 802.11 in Nieuwegein, The Netherlands. The inventors initially intended to use the technology for cashier systems. The first wireless products were brought to the market under the name WaveLAN with raw data rates of 1 Mbit/s and 2 Mbit/s.
|802.11 network PHY standards|
|Stream data rate||Allowable|
|—||Jun 1997||2.4||22||1, 2||N/A||DSSS, FHSS||20||66||100||330|
|a||Sep 1999||5||20||6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54||N/A||OFDM||35||115||120||390|
|b||Sep 1999||2.4||22||1, 2, 5.5, 11||N/A||DSSS||35||115||140||460|
|g||Jun 2003||2.4||20||6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54||N/A||OFDM, DSSS||38||125||140||460|
|n||Oct 2009||2.4/5||20||7.2, 14.4, 21.7, 28.9, 43.3, 57.8, 65, 72.2 [B]|
(6.5, 13, 19.5, 26, 39, 52, 58.5, 65) [C]
|40||15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 135, 150 [B]|
(13.5, 27, 40.5, 54, 81, 108, 121.5, 135) [C]
|ac||Dec 2013||5||20||7.2, 14.4, 21.7, 28.9, 43.3, 57.8, 65, 72.2, 86.7, 96.3 [B]|
(6.5, 13, 19.5, 26, 39, 52, 58.5, 65, 78, 86.7) [C]
|40||15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 135, 150, 180, 200 [B]|
(13.5, 27, 40.5, 54, 81, 108, 121.5, 135, 162, 180) [C]
|80||32.5, 65, 97.5, 130, 195, 260, 292.5, 325, 390, 433.3 [B]|
(29.2, 58.5, 87.8, 117, 175.5, 234, 263.2, 292.5, 351, 390) [C]
|160||65, 130, 195, 260, 390, 520, 585, 650, 780, 866.7 [B]|
(58.5, 117, 175.5, 234, 351, 468, 702, 780) [C]
|ad||Dec 2012||60||2,160||Up to 6,912 (6.75 Gbit/s) ||N/A||OFDM, single carrier,|
low-power single carrier
The original version of the standard IEEE 802.11 was released in 1997 and clarified in 1999, but is today obsolete. It specified two net bit rates of 1 or 2 megabits per second (Mbit/s), plus forward error correction code. It specified three alternative physical layer technologies: diffuse infrared operating at 1 Mbit/s; frequency-hopping spread spectrum operating at 1 Mbit/s or 2 Mbit/s; and direct-sequence spread spectrum operating at 1 Mbit/s or 2 Mbit/s. The latter two radio technologies used microwave transmission over the Industrial Scientific Medical frequency band at 2.4 GHz. Some earlier WLAN technologies used lower frequencies, such as the U.S. 900 MHz ISM band.
Legacy 802.11 with direct-sequence spread spectrum was rapidly supplanted and popularized by 802.11b.
Originally described as clause 17 of the 1999 specification, the OFDM waveform at 5.8 GHz is now defined in clause 18 of the 2012 specification and provides protocols that allow transmission and reception of data at rates of 1.5 to 54Mbit/s. It has seen widespread worldwide implementation, particularly within the corporate workspace. While the original amendment is no longer valid, the term "802.11a" is still used by wireless access point (cards and routers) manufacturers to describe interoperability of their systems at 5.8 GHz, 54Mbit/s.
The 802.11a standard uses the same data link layer protocol and frame format as the original standard, but an OFDM based air interface (physical layer). It operates in the 5 GHz band with a maximum net data rate of 54 Mbit/s, plus error correction code, which yields realistic net achievable throughput in the mid-20 Mbit/s.
Since the 2.4 GHz band is heavily used to the point of being crowded, using the relatively unused 5 GHz band gives 802.11a a significant advantage. However, this high carrier frequency also brings a disadvantage: the effective overall range of 802.11a is less than that of 802.11b/g. In theory, 802.11a signals are absorbed more readily by walls and other solid objects in their path due to their smaller wavelength and, as a result, cannot penetrate as far as those of 802.11b. In practice, 802.11b typically has a higher range at low speeds (802.11b will reduce speed to 5.5 Mbit/s or even 1 Mbit/s at low signal strengths). 802.11a also suffers from interference, but locally there may be fewer signals to interfere with, resulting in less interference and better throughput.
The 802.11b standard has a maximum raw data rate of 11 Mbit/s and uses the same media access method defined in the original standard. 802.11b products appeared on the market in early 2000, since 802.11b is a direct extension of the modulation technique defined in the original standard. The dramatic increase in throughput of 802.11b (compared to the original standard) along with simultaneous substantial price reductions led to the rapid acceptance of 802.11b as the definitive wireless LAN technology.
Devices using 802.11b experience interference from other products operating in the 2.4 GHz band. Devices operating in the 2.4 GHz range include microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, cordless telephones and some amateur radio equipment.
In June 2003, a third modulation standard was ratified: 802.11g. This works in the 2.4 GHz band (like 802.11b), but uses the same OFDM based transmission scheme as 802.11a. It operates at a maximum physical layer bit rate of 54 Mbit/s exclusive of forward error correction codes, or about 22 Mbit/s average throughput. 802.11g hardware is fully backward compatible with 802.11b hardware and therefore is encumbered with legacy issues that reduce throughput when compared to 802.11a by ~21%.
The then-proposed 802.11g standard was rapidly adopted by consumers starting in January 2003, well before ratification, due to the desire for higher data rates as well as to reductions in manufacturing costs. By summer 2003, most dual-band 802.11a/b products became dual-band/tri-mode, supporting a and b/g in a single mobile adapter card or access point. Details of making b and g work well together occupied much of the lingering technical process; in an 802.11g network, however, activity of an 802.11b participant will reduce the data rate of the overall 802.11g network.
Like 802.11b, 802.11g devices suffer interference from other products operating in the 2.4 GHz band, for example wireless keyboards.
In 2003, task group TGma was authorized to "roll up" many of the amendments to the 1999 version of the 802.11 standard. REVma or 802.11ma, as it was called, created a single document that merged 8 amendments (802.11a, b, d, e, g, h, i, j) with the base standard. Upon approval on March 8, 2007, 802.11REVma was renamed to the then-current base standard IEEE 802.11-2007.
802.11n is an amendment which improves upon the previous 802.11 standards by adding multiple-input multiple-output antennas (MIMO). 802.11n operates on both the 2.4 GHz and the lesser used 5 GHz bands. Support for 5 GHz bands is optional. It operates at a maximum net data rate from 54 Mbit/s to 600 Mbit/s. The IEEE has approved the amendment and it was published in October 2009. Prior to the final ratification, enterprises were already migrating to 802.11n networks based on the Wi-Fi Alliance's certification of products conforming to a 2007 draft of the 802.11n proposal.
In 2007, task group TGmb was authorized to "roll up" many of the amendments to the 2007 version of the 802.11 standard. REVmb or 802.11mb, as it was called, created a single document that merged ten amendments (802.11k, r, y, n, w, p, z, v, u, s) with the 2007 base standard. In addition much cleanup was done, including a reordering of many of the clauses. Upon publication on March 29, 2012, the new standard was referred to as IEEE 802.11-2012.
IEEE 802.11ac-2013 is an amendment to IEEE 802.11, published in December 2013, that builds on 802.11n. Changes compared to 802.11n include wider channels (80 or 160 MHz versus 40 MHz) in the 5 GHz band, more spatial streams (up to eight versus four), higher order modulation (up to 256-QAM vs. 64-QAM), and the addition of Multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). As of October 2013, high-end implementations support 80 MHz channels, three spatial streams, and 256-QAM, yielding a data rate of up to 433.3 Mbit/s per spatial stream, 1300 Mbit/s total, in 80 MHz channels in the 5 GHz band. Vendors have announced plans to release so-called "Wave 2" devices with support for 160 MHz channels, four spatial streams, and MU-MIMO in 2014 and 2015.
|This section is outdated. (November 2013)|
IEEE 802.11ad is an amendment that defines a new physical layer for 802.11 networks to operate in the 60 GHz millimeter wave spectrum. This frequency band has significantly different propagation characteristics than the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands where Wi-Fi networks operate. Products implementing the 802.11ad standard are being brought to market under the WiGig brand name. The certification program is now being developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance instead of the now defunct WiGig Alliance. The peak transmission rate of 802.11ad is 7Gbit/s.
IEEE 802.11af, also referred to as "White-Fi" and "Super Wi-Fi", is an amendment, approved in February 2014, that allows WLAN operation in TV white space spectrum in the VHF and UHF bands between 54 and 790 MHz. It uses cognitive radio technology to transmit on unused TV channels, with the standard taking measures to limit interference for primary users, such as analog TV, digital TV, and wireless microphones. Access points and stations determine their position using a satellite positioning system such as GPS and use the Internet to query a geolocation database (GDB) provided by a regional regulatory agency to discover what frequency channels are available for use at a given time and position. The physical layer uses OFDM and is based on 802.11ac. The propagation path loss as well as the attenuation by materials such as brick and concrete is lower in the UHF and VHF bands than in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, which increases the possible range. The frequency channels are 6 to 8 MHz wide, depending on the regulatory domain. Up to four channels may be bonded in either one or two contiguous blocks. MIMO operation is possible with up to four streams used for either space–time block code (STBC) or multi-user (MU) operation. The achievable data rate per spatial stream is 26.7 Mbit/s for 6 and 7 MHz channels and 35.6 Mbit/s for 8 MHz channels. With four spatial streams and four bonded channels, the maximum data rate is 426.7 Mbit/s for 6 and 7 MHz channels and 568.9 Mbit/s for 8 MHz channels.
IEEE 802.11ah defines a WLAN system operating at sub 1 GHz license-exempt bands, with final approval slated for March 2016. Due to the favorable propagation characteristics of the low frequency spectra, 802.11ah can provide improved transmission range compared with the conventional 802.11 WLANs operating in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. 802.11ah can be used for various purposes including large scale sensor networks, extended range hotspot, and outdoor Wi-Fi for cellular traffic offloading, whereas the available bandwidth is relatively narrow.
IEEE 802.11ai is an amendment to the 802.11 standard which will add new mechanisms for a faster initial link setup time.
IEEE 802.11aj is a rebanding of 802.11ad for use in the 45 GHz unlicensed spectrum available in some regions of the world (specifically China).
IEEE 802.11aq is an amendment to the 802.11 standard which will enable pre-association discovery of services. This extends some of the mechanisms in 802.11u that enabled device discovery to further discover the services running on a device, or provided by a network.
IEEE 802.11ax is the successor to 802.11ac and will increase the efficiency of WLAN networks. Currently at a very early stage of development this project has the goal of providing 4x the throughput of 802.11ac
Across all flavours of 802.11 maximum achievable throughputs are either given based on measurements under ideal conditions or in the layer 2 data rates. This however does not apply to typical deployments in which data is being transferred between two endpoints of which at least one is typically connected to a wired infrastructure and the other endpoint is connected to an infrastructure via a wireless link.
This means that typically data frames pass an 802.11 (WLAN) medium and are being converted to 802.3 (Ethernet) or vice versa. Due to the difference in the frame (header) lengths of these two media the application's packet size determines the speed of the data transfer. This means that applications which use small packets (e.g. VoIP) create dataflows with a high overhead traffic (e.g. a low goodput). Other factors which contribute to the overall application data rate are the speed with which the application transmits the packets (i.e. the data rate) and of course the energy with which the wireless signal is received. The latter is determined by distance and by the configured output power of the communicating devices.
Same references apply to the attached throughput graphs which show measurements of UDP throughput measurements. Each represents an average (UDP) throughput (please note that the error bars are there, but barely visible due to the small variation) of 25 measurements. Each is with a specific packet size (small or large) and with a specific data rate (10 kbit/s – 100 Mbit/s). Markers for traffic profiles of common applications are included as well. Please note, this text and measurements do not cover packet errors but information about this can be found at above references.
802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n-2.4 utilize the 2.400 – 2.500 GHz spectrum, one of the ISM bands. 802.11a and 802.11n use the more heavily regulated 4.915 – 5.825 GHz band. These are commonly referred to as the "2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands" in most sales literature. Each spectrum is sub-divided into channels with a center frequency and bandwidth, analogous to the way radio and TV broadcast bands are sub-divided.
The 2.4 GHz band is divided into 14 channels spaced 5 MHz apart, beginning with channel 1 which is centered on 2.412 GHz. The latter channels have additional restrictions or are unavailable for use in some regulatory domains.
The channel numbering of the 5.725 – 5.875 GHz spectrum is less intuitive due to the differences in regulations between countries. These are discussed in greater detail on the list of WLAN channels.
In addition to specifying the channel centre frequency, 802.11 also specifies (in Clause 17) a spectral mask defining the permitted power distribution across each channel. The mask requires the signal be attenuated a minimum of 20 dB from its peak amplitude at ±11 MHz from the centre frequency, the point at which a channel is effectively 22 MHz wide. One consequence is that stations can only use every fourth or fifth channel without overlap.
Availability of channels is regulated by country, constrained in part by how each country allocates radio spectrum to various services. At one extreme, Japan permits the use of all 14 channels for 802.11b, and 1–13 for 802.11g/n-2.4. Other countries such as Spain initially allowed only channels 10 and 11, and France only allowed 10, 11, 12 and 13; however, they now allow channels 1 through 13. North America and some Central and South American countries allow only 1 through 11.
Since the spectral mask only defines power output restrictions up to ±11 MHz from the center frequency to be attenuated by −50 dBr, it is often assumed that the energy of the channel extends no further than these limits. It is more correct to say that, given the separation between channels, the overlapping signal on any channel should be sufficiently attenuated to minimally interfere with a transmitter on any other channel. Due to the near-far problem a transmitter can impact (desense) a receiver on a "non-overlapping" channel, but only if it is close to the victim receiver (within a meter) or operating above allowed power levels.
Confusion often arises over the amount of channel separation required between transmitting devices. 802.11b was based on DSSS modulation and utilized a channel bandwidth of 22 MHz, resulting in three "non-overlapping" channels (1, 6, and 11). 802.11g was based on OFDM modulation and utilized a channel bandwidth of 20 MHz. This occasionally leads to the belief that four "non-overlapping" channels (1, 5, 9 and 13) exist under 802.11g, although this is not the case as per 126.96.36.199 Channel Numbering of operating channels of the IEEE Std 802.11 (2012) which states "In a multiple cell network topology, overlapping and/or adjacent cells using different channels can operate simultaneously without interference if the distance between the center frequencies is at least 25 MHz." and section 188.8.131.52 and Figure 18-13.
This does not mean that the technical overlap of the channels recommends the non-use of overlapping channels. The amount of interference seen on a 1, 5, 9, and 13 channel configuration can have very small difference from a three channel configuration and in the paper entitled "Effect of adjacent-channel interference in IEEE 802.11 WLANs" by Villegas this is also demonstrated.
Although the statement that channels 1, 5, 9, and 13 are "non-overlapping" is limited to spacing or product density, the concept has some merit in limited circumstances. Special care must be taken to adequately space AP cells since overlap between the channels may cause unacceptable degradation of signal quality and throughput. If more advanced equipment such as spectral analyzers are available, overlapping channels may be used under certain circumstances. This way, more channels are available.
IEEE uses the phrase regdomain to refer to a legal regulatory region. Different countries define different levels of allowable transmitter power, time that a channel can be occupied, and different available channels. Domain codes are specified for the United States, Canada, ETSI (Europe), Spain, France, Japan, and China.
Most Wi-Fi certified devices default to regdomain 0, which means least common denominator settings, i.e. the device will not transmit at a power above the allowable power in any nation, nor will it use frequencies that are not permitted in any nation.
The regdomain setting is often made difficult or impossible to change so that the end users do not conflict with local regulatory agencies such as the United States' Federal Communications Commission.
The datagrams are called "frames". Current 802.11 standards define "frame" types for use in transmission of data as well as management and control of wireless links.
Frames are divided into very specific and standardized sections. Each frame consists of a MAC header, payload and frame check sequence (FCS). Some frames may not have the payload. The first two bytes of the MAC header form a frame control field specifying the form and function of the frame. The frame control field is further subdivided into the following sub-fields:
The next two bytes are reserved for the Duration ID field. This field can take one of three forms: Duration, Contention-Free Period (CFP), and Association ID (AID).
An 802.11 frame can have up to four address fields. Each field can carry a MAC address. Address 1 is the receiver, Address 2 is the transmitter, Address 3 is used for filtering purposes by the receiver.
Management Frames allow for the maintenance of communication. Some common 802.11 subtypes include:
2. In terms of ICT, an Information Element (IE) is a part of management frames in the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN protocol. IEs are a device's way to transfer descriptive information about itself inside management frames. There are usually several IEs inside each such frame, and each is built of TLVs mostly defined outside the basic IEEE 802.11 specification.
The common structure of an IE is as follows:
← 1 → ← 1 → ← 3 → ← 1-252 → ------------------------------------------------ | Type |Length| OUI | Data | ------------------------------------------------
Control frames facilitate in the exchange of data frames between stations. Some common 802.11 control frames include:
Data frames carry packets from web pages, files, etc. within the body. The body begins with an IEEE 802.2 header, with the Destination Service Access Point (DSAP) specifying the protocol; however, if the DSAP is hex AA, the 802.2 header is followed by a Subnetwork Access Protocol (SNAP) header, with the Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI) and protocol ID (PID) fields specifying the protocol. If the OUI is all zeroes, the protocol ID field is an EtherType value. Almost all 802.11 data frames use 802.2 and SNAP headers, and most use an OUI of 00:00:00 and an EtherType value.
802.11F and 802.11T are recommended practices rather than standards, and are capitalized as such.
802.11m is used for standard maintenance. 802.11ma was completed for 802.11-2007, 802.11mb was completed for 802.11-2012 and 802.11mc is working towards publishing 802.11-2015.
Both the terms "standard" and "amendment" are used when referring to the different variants of IEEE standards.
As far as the IEEE Standards Association is concerned, there is only one current standard; it is denoted by IEEE 802.11 followed by the date that it was published. IEEE 802.11-2012 is the only version currently in publication. The standard is updated by means of amendments. Amendments are created by task groups (TG). Both the task group and their finished document are denoted by 802.11 followed by a non-capitalized letter. For example IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11b. Updating 802.11 is the responsibility of task group m. In order to create a new version, TGm combines the previous version of the standard and all published amendments. TGm also provides clarification and interpretation to industry on published documents. New versions of the IEEE 802.11 were published in 1999, 2007 and 2012. The next is expected in 2015.
Various terms in 802.11 are used to specify aspects of wireless local-area networking operation, and may be unfamiliar to some readers.
For example, Time Unit (usually abbreviated TU) is used to indicate a unit of time equal to 1024 microseconds. Numerous time constants are defined in terms of TU (rather than the nearly equal millisecond).
Also the term "Portal" is used to describe an entity that is similar to an 802.1H bridge. A Portal provides access to the WLAN by non-802.11 LAN STAs.
Many hotspot or free networks frequently allow anyone within range, including passersby outside, to connect to the Internet. There are also efforts by volunteer groups to establish wireless community networks to provide free wireless connectivity to the public.
In 2001, a group from the University of California, Berkeley presented a paper describing weaknesses in the 802.11 Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) security mechanism defined in the original standard; they were followed by Fluhrer, Mantin, and Shamir's paper titled "Weaknesses in the Key Scheduling Algorithm of RC4". Not long after, Adam Stubblefield and AT&T publicly announced the first verification of the attack. In the attack, they were able to intercept transmissions and gain unauthorized access to wireless networks.
The IEEE set up a dedicated task group to create a replacement security solution, 802.11i (previously this work was handled as part of a broader 802.11e effort to enhance the MAC layer). The Wi-Fi Alliance announced an interim specification called Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) based on a subset of the then current IEEE 802.11i draft. These started to appear in products in mid-2003. IEEE 802.11i (also known as WPA2) itself was ratified in June 2004, and uses the Advanced Encryption Standard AES, instead of RC4, which was used in WEP. The modern recommended encryption for the home/consumer space is WPA2 (AES Pre-Shared Key) and for the Enterprise space is WPA2 along with a RADIUS authentication server (or another type of authentication server) and a strong authentication method such as EAP-TLS.
In December 2011, a security flaw was revealed that affects some wireless routers with a specific implementation of the optional Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature. While WPS is not a part of 802.11, the flaw allows a remote attacker to recover the WPS PIN and, with it, the router's 802.11i password in a few hours.
Many companies implement wireless networking equipment with non-IEEE standard 802.11 extensions either by implementing proprietary or draft features. These changes may lead to incompatibilities between these extensions.