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Wireless Standards Simplified and Explained

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

When technology evolves seemingly overnight, staying abreast of the changes can at times confuse even the well informed. For those who don’t possess degrees in those fields, the influx of wireless standards information can be overwhelming, and sorting through it can be extremely frustrating.

What Is a Wireless Network?
Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) and Wireless Land Area Networks (WLAN) are synonymous. As each title states, they involve connections without wires—no physical connection exists between the transmitting point and the receiving point, i.e., an Internet server and a computer. (Because of large range differences, WiMax and Bluetooth networks are not included here.)

In order to understand wireless standards, three terms must be defined:
*Bandwidth: How much data is sent or how much “room” is available to send data. Network bandwidth is measured in “bits per second” (bps); one million bits per second compose “1 Mbps.” M verbalizes as “mega.”
*Speed: How quickly data can be sent, measured in “cycles per second” or Hertz (Hz). One gigahertz (1 GHz) equals one billion cycles per second.
*Range: How far a signal can be transmitted without signal degradation or unreasonable failure.

Accepted Wireless Standards
Currently, there are three defined standards—not equipment or configured networks—in common use; they have no relations to who sells the network configuration and access or Internet Service Providers.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the first WLAN standard in 1997 and designated it 802.11 to honor its founding oversight group, but the 802.11 had limited success and applicability. Further exploration produced better standards that found success and popularity.

802.11b: Developed in 1999, it can be considered the “co-sibling” of its faster counterpart. Its standards and results are:
*Bandwidth: Up to 11 Mbps.
*Speed: 2.4 GHz, using an unregulated or unprotected signal.
*Advantages: Good range; signal reliability improves when moved away from interfering appliances, such as cordless telephones or microwave ovens. Useful in home network environment.
*Disadvantages: Conditional signal unreliability. Slowest maximum speed within the 802.11 set.

802.11a: Developed simultaneously with 802.11b but didn’t gain popularity as quickly.
*Bandwidth: 54 Mbps.
*Speed: Regulated signal using a frequency around 5 GHz.
*Advantages: Fast maximum speed; low interference. Good for business environments and range.
*Disadvantages: Higher cost and shorter range than 802.11b. Incompatible with 802.11b bandwidth and paired use.

802.11g: Developed in 2002 and 2003.
*Bandwidth: 54 Mbps.
*Speed: 2.4 GHz and higher with increased range.
*Advantages: Fast maximum speed and good signal range; not easily obstructed. Backwards compatible with 802.11b. (The 11g’s access ports can be used with 11b’s network adapters and vice versa.)
*Disadvantages: Costs more than 802.11b. Interference on unregulated frequencies.

802.11n: Under development as of April 2010. Its intent is to join the best of 802.11b and 802.11g. The below figures are not final but under testing or projected only.
*Bandwidth: projected to over 100 Mbps.
*Speed: Multiple frequencies and antenna arrays for increased signal intensity and increased range.
*Advantages: Fastest maximum speed at higher interference resistance and maximum range. Backwards compatible with 802.11g equipment.
*Disadvantages: Standards not yet defined. Costs greater than for 802.11g. Undetermined if will interfere with 802.11b and 802.11g transmissions.

Within the flux of data flowing from frequent inventions and improvements, wireless technology offers multiple options for the standards that meet both needs and wants for home or work.

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