10-Minute Guide To Wi-Fi Standards - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

11:31 AM

10-Minute Guide To Wi-Fi Standards

The different 802.11 and NIMO standards have different levels of throughput and security. Here's how you can make sense of the alphanumeric soups.

There's 801.22a, 802.11b, 802.11g, pre-N, 802.11i, MIMO, and more. How can you sort out the mess of Wi-Fi standards? Here's the rundown on what the major standards are, and what you need to know about them, from Brian Hernacki, architect, Symantec Research Labs, Cupertino, Calif.,

802.11- This is the overlying architecture for a series of Wi-Fi standards, all with letters following 802.11 (a, b, etc.). This family of standards was first introduced in 1997, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), the standards body for all things Wi-Fi, didn't approve them until 1999. The 802.11 family of standards provides protocols designed for local area networks and the devices that support them and connect with them.

It's not that wireless networking was unworkable before the introduction of 802.11, according to Hernacki, but any connections before were designed for packets transmitted over a wide variety of radio signals. Due to the wide range of signals in use, wireless networking this way was too cumbersome and, therefore, never enjoyed wide adoption, Hernacki says.

802.11a This was the first of the IEEE standards for wireless LAN. Like the underlying 802.11 architecture, 802.11a was introduced in 1997 and approved in 1999. This enabled commodity-type access points, from Linksys, Netgear, et al.

"It's kind of a footnote in wireless history now," Hernacki says. "It didn't receive much adoption because it operates in the 5 Ghz band, which doesn't penetrate through objects very easily. Therefore, there were problems with absorption of the signal throughout an office. There were products (wireless access points, routers and cards) built for this standard, but I've never seen any of them."

The problem with signal absorption more than outweighed the maximum 54 Mbs speed, Hernacki adds. Some 802.11a products and networks may still exist in some remote areas of the country.

802.11b This was the first wireless standard to receive wide adoption. Operating at 2.4 Mhz, signals with this standard didn't have the absorption problems of the 802.11a standard, but the slow speed (11 Mbps under optimal conditions) also meant that anyone used to broadband in an office or home setting would see achingly slow speeds. Adoption started picking up, as wireless LANs, chips, etc., started becoming available in the late 1990s and early 2000. Some older equipment still uses 802.11b, though slow speed and signal interference from other 802.11b users can be a problem in locations where there are several users in a small space, according to Hernacki.

However, the average age of a laptop is less than three years, so much of the 802.11b equipment has been replaced, though the environment still exists in some many installations where speed isn't critical.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
1 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
2018 State of the Cloud
2018 State of the Cloud
Cloud adoption is growing, but how are organizations taking advantage of it? Interop ITX and InformationWeek surveyed technology decision-makers to find out, read this report to discover what they had to say!
9 Steps Toward Ethical AI
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  5/15/2019
How to Assess Digital Transformation Efforts
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  5/14/2019
Is AutoML the Answer to the Data Science Skills Shortage?
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  5/10/2019
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
A New World of IT Management in 2019
This IT Trend Report highlights how several years of developments in technology and business strategies have led to a subsequent wave of changes in the role of an IT organization, how CIOs and other IT leaders approach management, in addition to the jobs of many IT professionals up and down the org chart.
White Papers
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Sponsored Video
Flash Poll