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Wireless LAN Standards

2005-02-14 (updated: 2009-11-09) by
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Different wireless technologies define a rapidly emerging area of growth in networking. The need for mobile computing, wireless peripherals, voice and messaging, hand-held and other internet-enabled devices, easy home networking, media streaming, and cost-effective networking solutions in general have driven the recent development of a number of wireless networking standards.

All those wireless technologies target different niches in the WLAN market, work over different frequencies, and only a few are compatible with each other.

The quick WLAN reference table below will help differentiate between the different wireless networking standards in use today.


IEEE Standard Speed (max) Frequency Transmission Method Security Details
802.11 legacy 2 Mbps 2.4 GHz DSSS, FHSS WEP, WPA IEEE specification extended into 802.11b
802.11a 54 Mbps 5.0 GHz OFDM WEP, WPA Wi-Fi Alliance standard, 12 non-overlapping channels (each 20 MHz wide). Less potential for RF interference at 5 GHz than 2.4 GHz. Shorter range than, and not interoperable with 802.11b/g. Average actual throughput 10-25 Mbps.
11 Mbps 2.4 GHz DSSS, HR-DSSS WEP, WPA Wi-Fi Alliance standard. 11 channels (each 22 MHz wide, only 3 non-overlapping, 14 usable channels outside the U.S.). Average actual throughput 5 Mbps.
802.11g 54 Mbps 2.4 GHz DSSS, HR-DSSS, OFDM WEP, WPA Wi-Fi Alliance standard, 11 channels (each 22 MHz wide, only 3 non-overlapping, 14 usable channels outside the U.S.). Compatible with 802.11b, with improved speed and security. Will eventually replace 802.11b. Uses additional OFDM modulation technique above 20 Mbps. Average actual throughput 10-25 Mbps.
802.11n 200+ Mbps 2.4/5 GHz MIMO WPA2 ??? Emerging Wi-Fi Alliance standard (scheduled to be complete by the end of 2006), backward compatible with 802.11a/b/g. It is to achieve that by adding MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output), using multiple antennas.  Average throughput of 100+ Mbps.
Bluetooth 2 Mbps 2.45 GHz FHSS PPTP, VPN or SSL No native TCP/IP support. Best suited to connect PDAs, cell phones and peripheral devices at short distances.
HomeRF 10 MBps 2.4 GHz FHSS 56-bit encryption, separate IPs for each network. No longer supported. 150 feet range, intended for home use. Reserves part of available bandwidth for voice services. Responds well to interference because of FHSS.
HiperLAN/1 20 MBps 5 GHz CSMA/CA individual authentication and per-sesison encryption keys Only used in Europe. Ad-hoc WLAN, requires no configuration or central controller.
HiperLAN/2 54 MBps 5 GHz OFDM individual authentication and per-session encryption keys Only used in Europe.It can carry ATM cells, IP packets, Firewire packets, as well as digital voice (cellular phones).


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