Jul 082010

Standard Technology – Wireless 802.11 Technologies


Release Date Op. Frequency Data Rate (Typ) Data Rate (Max)
1999 2.4 GHz 6.5 Mbps* 11 Mbps*

802.11b has a maximum raw data rate of 11 Mbps and uses the same CSMA/CA media access method defined in the original standard. Hence, chipsets and products were easily upgraded to support the 802.11b enhancements. The dramatic increase in throughput of 802.11b (compared to the original standard) along with substantial price reductions led to the rapid acceptance of 802.11b as the definitive wireless LAN technology.

802.11b cards can operate at 11 Mbps, but will scale back to 5.5, then 2, then 1 Mbps (also known as Adaptive Rate Selection), if signal quality becomes an issue. Since the lower data rates use less complex and more redundant methods of encoding the data, they are less susceptible to corruption due to interference and signal attenuation. 802.11g, which has data rates up to 54 Mbps is backwards-compatible with 802.11b.


Release Date Op. Frequency Data Rate (Typ) Data Rate (Max)
1999 5 GHz 25 Mbps* 54 Mbps*

The 802.11a standard uses the same core protocol as the original standard, operates in 5 GHz band, and uses a 52-subcarrier orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) with a maximum raw data rate of 54 Mbps, which yields realistic net achievable throughput in the mid-20 Mbps. The data rate is reduced to 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 9 then 6 Mbps if required. 802.11a has 12 non-overlapping channels, 8 dedicated to indoor and 4 to point to point. It is not interoperable with 802.11b/g, except if using equipment that implements both standards.

Since the 2.4 GHz band is heavily used, using the 5 GHz band gives 802.11a the advantage of less interference. However, this high carrier frequency also brings disadvantages. It restricts the use of 802.11a to almost line of sight, necessitating the use of more access points; it also means that 802.11a cannot penetrate as far as 802.11b/g since it is absorbed more readily, other things (such as power) being equal.

There are dual-band, or dual-mode or tri-mode cards that can automatically handle 802.11a and b, or a, b and g, as available. Similarly, there are mobile adapters and access points which can support all these standards simultaneously.


Release Date Op. Frequency Data Rate (Typ) Data Rate (Max)
2003 June 2.4 GHz 25 Mbps* 54 Mbps*

In June 2003, a third modulation standard was ratified: 802.11g. This flavour works in the 2.4 GHz band (like 802.11b) but operates at a maximum raw data rate of 54 Mbps, or about 24.7 Mbps net throughput like 802.11a. 802.11g hardware will work with 802.11b hardware. Details of making b and g work well together occupied much of the lingering technical process. In older networks, however, the presence of an 802.11b participant significantly reduces the speed of an 802.11g network. The modulation scheme used in 802.11g is orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) for the data rates of 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, and 54 Mbps.

The 802.11g standard swept the consumer world of early adopters starting in January 2003, well before ratification. The corporate users held back and Cisco and other big equipment makers waited until ratification. By summer 2003, announcements were flourishing. Most of the dual-band 802.11a/b products became dual-band/tri-mode, supporting a, b, and g in a single mobile adaptor card or access point. Despite its major acceptance, 802.11g suffers from the same interference as 802.11b in the already crowded 2.4 GHz range. Devices operating in this range include microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, and cordless telephones.


Release Date Op. Frequency Data Rate (Typ) Data Rate (Max)
Expected mid 2007 2.4 GHz 200 Mbps* 540 Mbps*

In January 2004 IEEE announced that it had formed a new 802.11 Task Group (TGn) to develop a new amendment to the 802.11 standard for wireless local-area networks. The real data throughput is estimated to reach a theoretical 540 Mbps (which may require an even higher raw data rate at the physical layer), and should be up to 100 times faster than 802.11b, and well over 10 times faster than 802.11a or 802.11g. It is projected that 802.11n will also offer a better operating distance than current networks.

802.11n builds upon previous 802.11 standards by adding MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output). MIMO uses multiple transmitter and receiver antennas to allow for increased data throughput through spatial multiplexing and increased range by exploiting the spatial diversity, perhaps through coding schemes like Alamouti coding.

On May 2, 2006, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group voted not to forward Draft 1.0 of the proposed 802.11n standard for a sponsor ballot. Only 46.6% voted to accept the proposal. To proceed to the next step in the IEEE process, a majority vote of 75% is required. This letter ballot also generated approximately 12000 comments — much more than anticipated.

According to the IEEE 802.11 Working Group Project Timelines, the 802.11n standard is not due for final approval until July 2007.

Wireless Standards Comparison Table

Wireless Standard Release Date Op. Frequency Data Rate (Typ) Data Rate (Max)
802.11b 1999 2.4 GHz 6.5 Mbps* 11 Mbps*
802.11a 1999 5 GHz 25 Mbps* 54 Mbps*
802.11g 2003 2.4 GHz 25 Mbps* 54 Mbps*
802.11n Expected mid 2007 2.4 GHz 200 Mbps* 540 Mbps*

Source: Buffalo Technology