802.11 Wireless Standard
Before setting up wireless network, you need to understand 802.11 wireless standard that can be used. 802.11n and 802.11g are popular wireless communication standards, but soon we are going to embrace much faster 802.11ac standard. You might also hear about 802.11a or 802.11b wireless communication standard, but they are not that popular anymore. Wireless networks can be built using any of specified standards, but each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let's check out one by one below:
In September of 1999, the IEEE 802 committee extended the 802.11 standard, created 802.11b standard. It became popular due to low setup cost and bandwidth support up to 11Mbps in the 2.4GHz S-Band Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) frequency range. For your information, the maximum bandwidth supported by original 802.11 standard is only 2Mbps.
Being an unregulated frequency, 802.11b device can suffer interference from other wireless users, cordless phones, microwave ovens and other devices using the same 2.4 GHz band. However the interference can be avoided by placing 802.11b device a reasonable distance from other devices.
802.11a was created the same time with 802.11b with the ability to support 55Mbps in the 5GHz band. 802.11a is not popular due to the slow availability of the 5 GHz components needed to implement products by vendor, more expensive cost and not compatible with 802.11b. The higher frequency also makes 802.11a signals have more difficulty to penetrate walls and other obstructions.
However the advantage of 802.11a is that it operates at a radio frequency that's less clogged by competing signals from other wireless users, cordless phones and microwave ovens. Its maximum bandwidth is higher as well comparing to 802.11b. 802.11a is usually found on business networks whereas 802.11b better suits the home network.
Due to 802.11b is not compatible with 802.11a and there are needs for higher bandwidth, 802.11g was ratified in June 2003 to provide high data rate and maintain backward compatibility with 802.11b products.
802.11g supports bandwidth up to 55Mbps in the 2.4GHz band. 802.11g is compatible with 802.11b products because they both use the same radio frequency (2.4GHz) to transmit data over the airwaves, it means 802.11g wireless router will be able to talk to 80.11b wireless adapter. 802.11g also provides better security features, such as WiFi Protected Access (WAP) and WPA2 authentication with pre-shared key or RADIUS server.
Again, 802.11g also suffers from the same interference as 802.11b in the already crowded 2.4 GHz range, but can be avoided by placing 802.11g device a reasonable distance from other devices
802.11n is latest wireless communication standard that was approved by IEEE in October 2009, and it can provide bandwidth up to 300Mbps, around 6 times faster than 802.11g.
Prior to the release of this final approved 802.11n, several vendors already produced the wireless products based on 802.11n draft standard and they’re called 802.11pre-n or 802.11n(draft) wireless products, and it’s good to know that the 802.11n wireless product is backward compatible with those draft-n products.
Furthermore, 802.11n can operate in 2.4GHz or 5GHz band, and is backward compatible with 802.11a (5GHz band), 802.11b (2.4GHz band) and 802.11g (2.4GHz band) products.
If you want to set up a wireless network, you can use wireless products that support 802.11n standard that supports much higher bandwidth since it's mature technology and the price is reasonable too.
802.11ac is latest wireless standard that is being developed by IEEE but it will be finalized sometime in 2013 only. It can provide bandwidth up to 1 Gbps, and so it’s called Gigabits Wifi too.
As 801.11ac operates in 5 GHz band, so it can backward compatible with 802.11n wireless products. Since there are still many 802.11g and 802.11b wireless products out there that use 2.4 GHz band, there is no surprise to see 802.11ac wireless product can operate in 2.4 GHz band too.
Some vendor might start to ship wireless product based on 802.11ac draft standard soon, but the prices might be expensive and it's still not finalized yet, so I advise you to use 802.11ac wireless product only after it's finalized in 2013.
Other Recommended Readings:
IEEE Wireless Standards Zone
Latest Wireless Development News
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