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WLANs

ITK 377
Draft B

By Afroz Ahmed
Contents
Introduction: ............................................................................................................................................. 3
Physical Layer Standards: .......................................................................................................................... 3
Direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS):............................................................................................ 3
Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS): ...................................................................................... 4
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) .......................................................................... 4
WLAN Operation: ...................................................................................................................................... 4
802.11 Standards ...................................................................................................................................... 5
802.11 ................................................................................................................................................... 5
802.11a ................................................................................................................................................. 6
802.11b ................................................................................................................................................. 7
802.11g ................................................................................................................................................. 8
802.11n ..................................................................................................................................................... 8
References: ............................................................................................................................................. 12
Introduction:

Wireless LANs is a type of local area network which uses radio waves as a physical medium to transmit

data rather than wires. The IEEE 802.11 working group has been responsible for developing WLAN

standards. Several WLAN transmission standards have been ratified since the committee’s work on

wireless LANs began in 1987[2]. The working group has been issuing standards depending on varying

needs for frequencies and data rates. The first standard was 802.11 and the list exploded through

802.11 to 802.11n.

This paper describes dominant WLAN IEEE standards and contrasts them on parameters like speed,

frequency, physical layer standards.

Physical Layer Standards:

The physical layer standard describes the frequency band, data rate and the encoding technique. [2].

802.11 operates in unlicensed radio bands 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz goes from 2.4 GHz to 2.4835

GHz and is also known as ISM band [2]

Direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS):


Spread spectrum modulation was primarily introduced to minimize multipath interference and mutual

interference between nearby stations transmitting in the same channel. In DSSS, the signal is spread

over the entire bandwidth of the channel unlike in the normal radio which is no wider than the channel

bandwidth required for the signal speed [1].

The DSSS modulates the data with a pattern known as the chipping sequence. The chipping sequence is

a stream of ones and zeros with certain mathematical properties which make it ideal for modulating

radio waves [3]. Different modulating techniques are used to accomplish different data rates. For

example for 1 Mbps transmission, BPSK (Binary Phase Shift Keying) and to accomplish 2 Mbps
transmission, QPSK (Quadrature Phase Shift Keying) is used. Since QPSK encodes more bits in the same

space as BPSK, the effective speed of transmission is increased [3].

Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS):

FHSS is a kind of spread spectrum technique in which the bandwidth is same as the bandwidth required

but it hops within the spread spectrum channel. The hops are carried out in a random sequence from

frequency to frequency. Unlike the DHSS, the spectrum isn’t chipped in the frequency domain instead it

is spread in the time domain. This technique is more robust than the DHSS but at the cost of the speed

[3].

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM)

OFDM supports data transmission speeds above 15Mbps and can go up to 54 Mbps. In OFDM the

Broadband channel is divided into many subcarriers. The 802.11a standard system used 52 subcarriers

that are modulated using BPSK or QPSK. Out of these 52, four of them are called pilot subcarriers and

are used as reference to disregard frequency or phase shifts of the signal.

This can be achieved by sending a pseudo binary sequence through pilot carriers. The remaining forty-

eight are used to transmit the data [3].

WLAN Operation:

WLANs allow mobile users to connect to the network through wireless access points. A wireless access

point acts as a bridge, which connect a wired network and a wireless network. Typically servers and

routers are connected to the Wired LAN. The routers have transmitting antennas which transmit the

data using radio waves. Each mobile station has a wireless NIC (network interface card) [1].
As shown in the figure [1], the wireless access point sends an 802.11 frame to the wireless access point

and the access point converts the 802.11 frame in to 802.3 frames. The 802.3 frame reaches the server

via the wired Ethernet LAN. Similarly when server replies; the Access point converts the 802.3 frame into

803.11 Frame [1].

Source: [1]

802.11 Standards

802.11

IEEE 802.11 specification was ratified in 1997. It specifies a 2.4 GHz frequency and data rates up to 2

Mbps. The technique used for physical layer was DHSS and FHSS. As mentioned earlier, DSSS modulates

the data streams with a chipping sequence. In 802.11, the sequence is known as Barker code, which is

an 11 bits sequence. Here each bit is encoded using 11 bits Barker code. Thus the signal is spread in the
entire bandwidth. Due to its low speed the access points can serve a very limited number of stations.

Thus base 802.11 was not widely accepted. 802. 11 WLANs use CSMA/CA, which makes them reliable

[1].

802.11a

In 1999, 802.11 working group came up with 802.11a. It can provide speed up to 54Mbps (but the 6, 12

and 24mbps data rates are mandatory for this standard [5]) and operates in the 5 GHz unlicensed band.

The physical standard used here is OFDM. OFDM system here is very similar to ADSL DMT modems

sending several subcarriers in parallel [3].As mentioned earlier the system uses 52 subcarriers. These 52

subcarriers can be transformed into Binary phase shift keying (BSPK), Quadrature phase shift keying

(QPSK), 16 or 64 Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM).Four of the subcarriers are used by the

system to ignore the frequency and phase shifts that may occur during the transmission of the data and

the other forty eight subcarriers are used as different ways to send information or data in parallel paths.

These subcarriers are orthogonal to each other, thereby eradicating the cross talk between the sub

channels. Forward error correction is also one more feature of OFDM which helps reducing the

retransmission of data as it may prove to be expensive sometimes[5]. Also this standard operates in

5GHz band which means less interference from other devices since they do not operate in 5GHz band.

But this is achieved at the expense of more complexity and cost. 802.11a was not accepted widely

mainly due to its operating band, complexity and high costs[1][3] .The other disadvantage is that the

use of 802.11a is limited to almost a line of sight due to the high carrier frequency and this calls for the

use of more number of access points as it is not absorbed readily.


802.11b

The 802.11b standard was released on same day the 802.11a was released [1]. It provides data rates of

5.5, 11Mbps with the help of complex modulation techniques. The key difference between them being

the speed of 11 Mbps and it operates in 2.4 GHz band using DSSS. Though the speed is on the lower

side, 802.11b is cheaper than 802.11a. Thus 802.11b became popular. The 802.11b uses 64 CCK

(Complementary Code Keying) chipping sequences which give it edge over base 802.11 and thus the

speed of around 11 Mbps [1] [2]. This CCK works by using a series of codes known Complementary

sequences and thus there are 64 unique code words that can encode a signal. While operating at a

frequency of 2.4 GHz, 802.11b can use various techniques to modulate the waves. Binary phase shift

keying is one of the techniques used for the 1Mbps transmission and the quadrature phase shift keying

technique is used for 2Mbps transmissions.

The drawbacks of 802.11b are that it suffers from interference in the congested 2.4-GHz band and its

low speed. The main source of interference is from microwave ovens and cordless phones which are

practically present in every office and homes.


802.11g

As the speed of 802.11b became too slow, in 2001 the 802.11 working group came up with 802.11g. It

offered speed up to 54 Mbps but the attractive aspect was that it operated in 2.4 GHz using OFDM.

Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is used as a modulation scheme of 802.11g for the

data rates of 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48 and 54 Mbps and there are three overlapping channels - 1, 6 and

11[6]. Although 802.11a and 802.11g offer same speeds, 802.11g has better throughput due to

operation in lower frequency band [1]. Another advantage of using 802.11g is it is backward compatible

with 802.11b. This means the wireless NIC’s for 802.11g would also work with 802.11b. 802.11g requires

support for CCK (Complimentary Code Keying) to ensure backward compatibility with existing 802.11b.

802.11g uses both OFDM and DSSS technologies therefore, 802.11g devices work when they are

connected to an access point of 802.11b and vice versa [2]. This is the most dominant technology and

this soon became one of the most widespread WLANs.

802.11n

IEEE has been planning a new generation Wi-Fi technology which offers far superior features compared

to a/b/g. The IEEE 802.11n, still in Draft 2.0 is already available in market. This standard works on both

2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band. The speed is certainly greater than 100 Mbps and can go up to 600Mbps. This

is backward compatible with previous 802 standards. [1]

802.11n is based on MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) air interface technology. MIMO employs a

technique called spatial multiplexing to transport two or more data streams simultaneously in the same

frequency channel. [4] Spatial multiplexing potentially doubles the throughput of the wireless channel
when two spatial streams are transmitted. 802.11n requires multiple transmitters and receivers and

distinct, uncorrelated paths for each stream through the medium. This is can be achieved through

antenna polarization or multipath in the channel.

Multipath is a common phenomenon in wireless channels, where signals reflect through obstacles and

take multiple paths. While 802.11 a/b/g works to minimize and overcome multipath effects, 802.11n

utilizes this to advantage. The Wi-Fi certification requires at least 2 spatial streams must be supported.

This doubles the data rate of a single stream.

Source: www.wi-fi.org

(GI =Guard Interval, period within an OFDM symbol allocated to letting the signal settle prior to

transmitting the next symbol.)

The figure above shows the required data rates to be supported in 20 MHz and 40 MHz channel. The

Shaded regions indicate optional capabilities. As seen, up to 300 Mbps data rate is achievable in a 40
MHz channel and 2 streams. MIMO is being adopted by several non-802.11 wireless data

communications standards, including mobile devices. [4]

The figure below compares the various 802.11 standards.

Source: [2]
Source: [2]
Conclusion:
Wireless LAN users are growing exponentially. They have become an integral part of our life. Also, the
speeds, costs are comparable to Wired LANs. Having said that wireless LANs do not really compete with
Wired LANs. There’s no way that wireless LANs would one day replace Wired LANs.
References:
[1] Panko, R. Business Data Networks and Telecommunications, Prentice Hall.

[2] Stallings, W. (2004). IEEE 802.11: Wireless LANs from a to n. IT Pro.

[3] Technologies, V. (n.d.). Retrieved 10, 9, 2007, from Wireless LAN Association: http://www.wlana.org/

[4] Wi-Fi Alliance, 2007: http://www.wi-fi.org

[5] IEEE 802.11b White paper. Retrieved 10, 9, 2007, http://www.vocal.com

[6] Zyren Jim, IEEE 802.11g Explained. December 6, 2001.