O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.

11a, b, and g Throughput

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When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.11a, b, and g Throughput
by Matthew Gast, author of 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide 08/08/2003 (updated: 8/14/2003) Now that the 802.11g standard has been finalized, comparisons with the other standards in the 802.11 family are inevitable. One conclusion that is frequently drawn is that 802.11g offers similar speeds to 802.11a. After all, both products are advertised as having a data rate of 54 Mbps. This article develops a simple model for the maximum TCP throughput of 802.11 networks so that a comparison can move beyond a simple comparison of nominal bit rates. According to the model, 802.11g is significantly faster than 802.11b. In a network consisting only of 802.11g clients, it is even slightly faster than 802.11a. However, "protection" mechanisms added to 802.11g to ensure backwards compatibility with legacy 802.11b clients can cut the throughput by 50 percent or more. Technology 11b, 11 Mbps 11a, 54 Mbps 11g, 54 Mbps/no protection 11g, 54 Mbps/CTS-to-self protection 11g, 54 Mbps/RTS/CTS protection
The Transactional Model

Transactions per second 479 2,336 2,336 1,113 750

Mbps of TCP payload throughput 5.6 27.3 27.3 13.0 8.8

Transactional speed relative to 802.11b 1.0 4.9 4.9 2.3 1.6

The basic transactional model assumed by this article is a maximum-length frame containing a single TCP segment followed by a TCP acknowledgement. To cope with the inherent unreliability of radio waves, the 802.11 MAC requires positive acknowledgement of every transmission. Each TCP packet must therefore be wrapped up in a frame exchange. The complete transaction consists of the two 802.11 data frames carrying TCP embedded in their respective exchanges: The TCP data segment: Distributed Interframe Space (DIFS): this interframe space indicates that an exchange has



11 Wireless Networks.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802. http://www. Throughput This article measures the throughput of the network at the TCP payload layer. 802.11 permits much larger frame sizes. but 40 bytes must be subtracted for headers.11a. For the TCP ACK. (For further encapsulation details. Most access points connect to existing networks with Ethernet. the 40 bytes of TCP/IP header information also gets a further 36 bytes of SNAP header for a total of 76 bytes (608 bits).460 bytes. The data frame containing the TCP segment. Each transaction delivers one data frame. (In fact. and therefore limit the payload size to the maximum Ethernet payload size. 802. The TCP ACK: DIFS The data frame containing the TCP ACK SIFS 802. but this flexibility has not traditionally been used by client products. There are 1. and neglects several important Search this book on Safari: effects.oreillynet.11 implements collision Only This Book avoidance and exponential backoff. error detection.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide Creating and Administering Wireless Networks By Matthew Gast Table of Contents Index Sample Chapter Read Online--Safari The transactional model is quite simple. The 802.11 MAC header adds 28 bytes of data for various control and management functions. there are 36 additional bytes of data added in the encapsulation process.288 bits). For the throughput. the time between frame Code Fragments only exchanges will be longer than one DIFS.11 ACK frame. a transaction rate can be derived. My initial backof-the envelope estimate is that contention for the medium would reduce the maximum throughput figures above by 25% to 50%.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 . simply multiply by 1. which is a small gap between the data frame and its acknowledgement. and g Throughput Page 2 of 8 completed. so in reality.500 bytes. A Short Interframe Space (SIFS). and addressing. Exponential backoff in the presence of contention will further decrease throughput.500 bytes of Ethernet payload. this simple precaution is required to obtain Wi-Fi certification.) Encapsulation Related Reading In addition to the payload data. The 802.536 bytes (12. Weaknesses of the Model 802.) The total size of the MAC payload for the TCP data segment is 1. depending on the exact assumptions made. A further eight bytes are added by the SNAP encapsulation header to identify the network layer protocol. First of all. I will assume that the host operating system limits the outgoing frame size to 1. it assumes a steady stream of well-ordered frames with no contention for the medium.11 ACK frame For this model. and it is safe to access the medium again. see Figures 3-9 and 3-13 of 802. b. By adding up the total time required for each component of the transaction.

11 due to this effect. and g Throughput Page 3 of 8 Furthermore.11 Wireless Networks.11b.11b first. or it may be an optional "short" preamble that requires only 96 µs. and 76 8-bit blocks in the TCP acknowledgement.11b: SIFS = 10 µs Slot time = 20 µs DIFS = 2 x Slot time + SIFS = 50 µs 802.11 treats TCP segments and acknowledgements as unrelated higher-layer frames.11 cards out in the world do. That preamble may be either the traditional "long" preamble.11a. b. The ACK does not have SNAP headers.) Furthermore. the model ignores the sophistication in the TCP acknowledgement model. First off. so a certain number of collisions are expected.536 8-bit blocks in the TCP data segment.118 µs = 192 µs + 56 µs = 1. 802.375 million symbols per second. so this model overstates the impact of higher-layer protocol acknowledgements. In practice. and is the default setting on most devices.) Support of the long preamble is mandatory. the basic timing numbers for 802. this article will perform calculations using only the long preamble.11 will order layer two frames and prevent collisions. In the interest of reducing the number of calculations.11b. but higher-layer packets may be transmitted simultaneously. but it's what most of the 802.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 . Encoding the MAC frames is easy.11b requires that a preamble be prepended to every frame before it is transmitted to the air. The Baseline: 802.11b running at the max speed divides data up into 8-bit symbols. (For a diagram of the physical layer headers in 802. 802. To avoid constraining throughput.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.11b at 11 Mbps The baseline speed comes from 802.11b divides up the MAC frame into a series of 8-bit "symbols. which requires 192 µs for transmission. So add up the individual components of the transaction to get the total duration: TCP data DIFS 802. It is not as fast as the newer specifications.310 µs = 248 µs 10 µs 192 µs + 14/1.375 Msps 192 µs + 76/1. (One engineer has told me that up to 10% retransmissions should be expected for TCP/IP on 802.11 Data SIFS 802. 802. and then compare everything else to the result for 802. TCP uses "sliding windows" and allows multiple outstanding frames to be transmitted before acknowledgement.375 Msps = 192 µs + 11 µs = 203 µs 10 µs = 203 µs http://www. 802.oreillynet. There are 1. there is always the possibility of simultaneous transmission. see Figure 10-26 in 802." and then transmits 1.11b. TCP acknowledgements can apply to multiple segments. and is only 14 bytes long.375 Msps = 192 µs + 1. I'll do the calculation for 802.11 ACK 50 µs TCP ACK 50 µs 192 µs + 1536/1.

At 54 Mbps. 802. and the encoding used by 802.288 data bits plus the six tail bits. Here are the basic timing numbers for 802.11a adds six bits for encoding purposes to the end of the frame.11a: SIFS = 16 µs Slot time = 9 µs DIFS = 2 x Slot time + SIFS = 34 µs Like 802.11 Wireless Networks. The 608 bit TCP ACK plus tail bits requires four symbols.573 µs Transaction Total 2.084 µs.536 bytes becomes a series of 12. (For a full listing of encoding block sizes. and g Throughput Page 4 of 8 Frame exchange total 1.3 Mbps.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.oreillynet.11a uses much larger symbols.11 ACK 34 µs TCP ACK 34 µs 20 µs + 57 * 4 µs/symbol 20 µs + 3 * 4 µs/symbol = 20 µs + 228 µs = 20 + 12 µs = 248 µs = 32 µs 16 µs 20 µs + 1 * 4 µs/symbol = 20 µs + 4 µs = 24 µs 428 µs 16 µs = 24 µs 106 µs Frame exchange total 322 µs Transaction Total At 428 µs per transaction.7 Mbps. b.11a. see Table 11-3 in 802. 802.294 bits can be encoded in 57 symbols.11a does not require such long preambles for synchronization. http://www.336 exchanges per second.11 Data SIFS 802. At that duration.084 µs 511 µs Each transaction requires 2. it is possible to complete 2.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 . each symbol encodes 216 bits. each requiring 4 µs for transmission.11b for two reasons: timing relationships between frames in the exchanges are tighter. The total bit string of 12.11 ACK also requires just one symbol. 479 exchanges can complete per second.460 bytes per exchange. With a TCP payload of 1.11b.) The OFDM encoding used by 802. the throughput is 5. Following the 20 µs header is a series of symbols. so our maximum-length frame of 1. That corresponds to a throughput of 27.11a divides data up into a series of symbols for transmission. TCP data DIFS 802. and the 802.11a is faster than 802. However.11a 802. the encoding used by 802. Each frame is prepared for transmission in the air with a 20 µs header to synchronize the receiver.

It inherits the short 10 µs SIFS time from 802.11g DIFS = 2 x Slot time + SIFS = 28 µs The 802.11g needs additional time.11g long slot time = 20 µs (mixed mode requires slow slot time) 802. However. Therefore. Essentially.11g ERP-OFDM PHY is nearly identical to the 802. As always.11b cards. 802. Physical layer headers are identical. and is required to remain backwards-compatible.11g Performing the same calculations for 802.11g-only mode with no legacy stations) 802.11g adds a 6 µs "signal extension" time at the end of every frame. with only minor changes to the interframe space times.11g-only BSS When no 802. except that it operates in a different frequency band and uses a shorter SIFS time. and g Throughput Page 5 of 8 802. 802.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 . it is saddled with backwards compatibility requirements. the calculation for the time required to transmit a frame is nearly identical. start with the basic timing parameters: 802.11g SIFS = 10 µs 802.11g fast slot time = 9 µs (can only be used when no 802.11b stations.11g will not be recognized by 802. so "protection" mechanisms are defined to limit the cross-talk in mixed b/g environments.11g SIFS = 10 µs 802. 802.oreillynet.11g short slot time = 9 µs (802.11g stations operating at high rates pre-reserve the radio medium by using slower.11a.11a PHY. b. no protection is required. 802. 802.11b stations are present.11g operates in the same frequency band as 802.11b stations are present) 802. the protection mechanisms require that 802.11b.11 ACK 28 µs TCP ACK 28 µs 20 µs + 57 * 4 µs/symbol +6 µs 20 µs + 3 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs = 20 µs + 228 µs = 20 + 12 µs = 254µs = 38 µs 10 µs 10 µs 20 µs + 1 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs = 20 µs + 4 µs + 6 µs = 30µs = 30 µs 106 µs 428 µs Frame exchange total 322 µs Transaction Total http://www. This situation is extremely unlikely.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.11g uses many of the same timing parameters as 802.11 Data SIFS 802. The encoding used by 802.11g is a bit tricky. given the huge installed base of 802. as is the coding. Therefore. but the high-rate coding in 802.11b.11a.11b-compatible reservation mechanisms. TCP data DIFS 802.

but this is offset exactly by the signal extension field. protection is required. but only after its long header. TCP data DIFS CTS SIFS 802.11g access point. The minimal protection contemplated by the standard is that 802. however. the frame spacing reverts to the 802. The short slot time is only available when no 802. Protection 1: CTS-to-self Once the first 802. and g Throughput Page 6 of 8 The transaction length of 802.11b standard: SIFS = 10 µs Slot time = 20 µs DIFS = 2 x Slot time + SIFS = 50 µs A CTS frame is 14 bytes. At 898µs per transaction.11 ACK 50 µs 192 µs + 14/1.375 Msps = 192 µs + 11 µs = 203 µs 10 µs TCP ACK 50 µs = 203 µs 10 µs 20 µs + 57 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs 20 µs + 3 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs = 20 µs + 228 µs +6 µs = 20 + 12 µs + 6µs = 254 µs = 38µs 10 µs 20 µs + 1 * 4 µs/symbol +6 µs = 20 µs + 4 µs + 6 µs = 30 µs 898µs 10 µs = 30 µs 341µs Frame exchange total 557 µs Transaction Total The total transactional time is over twice as long because of the protection mechanism.11b station associates with an 802. which will be at most 11 Mbps.11b headers.11a. only 1.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.11 Data SIFS 802. The interframe space is slightly shorter.oreillynet.11b stations are present. Protection dramatically reduces the maximum theoretical throughput because the additional CTS transmission is required with its long 802.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 .11g is identical to 802. The CTS frame will be encoded quickly.113 transactions can complete per second.11g speeds.11a.11g stations will protect the fast 802. and the throughput drops dramatically to 13. Once they are present.11g frame exchange with a slow Clear To Send (CTS) frame that locks out other stations access to the medium. It will be transmitted at the highest rate understood by all stations attached to the access point. b.0 Mbps. Longer interframe spacing is required when legacy clients are connected and protection is engaged. Following the CTS will be the Data-ACK sequence at the high 802. Protection 2: RTS-CTS http://www.

the initial edition of the 802. Mixed 802.11b station associates to an 802.11b encoding. especially in situations where there is no control over client adapters.11a networks can sustain much higher data rates than 802.11 standard included a two-frame exchange that would fully announce the impending transmission composed of a Request To Send (RTS) frame followed by the CTS frame. Although the standard requires only a CTS-to-self. and http://www. The final calculation is quite similar to the previous one. 802. However.11b.11g networks with protection enabled.11b station does not need to actively send data to cut the throughput. The total transaction time is 1. but it may fail in some cases where there are so-called "hidden nodes" that do not see the CTS.11 ACK 50 µs 192 µs + 20/1.oreillynet.285 µs per transaction. 802. and the throughput drops back into single digits--9. with the addition of the RTS frame at the start: TCP data DIFS RTS SIFS CTS SIFS 802. because protection must be activated. so only 778 transactions can complete per second. Therfore.11g is significantly faster than 802. and g Throughput Page 7 of 8 Using only a CTS frame to reserve the medium is the minimum requirement.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 . b. the throughput drops dramatically.11b/g deployments are likely to be common for the foreseeable future. once an 802.1 Mbps Final Thoughts No matter how you look at it.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.375 Msps = 192 µs + 11 µs = 203 µs 10 µs TCP ACK 50 µs = 207 µs 10 µs = 203 µs 10 µs 20 µs + 57 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs 20 µs + 3 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs = 20 µs + 228 µs + 6 µs = 20 + 12 µs + 6 µs = 254 µs = 38 µs 10 µs 20 µs + 1 * 4 µs/symbol + 6 µs = 20 µs + 4 µs + 6 µs = 30 µs 10 µs = 30 µs 558 µs Frame exchange total 774 µs The total transactional time is even longer because a more robust (and hence.11a. To fully reserve the medium. time-consuming) protection mechanism is used.375 Msps = 192 + 15 µs = 207 µs 10 µs 192 µs + 14/1. using the full RTS/CTS will better protect the inner exchange from interference.11g network. it just needs to be associated.11 Data SIFS 802. A full RTS/CTS exchange makes the TCP ACK require more time than a straightforward 11 Mbps transmission using older 802. The 802. a transaction would consist of the TCP data protected by RTS/CTS at 774 µs followed by a TCP ACK at the 511 µs previously calculated for 802.11b. so that protection is enabled.

and g Throughput Page 8 of 8 802.com/lpt/a/4085 10/10/2003 .11a.com Copyright © 2003 O'Reilly & Associates.11a for the performance crown. Return to the Wireless DevCenter oreillynet.11a offers the added advantage of more radio channels for easier layout of high-density deployments. Inc.11b. but it does not challenge 802.O'Reilly Network: When Is 54 Not Equal to 54? A Look at 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide.11g offers a worthwhile speed advantage over 802. and T1: A Survival Guide. b. Network Printing.oreillynet. Matthew Gast is the author of 802. http://www. 802.

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