The Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) 802 Dot 11 Wireless Standard

Increasingly, people are connecting to the Internet using wireless connectivity. Commonly known as WiFi, (Wireless Fidelity), the technology can be found in many laptops, netbooks, cell phones and a host of other electronic gadgetry. The technology, known as the 802.11 standard in industrial circles, works in much the same way as cell phone technology, though the range that radio waves are transmitted is considerably smaller.

802.11 is applied as the standard by the Institute of Electronic Engineers, (IEEE), where 802 defines the standard itself, and 11 the working group within the IEEE assigned the workload. After this, letters are applied to each release, which relates to a task group working on enhancements. There are four main standards.

Firstly there is the 802.11a standard. Whilst use of the 5GHz frequency does allow for relatively high communication speeds, it does limit the range of transmission. It is a popular choice for larger organizations, with transfer of data being as high as 54Mbps.

Secondly there is the 802.11b standard. This uses the 2.4GHz frequency, which broadcasts over a greater range. The compromise to this is with the speed of communication, which is reduced significantly to 11Mbps. It is very popular with smaller businesses, individuals and particularly coffee stores offering free WiFi.

Thirdly there is the 802.11g standard which also transmits using the 2.4GHz frequency. However, this standard allows speeds of 54Mbps to be reached, having been enhanced using all that is the best in the standards and improvements going before it.

Fourthly there is the 802.11n standard. Amazingly, this has been in discussion for seven years, was only ratified recently, and the full list of enhancements only published in October of 2009. However, many users have been enjoying the increased speeds and range offered since early 2007.

Whilst speeds of 600Mbps have been touted, this has yet to be experienced in real time. More common, is something around the 100Mbps mark, though many people see 160Mbps easily achievable. All this is provided on the lower 2.4GHz frequency; and thus provides a considerable range of data transmission too. The standard is also backwards compatible; thus upgrades can be done progressively to help with costs, and the technology is said to be future proof.

As advised above, these are the four most commonly accepted standards, and those which many are familiar with despite not having a particularly sound knowledge of all things IT. There are others of course that take up the other suffixes not otherwise mentioned.

Rather than provide different ways of connecting and providing higher speeds however, these are more technical modifications to how the WiFi network works.

All the speeds listed next to each standard is the highest possible speed advertised; though these are very much only to be expected in ideal conditions. The time of day that the network used is key to the speed achieved; relying very much on how many people are online, and what data is being transferred at any one time.