In a July 2002 Quick Poll, we asked TechRepublic members if they believed wireless LANs would totally replace wired networks. Of the 318 members who responded, 63 percent said they believed they would. In fact, 30 percent believed the transformation would take place within 10 years. So I thought it was a good time to test our members on their 802.11 knowledge, because this is currently the most popular WLAN standard. Nearly 1,200 TechRepublic members took our 802.11 quiz and these are the results.

Who sets the standards?

Figure A

The correct answer is: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) and a whopping 90 percent of the members who took the quiz got it right, as shown in Figure A. The IEEE is a nonprofit engineering organization that develops, defines, and reviews standards within the biomedical technology, telecommunications, electric power, aerospace, and consumer electronics industries, to name a few. The 802 LAN/MAN standards cover a variety of wired and wireless local and metropolitan area network technologies. The standard we’re concerned with for this quiz is the 802.11 standard, which covers wireless area networks.

Table A
  802.11 802.11b 802.11a 802.11g
Date Established July 1997 September 1999 September 1999 January 2002—draft specification
Compatibility 802.11 only 802.11g 802.11a only 802.11b
Data Transfer 1 and 2 Mbps Up to 11 Mbps Up to 54 Mbps Up to 54 Mbps
Frequency 2.4 GHz 2.4 GHz 5 GHz 2.4 GHz
Comparison of 802.11 protocols

Before the 802.11 standard was developed, individual manufacturers determined all radio-frequency wireless network technology. As of this article’s publication, the 802.11 standard contains four protocols that we’re concerned with: 802.11, 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g. Table A outlines the basic differences between these protocols. I’ll refer to this table throughout the article. For more information on the IEEE, check out its Web site; for more information on the 802.11 standard, check out the 802.11 Web site.

Transmitting between 5 GHz and 6 GHz

Figure B

The correct answer is: 802.11a. As shown in Figure B, 47 percent of our quiz takers knew this answer. Referring to Table A, you can see that the 802.11, 802.11b, and 802.11g protocols specify a frequency of 2.4 GHz. Only the 802.11a protocol provides for a frequency of 5 GHz to 6 GHz. Using an 802.11a device can cut down on interference if you plan to install a wireless network in an environment that already has several radio-frequency devices transmitting at 2.4 GHz, such as some cordless phones.

Data transfer up to 11 Mbps

Figure C

The correct answer is: 802.11b and this time 72 percent of those who took our quiz knew the answer, as shown in Figure C. Again, in Table A, you can see that only the 802.11b protocol provides for a data transfer rate of up to 11 Mbps. The operative words here being “up to.” The transmission rate of 802.11 wireless networking will vary depending on the distance between the wireless client and the access point as well as the physical environment in which devices are transmitting.

For example, as I write this article I am working from my first-floor den on a laptop with an 802.11b wireless NIC. The access point is located in my office on the second floor. The signal between the two must travel about 50 feet (in a straight line) and through several walls. So my connection is only running at 2 Mbps.


Figure D

The correct answer is: 802.11b, but this time only 57 percent of our quiz takers got it right, as shown in Figure D. The Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) certification program, administered by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), is the main measure of interoperability between 802.11b devices.

The official meaning of WEP

Figure E

This correct answer is: Wired Equivalent Privacy, but only 23 percent of those who took our quiz knew this one, as shown in Figure E. I have to admit this one was a bit tricky. Many individuals, even some within the IT industry, commonly, but incorrectly, refer to WEP as the wireless encryption protocol.

The IEEE, in its paper “WEP: The ‘Wired Equivalent Privacy’ Algorithm” defines WEP as follows: “Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). The optional cryptographic privacy algorithm specified by 802.11 used to provide data confidentiality which is subjectively equivalent to a wired media.”

When creating the 802.11 standards, the IEEE had to address the issue of wireless security. Because wireless networking technology uses radio signals transmitted through the open air, it is considerably more vulnerable to eavesdropping than traditional wired networks. The WEP standard was designed to make wireless networks more secure by using 40-bit and 128-bit encryption. To learn more about WEP and its shortcomings check out this TechRepublic article from George Ou.

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