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Wireless Networks

A wireless LAN (WLAN or WiFi) provides network connectivity by using radio waves rather than cable. Wireless devices can communicate with each other or they can communicate through a wireless access point (WAP) to a wired network.

Wireless networks use the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11 standard. The first 802.11 standard, created in 1997, supported a maximum bandwidth of only 2 Mbps (million bits per second). In July 1999 the IEEE created the 802.11b standard, which supports a maximum bandwidth of 11 Mbps.

At the same time 802.11b was created, IEEE extended the original 802.11 standard to support a maximum bandwidth of 54 Mbps, and called it 802.11a. But because 802.11b products were lower cost than 802.11a, 802.11b became much more popular than did 802.11a.

Because 802.11a and 802.11b use different frequencies, the two technologies are incompatible with each other. In the 2002 the 802.11g standard was developed. 802.11g supports a maximum bandwidth of 54 Mbps, and is backwards compatible with 802.11b. That means 802.11g and 802.11b wireless products can communicate, although at the lower 11 Mbps frequency.

A single IEEE 802.11 WAP can typically communicate with 30 client systems located within a 100 meter radius. However, the range of communication can vary a greatly, depending on such variables as placement, obstructions, and interference from other electronic devices.

The 802.11b and 802.11g standards use the 2.40 gigahertz (GHz) band. 802.11b and 802.11g equipment can incur interference from microwave ovens, cordless telephones, and other appliances which commonly use the same 2.4 GHz band. The 802.11a standard uses the 5 GHz band.

Advantages of Wireless LANs

The major advantage of Wireless LANs is increased mobility. Each computer in a wireless LAN is referred to as a station. Stations may be fixed, mobile, or portable. A portable station can be move from point to point, but is fixed during use. A mobile station can access the LAN during movement. For example, a mobile station might be used to access a database as warehouse workers move inventory into the warehouse and move products out of the warehouse to fill orders.

Another advantage of Wireless LANs is reduced cost for new installations or locations that are difficult to cable. With a new installation, you can implement wireless hubs, switches, and routers, avoiding the cost of having to install a cable infrastructure. With locations that are difficult to cable you can implement a wireless link to an existing cabled network.

A wireless link can function as bridge between two wired networks. For example if you need to link networks in two separate buildings, rather than paying the high cost to tear up the parking lot to lay a fiber optic cable, you can implement a point-to-point wireless bridge to connect the two buildings.

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