The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) develops official standards to enable wireless local area network (WLAN) devices to work together, regardless of which manufacturer made them.
These standards are driven by two factors:
- speed - getting data transmitted faster between PCs and access points
- security - making sure that the wireless capability is not abused
You need to be aware of both factors when choosing wireless networking equipment.
Current IEEE standards
At present, the IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g standard are widely accepted throughout the industry. 802.11a standard is uncommon in standard office systems and incompatible with any of the other standards.
802.11b standard supports operation up to 100 metres away in unobstructed areas, but it has limited security capability, particularly in older devices.
802.11g standard offers greater speed and security and is available in most new equipment. If you are setting up your first WLAN, or upgrading an existing system, you should buy equipment that incorporates at least 802.11g standard. Using 802.11b and 802.11g devices together is possible, but if you do, you may find that your 802.11g equipment is less effective.
New generation of wireless standards
If you're in the market for new wireless networking equipment, it may be worth looking at the emerging IEEE standards to make sure you don't buy a wireless technology that quickly becomes obsolete. Some of the more recent standards include:
- IEEE 802.11i - an amendment to the original IEEE 802.11 standard that specifies security mechanisms for wireless networks.
- IEEE 802.11n - an amendment to the previous IEEE 802.11-2007 standard to improve wireless network throughput. 802.11n will offer the fastest maximum speed and best signal range, and be more resistant to signal interference from outside sources.
- IEEE 11ac - a newer standard that can potentially offer even faster throughput.
A common strategy for many businesses is to set up 802.11g client devices - the local equipment - while gradually moving to 802.11n or 802.11ac as part of new equipment purchases. The 802.11n or 802.11ac equipment will be backward compatible with 802.11g.
Wi-Fi 6 standard
Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is the newest version of the 802.11 standard for wireless network transmissions. It offers backwards compatibility and promises to improve speed and reliability at a network level. It enables more devices to simultaneously operate on the same Wi-Fi channel, which improves the efficiency, latency times, and data throughput of your wireless network.
When considering standards and networking equipment, choose devices that the Wi-Fi Alliance has tested and certified. This guarantees that they meet industry requirements and can work together.