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IEEE 802.11b

With 802.11b WLANs, mobile users can get Ethernet levels of performance, throughput, and availability.

The basic architecture, features, and services of 802.11b are defined by the original 802.11 standard. The 802.11b specification affects only the physical layer, adding higher data rates and more robust connectivity.

The key contribution of the 802.11b addition to the wireless LAN standard was to standardize the physical layer support of two new speeds,5.5 Mbps and 11 Mbps.

To accomplish this, DSSS had to be selected as the sole physical layer technique for the standard since, as frequency hopping cannot support the higher speeds without violating current FCC regulations. The implication is that 802.11b systems will interoperate with 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps 802.11 DSSS systems, but will not work with 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps 802.11 FHSS systems.

The original 802.11 DSSS standard specifies an 11-bit chipping?called a Barker sequence?to encode all data sent over the air. Each 11-chip sequence represents a single data bit (1 or 0), and is converted to a waveform, called a symbol, that can be sent over the air.

These symbols are transmitted at a 1 MSps (1 million symbols per second) symbol rate using technique called Binary Phase Shift Keying BPSK). In the case of 2 Mbps, a more sophisticated implementation called Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK) is used; it doubles the data rate available in BPSK, via improved efficiency in the use of the radio bandwidth. To increase the data rate in the 802.11b standard, advanced coding techniques are employed.

Rather than the two 11-bit Barker sequences, 802.11b specifies Complementary Code Keying (CCK), which consists of a set of 64 8-bit code words. As a set, these code words have unique mathematical properties that allow them to be correctly distinguished from one another by a receiver even in the presence of substantial noise and multipath interference (e.g., interference caused by receiving multiple radio reflections within a building).

The 5.5 Mbps rate uses CCK to encode 4 bits per carrier, while the 11 Mbps rate encodes 8 bits per carrier. Both speeds use QPSK as the modulation technique and signal at 1.375 MSps. This is how the higher data rates are obtained. To support very noisy environments as well as extended range, 802.11b WLANs use dynamic rate shifting, allowing data rates to be automatically adjusted to compensate for the changing nature of the radio channel. Ideally, users connect at the full 11 Mbps rate.

However when devices move beyond the optimal range for 11 Mbps operation, or if substantial interference is present, 802.11b devices will transmit at lower speeds, falling back to 5.5, 2, and 1 Mbps. Likewise, if the device moves back within the range of a higher-speed transmission, the connection will automatically speed up again. Rate shifting is a physical layer mechanism transparent to the user and the upper layers of the protocol stack.

One of the more significant disadvantages of 802.11b is that the frequency band is crowded, and subject to interference from other networking technologies, microwave ovens, 2.4GHz cordless phones (a huge market), and Bluetooth. There are drawbacks to 802.11b, including lack of interoperability with voice devices, and no QoS provisions for multimedia content. Interference and other limitations aside, 802.11b is the clear leader in business and institutional wireless networking and is gaining share for home applications as well.



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