802.11 Standard
Making Wireless Networks Work

And the 802.11 standard makes a wireless network work reliably – especially important when different manufacturers make the devices you want to connect to it. This also gives you a wider choice of products and helps drive prices lower. But check the standard before you buy...

The current standard is IEEE 802.11 - 2007

This standard is for Wireless Local Area Networks (usually called Wireless LANs, or WLANs).

A WLAN covers an area such as the house or building you’re working in, and a typical WLAN may allow several wireless-connected laptop computers to share a single internet connection.

The IEEE, who produced the standard, is the world’s largest technical professional association. This association is no lightweight, it’s been around for about 125 years…and IEEE 802.11 - 2007 is no lightweight document, it weighs in at around 1200 pages and has taken nearly 700 people and thirty years to get to where it is now. That’s impressive!

However, despite being one of the world’s great publications, it’s never likely to outrank a bestselling novel, but for a time, the 802.11 standard will appear on millions of wireless product boxes in warehouses and shop displays all over the world. This is good news for consumers.

Before you buy a new wireless product...

Check that the standard is compatible with the standard of the network you want it to connect to.

If you’re setting up a home WLAN, so several people can share a single Internet connection, share files, printers etc, make sure the wireless card in each of the computers, and the wireless router, have the same 802.11 standard, for example 802.11g. Then they should work happily together on the network.

The newer 802.11n-2009 standard, is backwardly compatible and works well with products built to the earlier 802.11-2007 standard. The older products just won't be able to work at the higher n speeds.

A good standard will always go through a process of evolution as refinements are added to it. This standard keeps the same number (802.11) and the amendments are indicated by the addition of a letter (a, b…). For example...


The above eight amendments were rolled into the IEEE 802.11 - 2007 document.


In late 2009, IEEE802.11n-2009 was ratified as an amendment to the 802.11-2007 standard.

Prior to this ratification, several manufacturers designed and built products to the 802.11 draft standard. They took a calculated risk that there wouldn't be any more significant changes before the amendment was finally ratified.

For many, this paid off.

The next significant standard, IEEE802.11ac, will enable faster data communications with greater range. It is still under development but is in draft form. The new standard is likely to be ratified in late 2013 and already some draft-ac products, such as routers, are emerging.

The 802.11n standard and what it means for you

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