This chapter begins our exploration of the 802.11 standard in depth. Chapter 2 provided a high-level overview of the standard and discussed some of its fundamental attributes. You are now at a fork in the book. Straight ahead lies a great deal of information on the 802.11 specification and the various related standards that it uses liberally. It is possible, however, to build a wired network without a thorough and detailed understanding of the protocols, and the same is true for wireless networks. However, there are a number of situations in which you may need a deeper knowledge of the machinery under the hood:
As with many other things in life, the more you know, the better off you are. Ethernet is usually trouble-free, but serious network administrators have long known that when you do run into trouble, there is no substitute for thorough knowledge of how the network is working. When the first edition of this book was out, wireless LANs had been given a "free ride." Because they were cool, users were forgiving when they failed; wireless connectivity was a privilege, not a right. And since there were relatively few networks and relatively few users on those networks, the networks were rarely subjected to severe stresses. An Ethernet that has only a half dozen nodes is not likely to be a source of problems; problems occur when you add a few high-capacity servers, a few hundred users, and the associated bridges and routers to glue everything together. As the typical 802.11 network grew up from an access point or two serving a dozen users into a much larger network designed to provide seamless coverage throughout a building, the stresses on the equipment and protocols has become much more apparent.
That is why you should read this chapter. Now on to the details. The key to the 802.11 specification is the MAC. It rides on every physical layer and controls the transmission of user data into the air. It provides the core framing operations and the interaction with a wired network backbone. Different physical layers may provide different transmission speeds, all of which are supposed to interoperate.
802.11 does not depart from the previous IEEE 802 standards in any radical way. The standard successfully adapts Ethernet-style networking to radio links. Like Ethernet, 802.11 uses a carrier sense multiple access (CSMA) scheme to control access to the transmission medium. However, collisions waste valuable transmission capacity, so rather than the collision detection (CSMA/CD) employed by Ethernet, 802.11 uses collision avoidance (CSMA/CA). Also like Ethernet, 802.11 uses a distributed access scheme with no centralized controller. Each 802.11 station uses the same method to gain access to the medium. The major differences between 802.11 and Ethernet stem from the differences in the underlying medium.
This chapter provides some insight into the motivations of the MAC designers by describing some challenges they needed to overcome and describes the rules used for access to the medium, as well as the basic frame structure. If you simply want to understand the basic frame sequences that you will see on an 802.11 network, skip ahead to the end of this chapter. For further information on the MAC, consult its formal specification in Clause 9 of the 802.11 standard; detailed MAC state diagrams are in Annex C.
Introduction to Wireless Networking
Overview of 802.11 Networks
11 MAC Fundamentals
11 Framing in Detail
Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)
User Authentication with 802.1X
11i: Robust Security Networks, TKIP, and CCMP
Contention-Free Service with the PCF
Physical Layer Overview
The Frequency-Hopping (FH) PHY
The Direct Sequence PHYs: DSSS and HR/DSSS (802.11b)
11a and 802.11j: 5-GHz OFDM PHY
11g: The Extended-Rate PHY (ERP)
A Peek Ahead at 802.11n: MIMO-OFDM
Using 802.11 on Windows
11 on the Macintosh
Using 802.11 on Linux
Using 802.11 Access Points
Logical Wireless Network Architecture
Site Planning and Project Management
11 Network Analysis
11 Performance Tuning
Conclusions and Predictions