Contention-Based Access Using the DCF

Most traffic uses the DCF, which provides a standard Ethernet-like contention-based service. The DCF allows multiple independent stations to interact without central control, and thus may be used in either IBSS networks or in infrastructure networks.

Before attempting to transmit, each station checks whether the medium is idle. If the medium is not idle, stations defer to each other and employ an orderly exponential backoff algorithm to avoid collisions.

In distilling the 802.11 MAC rules, there is a basic set of rules that are always used, and additional rules may be applied depending on the circumstances. Two basic rules apply to all transmissions using the DCF:

  1. If the medium has been idle for longer than the DIFS, transmission can begin immediately. Carrier sensing is performed using both a physical medium-dependent method and the virtual (NAV) method.

    1. If the previous frame was received without errors, the medium must be free for at least the DIFS.
    2. If the previous transmission contained errors, the medium must be free for the amount of the EIFS.
  2. If the medium is busy, the station must wait for the channel to become idle. 802.11 refers to the wait as access deferral. If access is deferred, the station waits for the medium to be idle for the DIFS and prepares for the exponential backoff procedure.

Additional rules may apply in certain situations. Many of these rules depend on the particular situation "on the wire" and are specific to the results of previous transmissions.

  1. Error recovery is the responsibility of the station sending a frame. Senders expect acknowledgments for each transmitted frame and are responsible for retrying the transmission until it is successful.

    1. Positive acknowledgments are the only indication of success. Atomic exchanges must complete in their entirety to be successful. If an acknowledgment is expected and does not arrive, the sender considers the transmission lost and must retry.
    2. All unicast data must be acknowledged. Broadcast data is not acknowledged. (As a result, unicast data has an inherently higher service quality than broadcast data, even though the radio link is inherently a broadcast medium.)
    3. Any failure increments a retry counter, and the transmission is retried. A failure can be due to a failure to gain access to the medium or a lack of an acknowledgment. However, there is a longer congestion window when transmissions are retried (see next section).
  2. Multiframe sequences may update the NAV with each step in the transmission procedure. When a station receives a medium reservation that is longer than the current NAV, it updates the NAV. Setting the NAV is done on a frame-by-frame basis and is discussed in much more detail in the next chapter.
  3. The following types of frames can be transmitted after the SIFS and thus receive maximum priority: acknowledgments, the CTS in an RTS/CTS exchange sequence, and fragments in fragment sequences.

    1. Once a station has transmitted the first frame in a sequence, it has gained control of the channel. Any additional frames and their acknowledgments can be sent using the short interframe space, which locks out any other stations.
    2. Additional frames in the sequence update the NAV for the expected additional time the medium will be used.
  4. Extended frame sequences are required for higher-level packets that are larger than configured thresholds.

    1. Packets larger than the RTS threshold must have RTS/CTS exchange.
    2. Packets larger than the fragmentation threshold must be fragmented.

Error Recovery with the DCF

Error detection and correction is up to the station that begins an atomic frame exchange. When an error is detected, the station with data must resend the frame. Errors must be detected by the sending station. In some cases, the sender can infer frame loss by the lack of a positive acknowledgment from the receiver. Retry counters are incremented when frames are retransmitted.

Each frame or fragment has a single retry counter associated with it. Stations have two retry counters: the short retry count and the long retry count. Frames that are shorter than the RTS threshold are considered to be short; frames longer than the threshold are long. Depending on the length of the frame, it is associated with either a short or long retry counter. Frame retry counts begin at 0 and are incremented when a frame transmission fails.

The short retry count is reset to 0 when:

  • A CTS frame is received in response to a transmitted RTS
  • A MAC-layer acknowledgment is received after a nonfragmented transmission
  • A broadcast or multicast frame is received

The long retry count is reset to 0 when:

  • A MAC-layer acknowledgment is received for a frame longer than the RTS threshold
  • A broadcast or multicast frame is received

In addition to the associated retry count, fragments are given a maximum "lifetime" by the MAC. When the first fragment is transmitted, the lifetime counter is started. When the lifetime limit is reached, the frame is discarded and no attempt is made to transmit any remaining fragments. Naturally, higher-layer protocols may detect any loss and retransmit the data; when a higher-level protocol such as TCP retransmits data, though, it would be a new frame to the 802.11 MAC and all the retry counters will be restarted.

Using the retry counters

Like most other network protocols, 802.11 provides reliability through retransmission. Data transmission happens within the confines of an atomic sequence, and the entire sequence must complete for a transmission to be successful. When a station transmits a frame, it must receive an acknowledgment from the receiver or it will consider the transmission to have failed. Failed transmissions increment the retry counter associated with the frame (or fragment). If the retry limit is reached, the frame is discarded, and its loss is reported to higher-layer protocols.

One of the reasons for having short frames and long frames is to allow network administrators to customize the robustness of the network for different frame lengths. Large frames require more buffer space, so one potential application of having two separate retry limits is to decrease the long retry limit to decrease the amount of buffer space required.

Backoff with the DCF

After frame transmission has completed and the DIFS has elapsed, stations may attempt to transmit congestion-based data. A period called the contention window or backoff window follows the DIFS. This window is divided into slots. Slot length is medium-dependent; higher-speed physical layers use shorter slot times. Stations pick a random slot and wait for that slot before attempting to access the medium; all slots are equally likely selections. When several stations are attempting to transmit, the station that picks the first slot (the station with the lowest random number) wins. According to the standard, all slot numbers should be equally likely; see the sidebar on Spectralink Voice Priority later in this chapter for one notable exception.

As in Ethernet, the backoff time is selected from a larger range each time a transmission fails. Figure 3-7 illustrates the growth of the contention window as the number of transmissions increases, using the numbers from the 802.11b direct-sequence spread-spectrum (DSSS) physical layer. Other physical layers use different sizes, but the principle is identical. Contention window sizes are always 1 less than a power of 2 (e.g., 31, 63, 127, 255). Each time the retry counter increases, the contention window moves to the next greatest power of two. The size of the contention window is limited by the physical layer. For example, the DS physical layer limits the contention window to 1,023 transmission slots.

When the contention window reaches its maximum size, it remains there until it can be reset. Allowing long contention windows when several competing stations are attempting to gain access to the medium keeps the MAC algorithms stable even under maximum load. The contention window is reset to its minimum size when frames are transmitted successfully, or the associated retry counter is reached, and the frame is discarded.

Figure 3-7. DSSS contention window size

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

Management Operations

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

11 Hardware

Using 802.11 on Windows

11 on the Macintosh

Using 802.11 on Linux

Using 802.11 Access Points

Logical Wireless Network Architecture

Security Architecture

Site Planning and Project Management

11 Network Analysis

11 Performance Tuning

Conclusions and Predictions

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802.11 Wireless Networks The Definitive Guide
802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition
ISBN: 0596100523
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 179
Authors: Matthew Gast
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