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Rolling up developments in Wi-Fi

By Jay Botelho, director of product marketing, WildPackets, special to Network World
December 04, 2012 09:15 AM ET

Network World - Even though users typically only notice the major changes designed to improve the performance of Wi-Fi, the 802.11 specifications are constantly under development. For every "public" change there are five background changes, some of which are significant.

With more than 20 802.11 specifications already ratified and many more in development, it makes sense to occasionally "roll up" the changes. Many of these protocols, after all, can cause functional overlap and need extra attention to become interoperable. 802.11-2012 incorporates 10 recently ratified 802.11 amendments into an overall 802.11 spec, making it easier for engineers working with 802.11 to find what they need, say nothing of the fact that it also helps alleviate interoperability issues between protocols.

IN DEPTH: 11ac will be faster, but how much faster really?

Here are the 10 specs that are part of this roll-up, including the year they were ratified and a brief description of each:

* 802.11k: Radio Resource Measurement Enhancements (2008). Mainly used by AP manufacturers, this amendment makes additional radio and network information available to WLAN devices. This information is used to make real-time decisions about WLAN management, typically for better load balancing. [Also see: "Latest 802.11 standards: Too little too late?"]

The specification provides mechanisms for the AP or the central WLAN controller to offload users to another AP, even if the new AP has weaker signal strength than the impacted one. This could lead to signal strength and connectivity issues for WLAN users, so this needs to be considered when performing WLAN analysis of systems utilizing 802.11k.

WLAN systems designed for stadiums, auditoriums and large lecture halls will benefit from this specification. Usage in these settings is typically very dense, requiring careful WLAN bandwidth and user management, and 11k will provide the necessary data and control for managed WLAN equipment to handle these sporadically dense environments.

* 802.11n: Higher Throughput Improvements Using MIMO (September 2009). Just about everyone is familiar with 802.11n. The key technology introduced in this specific is MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which allows for the simultaneous transmission of multiple unique data streams to significantly increase overall throughput.

802.11n is quickly becoming the de facto standard for commercially available WLAN equipment. The new technologies it introduced are very advanced, and it's unlikely that the full potential that 11n offers will be delivered to the market due to some practical limitations. However, the lessons learned from these limitations are quickly being addressed with new 802.11 specifications, most notably 802.11ac.

* 802.11p: WAVE -- Wireless Access for the Vehicular Environment (July 2010). 802.11p deals with data exchange between high-speed vehicles, and between vehicles and a yet-to-exist roadside WLAN infrastructure based on licensed spectrum in the 5.85-5.925GHz band. Activity in this area has been quite limited to date, as the overall implementation is complex, expensive and requires the appropriate business model if it's ever to see the light of day.

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