Chapter 1: Introduction to Wireless Networking Concepts

Cisco Press

This chapter covers the following subjects:

Wireless Local-Area Networks: A brief history of wireless networking and some of the basic concepts.

How Bandwidth Is Achieved from RF Signals: The frequency spectrum used in RF transmissions.

Modulation Techniques and How They Work: How binary data is represented and transmitted using RF technology.

Perhaps this is the first time you have ever delved into the world of wireless networking. Or maybe you have been in networking for some time and are now beginning to see the vast possibilities that come with wireless networking. Either way, this chapter can help you understand topics that are not only tested on the CCNA Wireless exam but provide a good foundation for the chapters to come. If you are comfortable with the available frequency bands, the modulation techniques used in wireless LANs, and some of the standards and regulatory bodies that exist for wireless networking, you may want to skip to Chapter 2, "Standards Bodies."

This chapter provides a brief history of wireless networks and explores the basics of radio technology, the modulation techniques used, and some of the issues seen in wireless LANs.

You should do the "Do I Know This Already?" quiz first. If you score 80 percent or higher, you might want to skip to the section "Exam Preparation Tasks." If you score below 80 percent, you should spend the time reviewing the entire chapter. Refer to Appendix A, "Answers to the 'Do I Know This Already?' Quizzes" to confirm your answers.

"Do I Know This Already?" Quiz

The "Do I Know This Already?" quiz helps you determine your level of knowledge of this chapter's topics before you begin. Table 1-1 details the major topics discussed in this chapter and their corresponding quiz questions.

Table 1-1 "Do I Know This Already?" Section-to-Question Mapping

Foundation Topics Section


Wireless Local-Area Networks


How Bandwidth Is Achieved from RF Signals


Modulation Techniques and How They Work


  1. Which of the following accurately describes the goal of RF technology?

    1. To send as much data as far as possible and as fast as possible

    2. To send secure data to remote terminals

    3. To send small amounts of data periodically

    4. To send data and voice short distances using encryption

  2. Which of the following is a significant problem experienced with wireless networks?

    1. Infection

    2. Policing

    3. Transmission

    4. Interference

  3. Which two of the following are unlicensed frequency bands used in the United Stated? (Choose two.)

    1. 2.0 MHz

    2. 2.4 GHz

    3. 5.0 GHz

    4. 6.8 Ghz

  4. Each 2.4-GHz channel is how many megahertz wide?

    1. 22 MHz

    2. 26 MHz

    3. 24 MHz

    4. 28 Mhz

  5. How many nonoverlapping channels exist in the 2.4-GHz ISM range?

    1. 9

    2. 3

    3. 17

    4. 13

  6. The 5.0-GHz range is used by which two of the following 802.11 standards? (Choose two.)

    1. 802.11

    2. 802.11b/g

    3. 802.11n

    4. 802.11a

  7. Which three of the following modulation techniques do WLANs today use? (Choose three.)

    1. OFDM

    2. AM

    3. FM

    4. DSSS

    5. MIMO

  8. DSSS uses a chipping code to encode redundant data into the modulated signal. Which two of the following are examples of chipping codes that DSSS uses? (Choose two.)

    1. Barker code

    2. Baker code

    3. Complementary code keying (CCK)

    4. Cypher block chaining (CBC)

  9. DSSS binary phase-shift keying uses what method of encoding at the 1-Mbps data rate?

    1. 11-chip Barker code

    2. 8-chip CCK

    3. 11-chip CCK

    4. 8-chip Barker code

  10. With DRS, when a laptop operating at 11 Mbps moves farther away from an access point, what happens?

    1. The laptop roams to another AP.

    2. The laptop loses its connection.

    3. The rate shifts dynamically to 5.5 Mbps.

    4. The rate increases, providing more throughput.

Foundation Topics

Wireless Local-Area Networks

Although wireless networking began to penetrate the market in the 1990s, the technology has actually been around since the 1800s. A musician and astronomer, Sir William Herschel (1738 to 1822) made a discovery that infrared light existed and was beyond the visibility of the human eye. The discovery of infrared light led the way to the electromagnetic wave theory, which was explored in-depth by a man named James Maxwell (1831 to 1879). Much of his discoveries related to electromagnetism were based on research done by Michael Faraday (1791 to 1867) and Andre-Marie Ampere (1775 to 1836), who were researchers that came before him. Heinrich Hertz (1857 to 1894) built on the discoveries of Maxwell by proving that electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light and that electricity can be carried on these waves.

Although these discoveries are interesting, you might be asking yourself how they relate to wireless local-area networks (WLANs). Here is the tie-in: In standard LANs, data is propagated over wires such as an Ethernet cable, in the form of electrical signals. The discovery that Hertz made opens the airways to transfer the same data, as electrical signals, without wires. Therefore, the simple answer to the relationship between WLANs and the other discoveries previously mentioned is that a WLAN is a LAN that does not need cables to transfer data between devices, and this technology exists because of the research and discoveries that Herschel, Maxwell, Ampere, and Hertz made. This is accomplished by way of Radio Frequencies (RF).

With RF, the goal is to send as much data as far as possible and as fast as possible. The problem is the numerous influences on radio frequencies that need to be either overcome or dealt with. One of these problems is interference, which is discussed at length in Chapter 5, "Antennae Communications." For now, just understand that the concept of wireless LANs is doable, but it is not always going to be easy. To begin to understand how to overcome the issues, and for that matter what the issues are, you need to understand how RF is used.

How Bandwidth Is Achieved from RF Signals

To send data over the airwaves, the IEEE has developed the 802.11 specification, which defines half-duplex operations using the same frequency for send and receive operations on a WLAN. No licensing is required to use the 802.11 standards; however, you must follow the rules that the FCC has set forth. The IEEE defines standards that help to operate within the FCC rules. The FCC governs not only the frequencies that can be used without licenses but the power levels at which WLAN devices can operate, the transmission technologies that can be used, and the locations where certain WLAN devices can be deployed.

Note - The FCC is the regulatory body that exists in the United States. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is the European equivalent to the FCC. Other countries have different regulatory bodies.

To achieve bandwidth from RF signals, you need to send data as electrical signals using some type of emission method. One such emission method is known as Spread Spectrum. In 1986, the FCC agreed to allow the use of spread spectrum in the commercial market using what is known as the industry, scientific, and medical (ISM) frequency bands. To place data on the RF signals, you use a modulation technique. Modulation is the addition of data to a carrier signal. You are probably familiar with this already. To send music, news, or speech over the airwaves, you use frequency modulation (FM) or amplitude modulation (AM). The last time you were sitting in traffic listening to the radio, you were using this technology.

Unlicensed Frequency Bands Used in WLANs

As you place more information on a signal, you use more frequency spectrum, or bandwidth. You may be familiar with using terms like bits, kilobits, megabits, and gigabits when you refer to bandwidth. In wireless networking, the word bandwidth can mean two different things. In one sense of the word, it can refer to data rates. In another sense of the word, it can refer to the width of an RF channel.

Note - This book uses the term bandwidth to refer to the width of the RF channel and not to data rates.

When referring to bandwidth in a wireless network, the standard unit of measure is the Hertz (Hz). A Hertz measures the number of cycles per second. One Hertz is one cycle per second. In radio technology, a Citizens' Band (CB) radio is pretty low quality. It uses about 3 kHz of bandwidth. FM radio is generally a higher quality, using about 175 kHz of bandwidth. Compare that to a television signal, which sends both voice and video over the air. The TV signal you receive uses almost 4500 kHz of bandwidth.

Figure 1-1 shows the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Notice that the frequency ranges used in CB radio, FM radio, and TV broadcasts are only a fraction of the entire spectrum. Most of the spectrum is governed by folks like the FCC. This means that you cannot use the same frequencies that FM radio uses in your wireless networks.

Figure 1-1

Electromagnetic Spectrum

As Figure 1-1 illustrates, the electromagnetic spectrum spans from Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) at 3 to 30 Hz to Extremely High Frequency (EHF) at 30 GHz to 300 GHz. The data you send is not done so in either of these ranges. In fact, the data you send using WLANs is either in the 900-MHz, 2.4-GHz, or 5-GHz frequency ranges. This places you in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) or Super High Frequency (SHF) ranges. Again, this is just a fraction of the available spectrum, but remember that the FCC controls it. You are locked into the frequency ranges you can use. Table 1-2 lists the ranges that can be used in the United States, along with the frequency ranges allowed in Japan and Europe.

Table 1-2 Usable Frequency Bands in Europe, the United States, and Japan





2.4 GHz

900 MHz


2.4 GHz ISM


2.0–2.4835 GHz


2.4 GHz

2.0–2.495 GHz



5.15–5.25 GHz

5.15–5.25 GHz




5.25–5.35 GHz


UNII-2 Extended


5.47–5.7253 GHz




5.725–5.850 GHz


5.0 GHz

5.038–5.091 GHz


4.9 GHz

4.9–5.0 GHz

Table 1-2 clearly shows that not all things are equal, depending on which country you are in. In Europe, the 2.4-GHz range and the 5.0-GHz range are used. The 5.0-GHz frequency ranges that are used in Europe are called the Conference of European Post and Telecommunication (CEPT) A, CEPT B, CEPT C, and CEPT C bands. In the United States, the 900-MHz, 2.4-GHz ISM, and 5.0-GHz Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) bands are used. Japan has its own ranges in the 2.4- and 5.0-GHz range. The following sections explain the U.S. frequency bands in more detail.

900 MHz

The 900-MHz band starts at 902 MHz and goes to 928 MHz. This frequency range is likely the most familiar to you because you probably had a cordless phone that operated in this range. This is a good way to understand what wireless channels are. You might have picked up your cordless phone only to hear a lot of static or even a neighbor on his cordless phone. If this happened, you could press the Channel button to switch to a channel that did not have as much interference. When you found a clear channel, you could make your call. The channel you were changing to was simply a different range of frequencies. This way, even though both your phone and your neighbor's were operating in the 900-MHz range, you could select a channel in that range and have more than one device operating at the same time.

2.4 GHz

The 2.4-GHz range is probably the most widely used frequency range in WLANs. It is used by the 802.11, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n IEEE standards. The 2.4-GHz frequency range that can be used by WLANs is subdivided into channels that range from 2.4000 to 2.4835 GHz. The United States has 11 channels, and each channel is 22-MHz wide. Some channels overlap with others and cause interference. For this reason, channels 1, 6, and 11 are most commonly used because they do not overlap. In fact, many consumer-grade wireless devices are hard set so you can choose only one of the three channels. Figure 1-2 shows the 11 channels, including overlap. Again, notice that channels 1, 6, and 11 do not overlap.

Figure 1-2

2.4-GHz Channels

With 802.11b and 802.11g, the energy is spread out over a wide area of the band. With 802.11b or 802.11g products, the channels have a bandwidth of 22 MHz. This allows three nonoverlapping, noninterfering channels to be used in the same area.

The 2.4-GHz range uses direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) modulation. DSSS is discussed later in this chapter in the section "DSSS." Data rates of 1 Mbps, 2 Mbps, 5.5 Mbps, and 11 Mbps are defined for this range.

5 GHz

The 5-GHz range is used by the 802.11a standard and the new 802.11n draft standard. In the 802.11a standard, data rates can range from 6 Mbps to 54 Mbps. 802.11a devices were not seen in the market until 2001, so they do not have quite the market penetration as 2.4-GHz range 802.11 b devices. The 5-GHz range is also subdivided into channels, each being 20-MHz wide. A total of 23 nonoverlapping channels exist in the 5-GHz range.

The 5-GHz ranges use Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM). OFDM is discussed later in this chapter in the section "OFDM." Data rates of 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, and 54 Mbps are defined.

Modulation Techniques and How They Work

In short, the process of modulation is the varying in a signal or a tone called a carrier signal. Data is then added to this carrier signal in a process known as encoding.

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