What are The Standards for Wireless Networks?

Wireless Network Guidelines

The federal government issues policy and standards for wireless networks and wireless technology through the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST has developed information security standards and guidelines, including minimum requirements for federal information systems and wi-fi networks. NIST has published a special publication for wireless networks that constitutes a mandatory framework for network implementation. NIST has issued similar frameworks for technologies and communications.

nist framework

Standard vs. Amendment

Essentially, 802.11 is the wi-fi standard for a wireless network. The letters that follow constitute amendments that have been and are still being made to the 802.11 wi-fi standard. Currently, the amendment ax is being rolled out. Most amendments to the 02.11 wi-fi standard have been backward compatible. This backward compatibility prevents constant obsolescence.

Components of a Wireless Network

At its core, a wireless (i-fi) network consists of an input device, a transmitter, and a receiver. The input device creates the signal that will be transmitted. From there, the receiver picks up the transmitted signal and recreates it. There are also other components to consider including:

  • Access points (or wireless access points)
  • Antennae - The devices that receive the wireless signal.
  • Repeaters or Bridgers - Repeaters relay a signal; bridges use the signals to join two existing networks into one larger network.
  • Routers, Wireless Router, Wi-Fi Router
  • Wireless Adapters - These are devices that allow computers and similar devices to connect to the Internet and other devices without wires.
  • Radio NICs - A radio device that operates within a computer and provides wireless connectivity, also known as Network Interface Cards.
  • Transmitter power - Transmit power of an access point radio proportional to its range; the higher the power, the further the signal can go.
  • Wireless controllers - Centralized network devices used with Lightweight Access PointProtocols to manage access points in large numbers; used by the administrator or operations center.

Components of a wireless network

Wi-Fi Standards Firmware

The software that you pay no attention to that runs your wi-fi router is "firmware." Even if it seems to work well, the firmware should be updated regularly. This is also the software that is pre-installed on your router. Most router makers will notify you when this needs to be done and how to do it.

Common Terms & Definitions

Various terms are used to define parts of your wireless system, and knowing what they mean can aid in understanding how a system works. The following are some of the more essential terms.

  • Wireless Access Point - A wireless access point (WAP) is a device that lets different types of network cards connect without cables to connect to LANs and access resources, such as the Internet. It plugs into a switch or hub and joins the unwired network to the wired network.
  • Wireless Port - A wireless port is a network port installed to connect a wireless access point to a wired network. They provide both data and power service to the WAP and usually have a warning label.
  • Coverage Area - The coverage area is the geographical area in which usable wireless service is obtainable. They can vary significantly due to interference, building materials, obstructions, and AP placement.
  • Security - Security is the part of the system, such as encryption, that protects your data during transmission.
  • Wireless Network Infrastructure - A Wireless Network Infrastructure is the integration of technology, support, security procedures, software, and devices to permit the management and delivery of wireless data and communication.
  • Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) - Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is a security protocol defined within the 802.11b standard. It is designed to provide the same level of security as a wired network. However, recent experience indicates that WEPs alone don't achieve that goal without the use of encryption.
  • WPA - A wi-fiiFi standard, wi-fi Protected Access, that was designed to improve WEP's security features. It has improved encryption by using temporal key integrity protocols and user authentication.
  • Speed - This refers to the speed at which data, or other content, moves from the Web or Internet to your computer or device. It's measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Currently, the maximum speed comes through the 5G frequency.
  • Frequency - The rate of radio signals for sending and receiving communications. It is measured in Hertz or the number of cycles per second. The frequency band is the band your network transmits on.

IEEE Standards Chart

Brief History of Old & New Wireless Standards

The University of Hawaii developed the first wireless network in 1970. In 1991, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) began standardizing these wireless technologies and creating wireless standards. The IEEE ratified the first wireless networking standard, 802.11, in 1997, what we today call wi-fi. In 1999, 802.11a and 802.11b were introduced to the public, delivering painfully slow speeds by today's standards.

Current IEEE Standards

Because technology is not destroyed every time the 802.11 standard is amended, there are always multiple versions in use. Some of the more common standards still being used today include:

  • 802.1x - 802.1x - Is a standard for authenticating a device that is attempting to connect to a secure network.
  • 802.11a - One of the first wi-fi communication standards in the IEEE standards. It has the capability of data speeds of up to 54 Mbps at 5 GHz.
  • 802.11b - The first widely adopted wi-fi standard, it has a range of about 100 feet indoors and 500 feet outdoors. It transmits in the 2.4 GHz range.
  • 802.11g - An IEEE 802.11 standard operating in the 2.4 GHz band range at rates up to 54 Mbps. It is backward compatible with 802.11b-based computers, though this will slow down your system.
  • 802.11n - A wireless standard specification that uses multiple wireless antennae in tandem. The term associated with it is multiple input, multiple output (MIMO). It can support a throughput of up to 600 Mpbs if your router transmits across multiple channels at the same time.

Wi-Fi 6 Standard

Wi-Fi 6 is the new official gold standard for the internet. It will be designated as IEEE 802.11ax and will identify technology that meets that standard. Wi-Fi 6 is a tremendous upgrade to existing wi-fi capability. It has feature enhancements, additions, and expansion. Virtually every wi-fi component will be improved with the 802.11ax standard, giving the marketplace better user capacity, faster data rates, better latency states, more network bandwidth, and more efficient use of power.

wifi 6

Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E: The New Gold Standard

Wi-Fi 6 offers MU-MIMO, multi-user, multi-input, multi-output capabilities. This allows multiple wireless devices to communicate with the same wi-fi router at the same time. It was originally introduced on 802.11ac WAVE (also known as Wi-Fi 5) and permits concurrent communication. MU-MIMO allows up to eight simultaneous data streams, doubling Wi-Fi 5's four streams, giving significantly improved performance. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 permits smart routers to output data at both 2.4 and 5 GHz to a single user, significantly increasing the total bandwidth.

Wi-Fi 6 changes from 256-QAM modulation to 1024-QSM. This dramatically increases the bits encoded per packet. This  allows for a 25 percent increase in throughput, which  improves efficiency in high traffic.

Wi-Fi 6 uses a longer orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) symbol, allowing four times as many subcarriers. This makes the system more stable and increases speed by about 10 percent, but  it also cuts back on latency.

Wi-Fi 6 largely expands the band and channel width, adding a 160 MHz communication range. Doubling the channel width lets routers handle more users and give more significant streams to each user. Developers of Wi-Fi 6 devices highlight the optimized band and channel range as one of the primary improvements.

Base Service Station Color is a system that identifies nearby networks. It makes signal filtering considerably easier for smart routers and reduces conflicts and interference. BSS Color is another Wi-Fi 6 enhancement that increases efficiency. In an enterprise system, it permits segregated networks to cover the same physical area without interference.

Target Wake Time was built with IoT (Internet of Things) in mind. It lets each device negotiate its wake time for sending and receiving independently. Doing so increases total sleep time and maximizes battery life.

wifi6 vs wifi6e

Wi-Fi 6E

Wi-Fi 6E has been practicing for a couple of years and is now being released with upgrades for Wi-Fi 6 networks. It  broadens the use of the expanded bandwidth and channels available on Wi-Fi 6. It has a 1200 MHz spectrum and adds 14 new channels to the 80 MHz band and 7 more supersized channels to the 160 MHz band. This greater width increases data packet capacity so that more data can be sent at one time. It also added a new band, 6 GHz. Overall, Wi-Fi 6E is a highly specialized expansion that will work best in ultra-high traffic environments.

Wi-Fi 6E chart

Deciding your Wireless Networking Requirements

If you're asking whether you need to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, the answer is probably yes, especially if your router is more than three years old. The equipment is now available to take advantage of the offerings, along with faster speeds, longer battery life, and reduced congestion.

User Experience

Wi-Fi 6 makes the user experience so much better that it's almost impossible to ignore. Higher speed and longer battery life will mean a lot to your users in the IoT. By adding 6E, you'll make them faster and more productive users of your overall system.

Coverage Area

Wi-Fi 6 does have a better wireless range, but not because of a higher power. Instead, the improvement is becauseWi-Fi 6 can improve data rates at a given range. Both W-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 operate in the 5 GHz band. The cell range is  set by frequency characteristics, antennae patterns, output power, and the operating environment. Basically, since the two use the same power and frequency rules, as set by the Federal Communications System, there won't be much change there. However,  Wi-Fi 6 boosts the achieved data rate at any given range. In effect, by improving each range, it provides a better range. It does so with more radio chains, better sensitivity, and even smaller channels. Because these all work together further out on your footprint, it will feel like your range is better even if it technically isn't. 

Coverage area

Security & Compatibility

Wi-Fi 6 uses the newest security protocol, Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3).  Analysts say it is more comprehensive than WPA2. The pros say that WPA3 has more robust authentication capabilities and more sophisticated encryption. It also uses more robust encryption algorithms as well as enhanced key management systems.

wireless security cheat sheet

What is the Future of Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 7

The first Wi-Fi 7 routers will enter the market sometime in 2023 and may not offer the highest speeds. In fact, it may not even be certified until 2024, making early adoption a bit of a risk. Plus, you'll probably wait even longer for a Wi-Fi 7 phone, tablet, laptop, or other wireless device.

Wi-Fi 7 is likely to be expensive when it first comes out. Moreover, like every piece of technology, it will have a certain number of bugs. Waiting a while may result in  lower prices and create time  for Wi-Fi 7 certification to come about, which are both very desirable goals.


Or click here to learn more ->