IEEE 802 wireless standards

IEEE 802 is a collection of networking standards that cover the physical and data-link layer specifications for technologies such as Ethernet and wireless. These specifications apply to local area networks (LAN) and metropolitan area networks (MAN). IEEE 802 also aids in ensuring multi-vendor interoperability by promoting standards for vendors to follow.

Essentially, the IEEE 802 standards help make sure internet services and technologies follow a set of recommended practices so network devices can all work together smoothly.

IEEE 802 is divided into 22 parts that cover the physical and data-link aspects of networking. The family of standards is developed and maintained by the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee, also called the LMSC. IEEE stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The set of standards started in 1979 with a "local network for computer interconnection" standard, which was approved a year later. The LMSC has made more than 70 standards for IEEE 802. 

Some commonly used standards include those for Ethernet, bridging and virtual bridged LANs, wireless LAN, wireless PAN, MAN and radio access networks as well as media independent handover services. The better-known specifications include 802.3 Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi and 802.15 Bluetooth/ZigBee. However, some of these standards have been labeled as disbanded or hibernating and are either superseded by newer standards or are being reworked. Using an open process, the LMSC advocates for these standards globally.

Individual "working groups" are decided on and assigned to each area in order to provide each area with an acceptable amount of focus. IEEE 802 specifications also split the data link layer into two different layers -- an LLC layer and a MAC layer.

Standards can be found in a PDF provided by the LMSC for up to six months after they have been published. All standards stay in place until they are replaced with another document or withdrawn.

Why IEEE 802 standards are important 

LMSC was formed in 1980 in order to standardize network protocols and provide a path to make compatible devices across numerous industries.

Without these standards, equipment suppliers could manufacture network hardware that would only connect to certain computers. It would be much more difficult to connect to systems not using the same set of networking equipment. Standardizing protocols help ensure that multiple types of devices can connect to multiple network types. It also helps make sure network management isn't the challenge it could be if it wasn't in place.

IEEE 802 will also coordinate with other international standards, such as ISO, to help maintain international standards.

In addition, the "802" in IEEE 802 does not stand for anything with high significance. 802 was just the next numbered project.

Examples of IEEE 802 uses

The IEEE 802 specifications can be used by commercial organizations to ensure their products maintain any newly specified standards. So, for example, the 802.11 specification that applies to Wi-Fi could be used to make sure Wi-Fi devices work together under one standard. In the same way, IEE 802 can help maintain local area network standards.

These specifications can also define what connectivity infrastructure will be used for -- individual networks, or those at a larger organizational scale.

The IEEE 802 specifications apply to hardware and software products. So, to ensure manufacturers don't have any input on the standards, there is a voting protocol in place. This makes sure that one organization does not influence the standards too much.

Working groups 

The working groups are the different areas of focus within the 802 specifications. They are numbered from 802.1 onward.

802 Overview Basics of physical and logical networking concepts.
802.1 Bridging LAN/MAN bridging and management. Covers management and the lower sub-layers of OSI Layer 2, including MAC-based bridging (Media Access Control), virtual LANs and port-based access control. This also contains the time-sensitive networking task group.
802.2 Logical Link Disbanded
802.3 Ethernet "Grandaddy" of the 802 specifications. Provides asynchronous networking using "carrier sense, multiple access with collision detect" (CSMA/CD) over coax, twisted-pair copper and optical fiber media. Current speeds range from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps. Check on the commonly used list of  802.3 technologies.
 802.4 Token Bus Disbanded
 802.5 Token Ring Disbanded
 802.6 Distributed queue dual bus (DQDB)


Revision of 802.1D. Superseded by 802.1D-2004.

 802.7 Broadband LAN Practices Disbanded
 802.8 Fiber Optic Practices Disbanded
 802.9 Integrated Services LAN Disbanded
802.10 Interoperable LAN security Disbanded
802.11  Wi-Fi Wireless LAN Media Access Control and Physical Layer specification. 802.11a, b, g, etc. are amendments to the original 802.11 standard. Products that implement 802.11 standards must pass tests and are referred to as "Wi-Fi certified."
  • Specifies a PHY that operates in the 5 Ghz U-NII band in the US -- initially 5.15-5.35 AND 5.725-5.85 -- since expanded to additional frequencies
  • Uses Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing
  • Enhanced data speed to 54 Mbps
  • Ratified after 802.11b
  • Enhancement to 802.11 that added higher data rate modes to the DSSS (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum) already defined in the original 802.11 standard
  • Boosted data speed to 11 Mbps
  • 22 MHz Bandwidth yields 3 non-overlaping channels in the frequency range of 2.400 GHz to 2.4835 GHz
  • Beacons at 1 Mbps, falls back to 5.5, 2, or 1 Mbps from 11 Mbps max.
  • Enhancement to 802.11a and 802.11b that allows for global roaming
  • Particulars can be set at MAC layer
  • Enhancement to 802.11 that includes quality of service (QoS) features
  • Facilitates prioritization of data, voice and video transmissions
  • Extends the maximum data rate of WLAN devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz band, in a fashion that permits interoperation with 802.11b devices
  • Uses OFDM Modulation (Orthogonal FDM)
  • Operates at up to 54 megabits per second (Mbps), with fall-back speeds that include the "b" speeds
  • Enhancement to 802.11a that resolves interference issues
  • Dynamic frequency selection (DFS)
  • Transmit power control (TPC)
  • Enhancement to 802.11 that offers additional security for WLAN applications
  • Defines stronger encryption, authentication and key exchange, as well as options for key caching and pre-authentication
  • Japanese regulatory extensions to 802.11a specification
  • Frequency range 4.9 GHz to 5.0 GHz
  • Radio resource measurements for networks using 802.11 family specifications
  • Maintenance of 802.11 family specifications
  • Corrections and amendments to existing documentation
  • Higher-speed standards
  • Several competing and non-compatible technologies; often called "pre-n"
  • Top speeds claimed of 108, 240 and 350+ MHz
  • Competing proposals come from the groups, EWC, TGn Sync, and WWiSE and are all variations based on MIMO (multiple input, multiple output)
  • Misused "generic" term for 802.11 family specifications
802.12 Demand Priority Disbanded
802.13 Not used Not used
802.14 Cable modems Disbanded
802.15 Wireless Personal Area Networks Communications specification that was approved in early 2002 by the IEEE for wireless personal area networks (WPANs).
802.15.1 Bluetooth Short range (10 m) wireless technology for cordless mouse, keyboard and wireless headphones at 2.4 GHz.
802.15.3a UWB Short-range, high-bandwidth "ultra wideband" link
802.15.4 ZigBee Short-range wireless sensor networks
802.15.5 Mesh Network
  • Extension of network coverage without increasing the transmit power or the receiver sensitivity
  • Enhanced reliability via route redundancy
  • Easier network configuration - Better device battery life
802.16 Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks


This covers Fixed and Mobile Broadband Wireless Access methods that are used to create Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks. Connects Base Stations to the Internet using OFDM in unlicensed (900 MHz, 2.4, 5.8 GHz) or licensed (700 MHz, 2.5 - 3.6 GHz) frequency bands. Products that implement 802.16 standards can undergo WiMAX> certification testing.
802.17 Resilient Packet Ring


802.18 Radio Regulatory TAG

Supports IEEE 802 LMSC and IEEE 802 wireless Working Groups. Actively participates in and monitors radio regulatory matters.

802.19 Coexistence

Makes standards for coexistence between different wireless standards for unlicensed devices.

802.20 Mobile Broadband Wireless Access


802.21 Media Independent Handoff


Enables optimization of higher layer services. This includes IoT and handover services -- specifically between IEEE 802 networks.

802.22 Wireless Regional Area Network

Hibernating. Creates a standard to enable spectrum sharing.

802.23 Emergency Services Working Group


802.24 Vertical Applications Technical Advisory Group (TAG)

Focused on application categories which use IEEE 802

Standards, or use multiple work groups. For these, 802.24 acts as a point of contact with other organizations focused on other IEEE 802 standards. 802.24 can also serve as a resource for understanding the IEEE 802 standards by developing white papers and other documents.

Check here for a list of disbanded and hibernating standards.

All the 802.11 specifications use the Ethernet protocol and Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA) for path sharing. The original modulation used in 802.11 was phase-shift keying (PSK). However, other schemes, such as complementary code keying (CCK), are used in some of the newer specifications. The newer modulation methods provide higher data speed and reduced vulnerability to interference.

This was last updated in October 2020

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