IEEE 802 wireless standards

What are 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 (LANs) and metropolitan area networks (MANs). IEEE 802 also aids in ensuring multivendor 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 that network devices can all work together smoothly.

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

The set of standards started in 1979 with a proposed standard called Local Network for Computer Interconnection, 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 LANs, wireless MANs, wireless personal area networks (PANs) and radio access networks, as well as media independent handover services.

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 However, some of these standards have been labeled as disbanded or hibernating, and are either superseded by newer standards or being reworked. Using an open process, the LMSC advocates for these standards globally.

Individual working groups are decided on and assigned to each area so that each segment receives an acceptable amount of focus. IEEE 802 specifications also split the data link layer into two different layers -- a logical link control layer and a media access control (MAC) layer.

LMSC provides a PDF of standards 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 All standards stay in place until they are replaced with another document or withdrawn.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 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 helps ensure 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 standards weren't in place.

IEEE 802 also coordinates with other international standards, such as the International Organization for Standardization or ISO, to help maintain international standards.

The 802 in IEEE 802 does not stand for anything of significance; 802 was the next numbered project.

Examples of IEEE 802 uses

Commercial organizations can use the IEEE 802 specifications 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, IEEE 802 can help maintain LAN standards.

These specifications 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 that manufacturers don't have any input on the standards, there is a voting protocol in place. This ensures 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 sublayers of OSI Layer 2, including MAC-based bridging, virtual LANs and port-based access control.
  • Also contains the Time-Sensitive Networking Task Group.
802.2 Logical link control Disbanded
802.3 Ethernet
  • The grandfather 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.
802.4 Token bus Disbanded
802.5 Token ring Disbanded
802.6 Distributed queue dual bus
  • Superseded.
  • 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 MAC and physical layer specification. 802.11a, b, g, ax, 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 physical layer that operates in the 5 GHz U-NII band in the U.S. -- initially 5.15 GHz to 5.35 GHz and 5.725 GHz to 5.85 GHz -- and since expanded to additional frequencies.
  • Uses orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM).
  • Enhanced data speed to 54 Mbps.
  • Ratified after 802.11b.
  • Enhancement to 802.11 that added higher data rate modes to direct-sequence spread spectrum already defined in the original 802.11 standard.
  • Boosted data speed to 11 Mbps.
  • 22 MHz bandwidth yields three nonoverlapping channels within the frequency range of 2.400 GHz to 2.4835 GHz.
  • Beacons at 1 Mbps fall back to 5.5, 2 or 1 Mbps from 11 Mbps max.
  • Enhancement to 802.11a and 802.11b that enables global roaming.
  • Particulars can be set at the MAC layer.
  • Enhancement to 802.11 that includes quality of service features.
  • Facilitates prioritization of data, voice and video transmissions.
  • Extends the maximum data rate of wireless LAN devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz band, in a fashion that permits interoperation with 802.11b devices.
  • Uses OFDM modulation.
  • Operates at up to 54 Mbps, with fallback speeds that include the b speeds.
  • Enhancement to 802.11a that resolves interference issues.
  • Dynamic frequency selection.
  • Transmit power control.
  • Enhancement to 802.11 that offers additional security for wireless LAN 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 of 4.9 GHz to 5 GHz.
802.11k 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 noncompatible technologies; often called pre-n.
  • Top speeds claimed of 108 MHz, 240 MHz and 350+ MHz.
  • Competing proposals come from the groups Enhanced Wireless Consortium, TGn Sync and WWiSE, and are all variations based on multiple input, multiple output, or MIMO.
802.11x 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 PANs Communications specification for wireless PANs that IEEE approved in early 2002
802.15.1 Bluetooth Short-range (10 meters) wireless technology used for cordless mouse, keyboard and wireless headphones at 2.4 GHz
802.15.3a Ultra wideband 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 MANs
  • Hibernating.
  • Covers fixed and mobile broadband wireless access methods used to create wireless MANs.
  • Connects base stations to the internet using OFDM in unlicensed (900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5.8 GHz) or licensed (700 MHz, 2.5 GHz to 3.6 GHz) frequency bands.
  • Products that implement 802.16 standards can undergo WiMax certification testing.
802.17 Resilient packet ring Disbanded
802.18 Radio Regulatory Technical Advisory Group Supports IEEE 802 LMSC and IEEE 802 wireless working groups. Actively participates in and monitors radio regulatory matters.
802.19 Wireless coexistence Makes standards for coexistence between different wireless standards for unlicensed devices
802.20 Mobile broadband wireless access Disbanded
802.21 Media independent handover
  • Hibernating.
  • Enables optimization of higher-layer services, including internet of things 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 Disbanded
802.24 Vertical Applications Technical Advisory Group Focused on application categories that use IEEE 802 standards or multiple working 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 providing white papers and other documents.

Check here for a list of disbanded and hibernating standards.

This was last updated in February 2023

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