Benefits of WLANs
The widespread strategic reliance on networking among competitive businesses and the meteoric growth of the Internet and online services are strong testimonies to the benefits of shared data and shared resources. With wireless LANs, users can access shared information without looking for a place to plug in, and network managers can set up or augment networks without installing or moving wires. Wireless LANs offer the following productivity, service, convenience, and cost advantages over traditional wired networks:
- Mobility-Wireless LAN systems can provide LAN users with access to real-time information anywhere in their organization. This mobility supports productivity and service opportunities not possible with wired networks.
- Installation Speed and Simplicity-Installing a wireless LAN system can be fast and easy and can eliminate the need to pull cable through walls and ceilings.
- Installation Flexibility-Wireless technology allows the network to go where wire cannot go.
- Reduced Cost-of-Ownership-While the initial investment required for wireless LAN hardware can be higher than the cost of wired LAN hardware, overall installation expenses and life-cycle costs can be significantly lower. Long-term cost benefits are greatest in dynamic environments requiring frequent moves, adds, and changes.
- Scalability-Wireless LAN systems can be configured in a variety of topologies to meet the needs of specific applications and installations. Configurations are easily changed and range from peer-to-peer networks suitable for a small number of users to full infrastructure networks of thousands of users that allows roaming over a broad area.
Wireless LAN Technology Options
Manufacturers of wireless LANs have a range of technologies to choose from when designing a wireless LAN solution. Each technology comes with its own set of advantages and limitations.
Most wireless LAN systems use spread-spectrum technology, a wideband radio frequency technique developed by the military for use in reliable, secure, mission-critical communications systems. Spread-spectrum is designed to trade off bandwidth efficiency for reliability, integrity, and security. In other words, more bandwidth is consumed than in the case of narrowband transmission, but the tradeoff produces a signal that is, in effect, louder and thus easier to detect, provided that the receiver knows the parameters of the spread-spectrum signal being broadcast. If a receiver is not tuned to the right frequency, a spread-spectrum signal looks like background noise. There are two types of spread spectrum radio: frequency hopping and direct sequence.
A narrowband radio system transmits and receives user information on a specific radio frequency. Narrowband radio keeps the radio signal frequency as narrow as possible just to pass the information. Undesirable crosstalk between communications channels is avoided by carefully coordinating different users on different channel frequencies.
A private telephone line is much like a radio frequency. When each home in a neighborhood has its own private telephone line, people in one home cannot listen to calls made to other homes. In a radio system, privacy and noninterference are accomplished by the use of separate radio frequencies. The radio receiver filters out all radio signals except the ones on its designated frequency.
Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology
Frequency-hopping spread-spectrum (FHSS) uses a narrowband carrier that changes frequency in a pattern known to both transmitter and receiver. Properly synchronized, the net effect is to maintain a single logical channel. To an unintended receiver, FHSS appears to be short-duration impulse noise.
Figure 7. Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum
Direct-Sequence Spread Spectrum Technology
Direct-sequence spread-spectrum (DSSS) generates a redundant bit pattern for each bit to be transmitted. This bit pattern is called a chip (or chipping code). The longer the chip, the greater the probability that the original data can be recovered (and, of course, the more bandwidth required). Even if one or more bits in the chip are damaged during transmission, statistical techniques embedded in the radio can recover the original data without the need for retransmission. To an unintended receiver, DSSS appears as low-power wideband noise and is rejected (ignored) by most narrowband receivers.
Infrared (IR) systems use very high frequencies, just below visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum, to carry data. Like light, IR cannot penetrate opaque objects; it is either directed (line-of-sight) or diffuse technology. Inexpensive directed systems provide very limited range (3 ft) and typically are used for PANs but occasionally are used in specific WLAN applications. High performance directed IR is impractical for mobile users and is therefore used only to implement fixed subnetworks. Diffuse (or reflective) IR WLAN systems do not require line-of-sight, but cells are limited to individual rooms.