Maturing standards and protocols have aided the acceleration of wireless LAN adoption in the past 10 years. Clear regulatory rules and definitions have also provided a healthy environment for the industry to continue to evolve. Depending on where you are in the world, wireless LAN may have slightly different meanings to you based on your local regulatory rules and standards. Let’s first understand who is making these rules and standards for wireless LAN. In this chapter, we will discuss briefly the roles the FCC, ETSI, IEEE, IETF, and Wi-Fi Alliance play in creating standards that allow computers and devices to communicate with one another wirelessly. We will also discuss the use of frequencies and the 802.11 family of protocols that provide the foundation of wireless LAN communications. Furthermore, we will discuss the basic building blocks of the 802.11 standards and the enhancements introduced in the 802.11 extensions.
Wireless Regulatory Bodies In the wireless LAN world, there are two influential regulatory bodies that help define rules and standards for the rest of the world: the FCC and ETSI. Regulatory authorities from many countries adopt and reference rules and regulations set by the FCC and ETSI as foundations for their own countries. Furthermore, the regulatory bodies from different countries usually work and collaborate closely to ensure that their regulations work well with neighbor countries.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the regulatory authority in the United States and its territories for all forms of telecommunications, including radio, Internet, telephone, television, satellite, and cable. Established by the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC is an independent agency similar to FTC and SEC and is directly accountable to Congress. FCC sets the rules and regulations within which wireless LAN and devices operate and follow. FCC also regulates the radio frequencies, power settings, transmission techniques, and hardware, such as radios and antennas used in wireless LAN. FCC rules are often adopted and followed by authorities from other countries and regulatory domains to set countries’ local rules and regulation on wireless LAN communications.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is somewhat equivalent to the FCC in United States for the European Union countries. ETSI is legally and officially recognized by the European Commission as a European Standards Organization that sets standards for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), including mobile, radio, broadcast, and Internet technologies. ETSI does not enforce the rules and regulations in each European Union (EU) country, but rather it defines the standards to be used by EU countries.
Knowing the regulatory domain in which a wireless LAN will be deployed is one of the most important steps in planning a wireless LAN deployment. In different countries, government regulations may direct APs and clients to use different radios and antennas, which in term will greatly influence how a wireless LAN is surveyed and designed. Furthermore, if a wireless user is expected to travel across different regulatory domains (usually traveling between countries), the wireless adapter he/she uses should also be certified to support local rules and regulations set by local authorities.
CERTIFICATION OBJECTIVE 2.02
Wireless LAN Standards and Certifications
Apart from government regulations and regulatory rules, technical standards also contribute largely to the success of wireless LAN and modern day information technology. The standards bodies set standards and protocols for the industry that wishes to build technology using a common set of languages. The standards and protocols are designed to ensure that communications equipment from different vendors can interoperate. Industry organizations such as the Wi-Fi Alliance offer interoperability testing and certifications to ensure the proper implementations of standards and protocols.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is another influential standards body that creates standards and protocols for the Internet, including the core protocols of the Internet Protocol Suite, TCP/IP. Another important standard published by IETF is the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) defined in RFC 3748 and later updated in RFC 5247. EAP provides a framework for modern wireless LAN security standard, working in conjunction with IEEE 802.1X, to negotiate authentication mechanism between client and infrastructure, but it does not specify the actual authentication methods. The Wi-Fi Alliance has adopted five different EAP authentication types for its WPA and WPA2 standards. The five EAP types are ■ EAP-TLS
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is one of the most influential standards bodies in the world for information technology. IEEE has created many widely adopted standards, such as port-based Network Access Control (IEEE 802.1X), Ethernet (IEEE 802.3), Firewire (IEEE 1394), and wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11). The 802.11 standards and its variant wireless LAN standards are now the foundation used by virtually all wireless LAN vendors and products in the world. The following sections provide an overview of 802.11 and some key variant standards that are widely adopted for wireless LAN.