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IEEE 802.11n

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In response to growing market demand for higher-performance WLANs, the IEEE formed the task group 802.11n. The scope of this task group is to defi ne modifi cations to the PHY and MAC layer to deliver a minimum of 100 Mbps throughput at the MAC service AP (SAP).

802 .11n employs an evolutionary philosophy reusing existing technologies where practical, while introducing new technologies where they provide effective performance improvements to meet the needs of evolving applications. Reuse of legacy technologies such as OFDM, FEC coding, interleaving, and quadrature amplitude modulation mapping have been maintained to keep costs down and ease backward compatibility.

There are three key areas that need to be considered when addressing increases in WLAN performance. First, improvements in radio technology are needed to increase the physical transfer rate. Second, new mechanisms implementing the effective management of enhanced PHY performance modes must be developed. Third, improvements in data transfer efficiency are needed to reduce the improvements achieved with an increase in physical transfer rate.

The emerging 802.11n specification differs from its predecessors in that it provides for a variety of optional modes and configurations that dictate different maximum raw data rates. This enables the standard to provide baseline performance parameters for all 802.11n devices, while allowing manufacturers to enhance or tune capabilities to accommodate different applications and price points. WLAN hardware does not need to support every option to be compliant with the standard.

The first requirement is to support an OFDM implementation that improves upon the one
employed in 802.11a/g standards, using a higher maximum code rate and slightly wider bandwidth. This change improves the highest attainable raw data rate to 65 Mbps from
54 Mbps in the existing standards.

Multi -input, multi-output (MIMO) technology is used in 802.11n to evolve the existing OFDM physical interface presently implemented with legacy 802.11a/g. MIMO harnesses multipath with a technique known as space-division multiplexing (SDM). The transmitting WLAN device splits a data stream into multiple parts, called spatial streams, and transmits each spatial stream through separate antennas to corresponding antennas on the receiving end. The current 802.11n provides for up to four spatial streams, even though compliant hardware is not required to support that many.

Doubling the number of spatial streams from one to two effectively doubles the raw data rate. There are trade-offs, however, such as increased power consumption and, to a lesser extent, cost. The 802.11n specification includes an MIMO power-save mode, which mitigates power consumption by using multiple paths only when communication would benefit from the additional performance. The MIMO power-save mode is a required feature in the 802.11n specification.

There are two features in the specification that focus on improving MIMO performance: (1) beam-forming and (2) diversity. Beam-forming is a technique that focuses radio signals directly on the target antenna, thereby improving range and performance by limiting interference. Diversity exploits multiple antennas by combining the outputs of or selecting the best subset of a larger number of antennas than required to receive a number of spatial streams. The 802.11n specification supports up to four antennas.

Another optional mode in the 802.11n effectively doubles data rates by doubling the width of a WLAN communications channel from 20 to 40 MHz. The primary trade-off is fewer channels available for other devices. In the case of the 2.4-GHz band, there is enough room for three nonoverlapping 20-MHz channels. A 40-MHz channel does not leave much room for other devices to join the network or transmit in the same air space. This means intelligent, dynamic management is critical to ensuring that the 40-MHz channel option improves overall WLAN performance by balancing the high-bandwidth demands of some clients with the needs of other clients to remain connected to the network.

One of the most important features in the 802.11n specifi cation to improve mixed-mode performance is aggregation. Rather than sending a single data frame, the transmitting client bundles several frames together. Thus, aggregation improves effi ciency by restoring the percentage of time that data is being transmitted over the network.

The 802.11n specification was developed with previous standards in mind to ensure compatibility with more than 200 million Wi-Fi (802.11b) devices currently in use. An 802.11n AP will communicate with 802.11a devices on the 5-GHz band as well as 802.11b and 802.11g hardware on 2.4-GHz frequencies. In addition to basic interoperability between devices, 802.11n provides for greater network efficiency in mixed mode over what 802.11g offers.

Because it promises far greater bandwidth, better range, and reliability, 802.11n is advantageous in a variety of network configurations. And as emerging networking applications take hold in the home, a growing number of consumers will view 802.11n not just as an enhancement to their existing network, but as a necessity. Some of the current and emerging applications that are driving the need for 802.11n are voice over IP (VoIP), streaming video and music, gaming, and network attached storage.

Source of Information : Elsevier Wireless Networking Complete

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