Wireless Standards Organizations

Each of the standards organizations discussed here help to guide a different aspect of the wireless networking industry. The International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) and local entities such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set the rules for what the user can do with a radio transmitter.

Frequencies, power levels, and transmission methods are managed and regulated by these organizations. These organizations work together to help guide the growth and expansion that is being demanded by wireless users.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) creates standards for compatibility and coexistence between networking equipment. The IEEE standards must adhere to the rules of the communications organizations, such as the FCC.

The Wi-Fi Alliance performs certification testing to make sure wireless networking equipment conforms to IEEE standards. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, which is an architectural model for data communications. We will look at each of these organizations in the following.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

To put it simply, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates communications to and from the United States. The task of the FCC in wireless networking is to regulate the radio signals that are used for wireless networking.

The FCC is an independent United States government agency that is answerable to the United States Congress. It was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is responsible for regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

The FCC’s jurisdiction covers all of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions. Most countries have governing bodies that function similarly to the FCC.

The FCC and the respective controlling agencies in the other countries typically regulate two categories of wireless communications: licensed and unlicensed. Whether the wireless communications is licensed or unlicensed, the user is still regulated on what they can do.

The difference is that unlicensed users do not have to go through the license application procedures before they can install a wireless system. Both licensed and unlicensed communications are typically regulated in the following five areas:

  • Frequency
  • Bandwidth
  • Maximum power of the intentional radiator
  • Maximum equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP)
  • Use (indoor and/or outdoor)

Essentially, the FCC and other regulatory bodies set the rules for what the user can do regarding the RF transmissions. From there, the standards organizations create the standards to work within these guidelines. These organizations work together to help meet the demands of the fast growing wireless industry.

The FCC rules are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is divided into 50 titles that are updated yearly. The title that is relevant to wireless networking is Title 47, Telecommunications .

Title 47 is divided into many parts; Part 15, “Radio Frequency Devices,” is where you will find the rules and regulations regarding wireless networking related to 802.11. Part 15 is further broken down into subparts and sections. A complete reference will look like 47CFR15.3.

International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R)

A global hierarchy exists for management of the RF spectrum worldwide. The United Nations has tasked the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) with global spectrum management.

The ITU-R maintains a database of worldwide frequency assignments and coordinates spectrum management through five administrative regions. The five regions are broken down:

  • Region A: North and South America Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL)
  • Region B: Western Europe European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT)
  • Region C: Eastern Europe and Northern Asia Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications (RCC)
  • Region D: Africa African Telecommunications Union (ATU)
  • Region E: Asia and Australasia Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT)

Within each region, local government RF regulatory bodies such as the following manage the RF spectrum for their respective countries:

  • Australia, Australian Communications Authority (ACA)
  • Japan, Association of Radio Industries and Businesses (ARIB)
  • New Zealand, Ministry of Economic Development
  • United States, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers , commonly known as the IEEE , is a global professional society with over 350,000 members.

The IEEE’s mission is to “promote the engineering process of creating, developing, integrating, sharing, and applying knowledge about electro and information technologies and sciences for the benefit of humanity and the profession.”

To networking professionals, that means creating the standards that we use to communicate. The IEEE is probably best known for its LAN standards, the IEEE 802 project. IEEE projects are subdivided into working groups to develop standards that address specific problems or needs.

For instance, the IEEE 802.3 working group was responsible for the creation of a standard for Ethernet, and the IEEE 802.11 working group was responsible for creating the wireless standard.

The numbers are assigned as the groups are formed, so 11 was assigned to the wireless group since it was the 11th working group that was formed under the IEEE 802 project.

As the need arises to revise existing standards created by the working groups, task groups are formed. These task groups are assigned a sequential single letter (multiple letters are assigned if all single letters have been used) that is added to the end of the standard number (for example, 802.11a, 802.11g, and 802.3af).

Some letters such as o and l are not assigned. This is done to prevent confusion with the numbers 0 and 1. Other task group letters may not be assigned to prevent confusion with other standards.

For example, 802.11x has not been assigned because it can be easily confused with 802.1X and because 802.11x has become a common casual reference to the 802.11 family of standards.

It is important to remember that the IEEE standards, like many other standards, are written documents describing how technical processes and equipment should function.

Unfortunately, this often allows for different interpretations when the standard is being implemented, so it is common for early products to be incompatible between vendors, as was the case with the early 802.11 products.

Wi-Fi Alliance

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a global, nonprofit industry trade association with over 200 member companies. The Wi-Fi Alliance is devoted to promoting the growth of wireless LANs (WLANs).

One of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s primary tasks is to ensure the interoperability of WLAN products by providing certification testing. During the early days of the 802.11 standard, the Wi-Fi Alliance further defined it and provided a set of guidelines to assure compatibility between different vendors.

Products that pass the Wi-Fi certification process receive a Wi-Fi Certified certificate:

The Wi-Fi Alliance was founded in August 1999 and was known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA). In October 2002, the name was changed to what it is now, the Wi-Fi Alliance. The Wi-Fi Alliance has certified over 1,500 Wi-Fi products for interoperability since testing began in April 2000.

Certification includes three categories:

  • Wi-Fi products based on IEEE radio standards 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g in single-mode, dual-mode (802.11b and 802.11g), and multiband (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) products.
  • Wi-Fi wireless network security Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), Personal and Enterprise; Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), Personal and Enterprise.
  • Support for multimedia content over Wi-Fi networks Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM).

It is important to note that the Wi-Fi Alliance’s WPA2 security standard mirrors the IEEE’s 802.11i security standard. Additionally, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s WMM standard mirrors the IEEE’s 802.11e Quality of Service (QoS) standard.

International Organization for Standardization

The International Organization for Standardization , commonly known as the ISO , is a global, nongovernmental organization that identifies business, government, and society needs and develops standards in partnership with the sectors that will put them to use.

The ISO is responsible for the creation of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, which has been a standard reference for data communications between computers since the late 1970s.

The OSI model is the cornerstone of data communications, and learning to understand it is one of the most important and fundamental tasks a person in the networking industry can undertake. The layers of the OSI model are as follows:

  • Layer 7, Application
  • Layer 6, Presentation
  • Layer 5, Session
  • Layer 4, Transport
  • Layer 3, Network
  • Layer 2, Data-Link
  • Layer 1, Physical