standard most used goes by 802.11b, and it uses the 2.4GHz radio spectrum to
transmit data at a maximum rate of 11Mbps. Actual data
transfer rates tend to be around 4-6Mbps. Realistic range for 802.11b devices
in an urban environment is between 70 and 150 feet.
Although no where near as fast as wired
100Mbps Ethernet, 802.11b still has more than enough bandwidth to
enable high-speed internet access, games and small to medium size file transfers,
and is currently the best choice for a home network.
802.11b's one major disadvantage is in the way it handles the
channels it uses to connect devices within the 2.4GHz spectrum. The standard allows for
a maximum of only three distinct channels, manually configured on
the access point. Each access point will use one channel at a
time to service all clients, sharing the bandwidth between them.
with this when you have more than three wireless access-points within each
other's range. When multiple access points are attempting to service clients using
the same channels, considerable signal interference will occur. As wireless networks become more common,
this issue will become a more pressing problem. 802.11B networks
are also subject to some interference from common electronic devices such as
cordless phones and microwaves, which may use the 2.4GHz spectrum.
802.11a uses the 5GHz
radio spectrum, and is capable of transfer rates up to
a maximum of 54Mbps, though some manufacturers have improved on this using
proprietary modes. Range is about equal to that of 802.11b.
The major advantage of
802.11a is in how it handles signaling. Besides the fact that is
uses the 5GHz spectrum, and is thus not subject to interference by the variety
of common electronic devices which share the 2.4GHz range. It
also has 8 distinct channels available, compared to the 3 that 802.11b
can use. This makes configuring large wireless networks much easier.
Drawbacks to 802.11a are threefold; first it is not directly compatible with
802.11b devices so you would need to have separate access-points for each
standard with a network switch in between in order to allow devices with the
different standards to communicate. Two, availability is limited, compared to
802.11b devices at least. Three, 802.11a devices are intended for business use,
and as such tend to be priced at a premium.
802.11g is another officially accepted standard, and a sort of a hybrid of A and B,
at least in terms of its feature set. It is capable of 54Mbps,
but on the 2.4 GHz spectrum.
It is completely compatible with 802.11b
devices (using 802.11b's default 11Mbps speed, of course), but has better channel availability than
that standard. 802.11g devices have gradually replaced 802.11b since it is interoperable with
both a/b standards and offers better data throughput. All in all,
802.11g is the way to go.