December 2008

Wireless Illustrated

Access to the wireless spectrum is regulated by government agencies in most countries. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsibleWirless Frequencies Table for licensing the use of airwaves. However, most computer and Internet-related wireless access activities use 802.11-based technology and take place in a few bands set aside by regulating bodies for free and unlicensed access, as opposed to cellular and satellite communications, which occur in highly regulated segments of the spectrum (see "Wireless Frequencies" at right, click to enlarge). This can lead to potential interference between two or more devices that are trying to use the same frequency. For example, early 802.11 devices frequently lost connectivity if they were used too close to microwave ovens, and cordless phones can still cause network connections to drop for home users.

Regardless of the technology in use, each of the frequencies is selected by device manufacturers for performance reasons as they try to balance data transmission speeds with distances and reliability in an inversely proportional manner. Therefore, the lower the speed or frequency of the technology, the greater the distance covered, the lower the potential for Common Communications Methodsinterference, and the higher the level of reliability. Conversely, the higher the speed or frequency of the technology, the shorter the distance covered, the greater the potential for interference, and the lower the level of reliability. See "Common Communications Methods" at right (click to enlarge) for characteristics associated with some popular wireless technologies.

Wireless technology is a complex soup of alphanumeric identifiers, vendor or industry brand names, and acronyms. For a brief description of terms relevant to this article, please refer to the Wireless Glossary (PDF).


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