May 29, 2009

Beyond 802.11 Standards

  • A Wi-Fi Lexicon for the Rest of Us
  • Joanie Wexler, Joanie M. Wexler & Associates; Devin Akin, CWNP; and Paul DeBeasi, Burton Group
Every industry has its own vernacular, and the Wi-Fi environment is no different. Many Wi-Fi terms are easily researchable because they have a common meaning from vendor to vendor, context to context. Definitions for these terms often can be found in the formal IEEE 802.11 series of standards as well as in detailed reference guides such as The Official CWNP Dictionary of Wireless Terms and Acronyms.

Beyond the standards, however, most vendors attempt to differentiate themselves with complementary features and products. Some of these enhancements have become common enough that de facto names for them have cropped up in everyday language. In addition to having generic names, these functions might also have any number of brand names assigned to them by Wi-Fi vendor marketing departments. 
  • THE VOCABULARY PROBLEM: Having inconsistent terms for the same functions can be confusing and can make it difficult to conduct apples-to-apples vendor and product comparisons.
  • THE SOLUTION: A lexicon of terms that starts on the next page is an attempt to ease this confusion by documenting and defining some common Wi-Fi functions that may be important to you but are not necessarily required by 802.11 technical standards. Different vendors might refer to them by different brand names.  
  • THE CAVEAT: We have elected to omit vendor-specific brand names, because many do not have a one-for-one mapping and thus might generate outbursts of protest from vendor marketing departments. For example, some vendors combine a number of RF management and performance optimization tools under an umbrella name and don't create separate names for each individual feature. Others give separate monikers to every feature, making their features list appear longer. Still other vendors claim that certain features are not needed because their system designs inherently solve the problem at hand.
Hopefully, the lexicon - written in as simple English as possible - will ease the task of accurately comparing capabilities across the disparate vendors and systems in the Wi-Fi market. If the capabilities listed are important to you, ask your vendors whether they support them and if so, what brand name (if any) they use to describe them.

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