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Don’t let the techno jargon of wireless networking worry you. Take some to study its language and acronyms and you’re on your way to understanding the components of wireless networking and making the most of your networking experience. This wireless glossary will help you get started:

802.11: The general standard developed by the IEEE for wireless local area networks. Within the 802.11 standard are various substandards, including 802.11b (11 Mbps using the 2.4 GHz spectrum), 802.11a (54 Mbps using the 5 GHz spectrum), and 802.11g (54 Mbps using the 2.4 GHz spectrum).
802.11e: A forthcoming addition to the 802.11 family of standards, 802.11e is not a physical layer standard like 802.11b/g/a, but instead describes a series of QoS (Quality of Service) mechanisms designed to improve the performance of 802.11 networks for delay- or bandwidth-sensitive applications. A standard called WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) includes some, but not all, of the QoS mechanisms that will be included in 802.11e.
802.11i: The IEEE standard for enhanced security in a Wi-Fi network, 802.11i includes AES encryption and other enhancements to Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access(WPA). (See Wired Equivalent Privacy and Wi-Fi Protected Access.) WPA2 systems are compliant with 802.11i.
802.1X: 802.1X is an IEEE standard for network authentication. In an 802.1X-secured network, users can access only the authentication system (a single network port) until they have been authenticated by the authentication server. (See also RADIUS and AAA.)
AAA (Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting): An AAA system (like RADIUS servers, but not limited to that protocol) is used to control access to a network like a wireless LAN. AAA systems are used for WPA-Enterprise Wi-Fi networks and are also used to secure access to many hot spot networks.
access point (AP): A wireless LAN base station that connects a wired network (like the wired Ethernet connection on a broadband modem) to the wireless network. The AP contains a radio transceiver, which transmits and receives radio signals, and many APs contain a router, which reads the addresses within data packets and directs them to the appropriate networked computer.
Bluetooth: A standard system for wireless Personal Area Networks (or PANs). Bluetooth provides speeds of up to 723 Kbps at short ranges (typically less than 10 meters). PAN technologies such as Bluetooth are complimentary to LAN technologies (like 802.11) and are typically used to connect peripheral devices together (like keyboards to computers, or wireless headsets to mobile phones).
dBm: The decibel milliwatt, or dBm, is used in radio communications as a measure of signal strength. It is a logarithmic measure, with 0 dBm being equivalent to 1 milliwatt of power. An addition of 3 dBm is roughly equivalent to a doubling in power, whereas a decrease of 3 dBm is roughly equivalent to a halving of power. dBm is most commonly used when examining signal strength relative to the receive sensitivity of a wireless network device.
Ethernet: A standard data communications protocol for computers and computer peripheral devices such as printers. The most common variation of Ethernet found in home networks is the 100 Mbps 100BaseT variant, but dozens of other variations exist with speeds up to 10,000 Mbps (10GB Ethernet).
IP address: The “phone number” of the Internet, the IP address is used to identify computers and devices connected to the Internet and allows traffic to be routed across the Internet. Most home wireless networks have two types of IP addresses: a public IP address (used by your modem and access point or router) that identifies your network to other computers on the Internet, and a set of private IP addresses used only within your network. Your access point (or separate router, if you have one) translates between your public and private IP addresses to send data to the right computer within your network.
LAN (local area network): A computer data communications network used within a limited physical location, like a house.
network adapter (also Network Interface Card, or NIC): A device that connects to an internal bus in a PC, which provides an interface between the computer or device and the LAN. For wireless networks, network adapters typically connect to the PC Card bus, or the USB bus of the device being networked.
Network Address Translation (NAT): A process performed within your access point (or separate router, if you use one) to translate (or create a tie) between your internal network’s “private” IP addresses and the public IP address assigned to your network by the ISP. A NAT router is a device which performs this translation and which lets devices on your network using non-routable private IP addresses communicate with devices on the Internet.
RADIUS (Remote Access Dial-in User System): RADIUS is a protocol for AAA (see also AAA) for controlling access and use of a network. WPA-Enterprise uses a RADIUS server to authenticate and authorize users on the network. You can create your own RADIUS server (with PC software or a special hardware device), or use a “hosted” RADIUS server on the Internet.
receive sensitivity: Receive sensitivity is a measure of the minimum signal strength and quality that a Wi-Fi device (like a network adapter in a PC) can accept while still maintaining a specific level of performance. 802.11 systems have multiple receive sensitivities — with lower signal level requirements equating to lower speed connections.
Service Set Identifier (SSID): Also referred to as ESSID (or Extended SSID, when referring to a network with an AP or base station), network name, and other terms, this is the name that identifies a specific wireless LAN. In order to connect to a network, a device must “know” the SSID of the network. The SSID is usually broadcast by the base station, but this broadcast may be turned off (as a very weak security measure).
signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): A measure of the overall strength of a radio signal (like Wi-Fi) compared to the background and ambient noise (or radio interference). A higher SNR (measured in decibels, dB) means a better quality signal, all else being equal.
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA): An improvement to WEP, WPA adds, among other changes, a key (TKIP, or temporal key integrity protocol) that changes dynamically over time, which eliminates the greatest shortcoming of WEP. WPA is the minimum level of security you should choose if at all possible. WPA-Enterprise adds in 802.1X authentication to make the network even more secure.
Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2): WPA2 (see also 802.11i) adds even further enhancements to WPA, including AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), which makes the encryption key almost impervious to current cracker attacks.
Wireless Distribution System (WDS): A system within 802.11 networks that enables APs and other devices to operate as repeaters and bridges. WDS is designed to extend your wireless signal from a main base station (AP) to relay base stations (which extend the signal to other base stations) or to remote base stations (which rebroadcast the signal to client devices).
wireless Ethernet Bridge: A device that connects to an Ethernet port on a networked device (like a PC, game console, or networked audio system) and provides network adapter functionality for that device.
wireless LAN repeater: A device that extends the range of a wireless LAN by receiving signals from an access point (and other devices on a wireless LAN) and retransmitting them. A wireless LAN repeater is often placed in a separate part of the house and is used to allow devices that are too far from the access point to “get onto” the wireless LAN. Repeaters are usually part of a WDS distribution system.
Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP): The encryption system used by wireless LANs to provide security on the network. WEP uses an encryption key (which can be 40 or 108 bits long - these are often referred to as 64- and 128-bit keys, due to some extra bits used in the WEP system) to encrypt data flowing across the network. WEP is considered an insecure protocol because the encryption key can easily be “broken” using free tools downloaded from the Internet.
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