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Important Ethernet Standards: Understanding IEEE 802

written by: Jesma•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 4/19/2009

Communications standards and protocols create the framework from which technology (hence people) interact across networks. Here we take a look at common Ethernet standards currently in use, as defined by the IEEE 802 series of standardizations.

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    Overview of Ethernet

    Ethernet is a networking technology that has been defined and categorized into a full set of standards by the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Each Ethernet standard is unique, and some are even further broken down into more detailed specifications. Standardization when it comes to electronics and technology is extremely important given the globalized nature of electronic development and manufacturing. Some companies make nothing but silicon chips, others circuit boards, and still others nothing more than capacitors, or cables, or connectors, and so on. Standardizing certain technologies and electronics helps ensure logical development and makes everyone happy - especially consumers.

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    Ethernet Standards

    802 - 802 is the blanket designation given to all Ethernet technologies and standards pertaining to LANs (local area network) and MANs (metropolitan area network). From there, it is broken down into serialized numbers, like 802.1, 802.2, etc. which themselves can be further defined with letter designations, like 802.11a, 802.11g, etc.

    802.1 - 802.1 defines LAN/MAN architecture, as well as basic Ethernet internetworking, link security and overall network management.

    802.2 - 802.2 is an inactive subset of the 802 Ethernet standard, which defines Logical Link Control (LLC) which is a part of the Data Link layer of the OSI model (the other part of the Data Link layer is Media Access Control (MAC).

    802.3 - The 802.3 standards define portions of the physical layer and MAC portion of the data link layer of the OSI model. This set of standards apply only to wired Ethernet LANs with some limited WAN application.

    802.4 - This standard defines the Token Bus technology, which works on the MAC portion of the data link layer and uses Token Passing in a Bus topology. This standard is no longer supported.

    802.5 - This is an inactive set of standards that defines the Token Ring technology, which also works on the MAC portion of the DLL and uses Token Passing, but in a ring topology. This standard is still found in use, but very uncommonly.

    802.6 - A set of standards pertaining to MANs. The group responsible for this standard is disbanded and it is no longer being updated or worked on.

    802.11 - Defines wireless LAN technologies. Is broken into subcategories:

    • 802.11a - Wireless Ethernet standard supporting speeds of 54 Mbps on the 5GHz band
    • 802.11b - Wireless Ethernet standard supporting speeds of 11 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band
    • 802.11g - Wireless Ethernet standard supporting speeds of 54 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band
    • 802.11n - Wireless Ethernet standard supporting speeds of 600 Mbps on 2.4 or 5GHz band. Uses MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology using several antennas configured in a panel.

    802.15 - Wireless PAN (personal area network). Made up of devices kept on ones person using technologies such as IrDA, Bluetooth, UWB, Z-Wave, ZigBee, and others.

    802.16 - Broadband Wireless Access (WiMAX).

    There are other 802.11 standards in development, only theorized or proposed, or completely disbanded and no longer in use that I haven't described here. As they become relevant this list will be updated.