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WI-FI WIRELESS NETWORK

Thileepan Sivanantham
Postgraduate Diploma in Computing
University of Buckingham

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Abstract

I did my minor research on Wi-Fi network technology and recorded the research result in this
report as my coursework for the module “Network Applications and their Environments”. I
spent three weeks time to do this coursework and really got some useful knowledge about Wi-
Fi network.

Mobile devices and Internet are playing important role in our current life. Nowadays, the
wireless communication, particularly Wi-Fi is becoming as vital part in the modern electronic
communication world and the mobile devices have to mostly depend on the wireless
communication for transferring data. I thought that the topic “Wi-Fi network” would be more
useful me to learn something about wireless networks Wi-Fi. This is the reason me to chose
this topic to do my coursework.

The report is structured as follows.


1. Introduction to Wireless Network
2. Introduction to Wi-Fi Network
3. Wi-Fi Network in public places
4. Setting up a Wi-Fi Network
5. Architecture of Wi-Fi
6. Wi-Fi Network Topologies
7. Security Concerns in Wi-Fi Networks
8. Wi-Fi in Future
9. Conclusion

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Introduction to Wireless Network
Since the communication channel plays an important role on forming network, network
professionals are introducing new and effective communication channels time to time.

There are two major types of communication channel are available in the computer industries.
They are:

Physical (Wire) Communication Channels:


These are tangible and have physical attributes. Twisted-pair wire cable, coaxial cable,
fibre-optic cable are some of the physical communication channels.

Wireless Communication Channels:


The intangible communication channels are called wireless communication channels.
Microwave transmission, satellite transmission, cellular transmission and infrared transmission
are some of the examples for wireless communication.

These two types of communication channels have unique advantages and disadvantages.
Generally wireless communication channels are expensive than wire communication channels.
Any network that is formed by wireless communication channels are called wireless network.
Following are the important types of wireless networks they are classified based on their
attributes particularly the wireless type they are using.

1. Wireless Personal Area Network [WPAN)


2. Wireless Metropolitan Network [WiMAX]
3. Wireless Local Area Network [WLAN]

Different types of wireless communications media may be used for forming those different
types wireless network. Mainly, they are differentiated based on the range that they can cover
to send or receive signals.

The WPAN connects devices within relatively small area. Normally, it uses Bluetooth as a
communication media. For example, Bluetooth head set. The WiMAX connects several
wireless local area networks by using strong radio waves transmission such as microwave and
cellular signals. Finally, the WLAN is a local area wireless network and it generally uses Wi-
Fi as a communication channels to connect mobile devices locally. Rest of the article here is
going to be presented about Wi-Fi wireless network and their characteristics.

Introduction to Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) is a modern and popular wireless network technology and used in
Local Area Networks [LANs]. It is faster and has more access range than Bluetooth signals.
The Wi-Fi network is mostly used in home, small businesses, large cooperation, campuses and
health care centres. In addition to these, the wireless ISP providers and travellers also are using
Wi-Fi network for different purposes. Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices such as Laptos, PDAs,
mobile phone or game console to be connected with Internet if they are in the particular
coverage range. The coverage rage depends on access points called a hotspot, which is a
device, used by Wi-Fi. More details about the hotspot will be given in the following sections.
According to a website [1], people nowadays can access Wi-Fi wireless connections in more

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than 10,000 cafes, hotels, and even petrol stations in UK alone for either free of charge or by
subscribing to various providers.

I have heart many times that some people refer to Wi-Fi as 802.11 networking. The Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), who set and classify standards for a range of
technological protocols through the numbering systems, has named as 802.11 to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi
technologies also are supported by advanced game consoles, laptops, and many printers and
other external devices.

Wi-Fi uses radio signals to connect mobile devices in a network as many other devices such as
cell phones, walkie-talkies and television are using to transfer data. Wi-Fi converts 1s and 0s
into radio signal and sends to another access point. However, Wi-Fi has some notable
differences from others, which differentiate Wi-Fi among others. They are:
1. More Data Transferring Rate:
It has highe1r frequency than other wireless devices. It enables devices to transfer more
data at a time. Generally, Wi-Fi’s frequencies are available in 2.4GHz or 5GHz capacity. Wi-Fi
can transfer 11 megabits data per second if its frequency is 2.4GHz and 54 megabits per second
if its frequency is 5GHz [2]. However, there are several flavours such as 802.11a, 802.11b, and
802.11g. Each one has different characteristics. The following table describes the important
specifications in the 802.11 families.

Wi-Fi Introduce Frequ Theoreti Actual Access Other


Flavour d Year encies cal Speed Range-
[GHz Speed [Mbps] Indoor
] [Mbps] [m]
802.11 a 1999 5 54 15-20 35 More expensive
802.11 b 1999 2.4 11 4-5 38 Least expensive
802.11g 2003 2.4 54 54 38 Combined features of a
and b
802.11 n Pending 5 600 70-300 70 Multiple input and
2 multiple output

2. Flexible:
Because it is focusing on specific application of wireless, it enables devices to move
from one wireless network to another easily. For example, we can access Internet in an area, if
there is an access point without knowing which wireless network that I am using now and who
provides it.
3. Multi accessing:
Wi-Fi radios can transmit data on any of those two frequency bands. So many devices
can use the same wireless connection simultaneously.

Father of Wi-Fi

The Vic Hayes, also known as the father of Wi-Fi, contributed as


outstanding leader in the development and global acceptance of
IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) wireless local area network standards. He
was respected by giving the IEEE Charles Proteus Steinmetz
1 Award.

Vic Hayes
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In the rest of the section, I am going to mostly talk about Wi-Fi network, which enables users
to access Internet in the public places. There are some terms and devices, which are using in
the Wi-Fi networking. The following section briefly explains some of them.

Wi-Fi Hotspot:
Wi-Fi Hotspot is a location in which the users can connect with Internet through the 802.11
wireless networks. In some cases, users can use this service for free of charge in others they
may be charged for Wi-Fi usage by providers. Based on this, there are two types of Wi-Fi
hotspot are available. One is free Wi-Fi hotspots and other one is commercial Wi-Fi hotspots.
The free hotspots operate as open public network and closed public network. In the open public
network, the Wi-Fi router is used without any control management for the accessing to the
router whereas access to the router are controlled by the hotspot management system in the
closed public network.

In contrast, commercial Wi-Fi hotspots are using system to authenticate the users. Users have
to subscribe to connect with Wi-Fi network by paying. However, users may be allowed to
access some particular sites only for free of charge.

Wi-Fi Router:
The wireless routers allow devices to use wireless signals or Ethernet cables to connect with
another device or Internet. However, generally, wireless routers in the Wi-Fi network is used to
incorporate DSL modem and the Wireless Access Point. DSL modem is used in Wi-Fi network
to transmit signal over the wires of a local telephone network,.

Wi-Fi Access Point:


This device is similar to wired network’s hub. Access point is a wireless device and allows
wireless communication devices to connect with Wi-Fi wireless network.

Wireless Adapters:
If we want to connect our device with Wi-Fi wireless network, the device must have a wireless
transmitter or wireless adapters. It is acting as an interface between the device and wireless
network. It will access and transfer digital signal from and to the device. All the modern
laptops come with built-in wireless transmitters. Anyhow, it is possible to buy a wireless
adapter that can be plugged into the PC card slot or USP port.

Wi-Fi Network in Public Places


Basically, the Wi-Fi technology is working same as how the Walkie Talkies are working. As I
mentioned above, Wi-Fi uses radio signals to transmit information across a network. A device
must have wireless adapter to connect with Wi-Fi network. When a user reach the hotspot area,
which is covered by the Wi-Fi network, the wireless adapter in the user’s machine and the
Wireless Access Point identify each other automatically. After identifying each other, both
parties will start to transmit data between them.
When data is transmitted between them, the wireless adapter receives the radio signals from the
Wireless Access Point and translates them to the format which computer can understand.

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Similarly again, the wireless adapter translates the digital signal made by computer into radio
signal and sends it to the Wireless Access Point.
For example, IT department of the University of Buckingham, where I am studying, has
formed hotspots in many areas around the university. The students in the university have to
register with IT department to get a username and password and configure laptop laptop before
starting to access Wi-Fi network in the campuses. After configuring once we can access Wi-Fi
all over the university buildings. When we enter the hotspot area with our laptop, our laptop is
automatically connected with Internet. If we leave the hotspot area the connection will be
disconnected automatically.

Setting up a Wi-Fi network


I am going to explain briefly how to set up a small Wi-Fi network physically in our home. We
have to have at least the following equipments to form a small Wi-Fi wireless network.
1. Computers with wireless adapters.
2. DSL modem (We can use ADSL of Cable modem).
3. Wireless router.
4. Broadband Internet connection.

The modem (DSL, ADSL or Cable Modem) is already is connected with Internet connection
directly through broadband Internet connection. Then the wireless router has to be connected
with modem through WAN port of the Wireless Access Point in the router. Here, the router is
action as a wireless access point for the network. Since most of the Internet Service Providers
provide only single IP addresses per DSL/ADSL or Cable modem. So, the router, which we
chosen, must have an ability to do the network address translation (NAT).
In addition to that, the computers, which are going to be connected wirelessly with Internet,
must have wireless adapter. For this purpose wireless card can be plugged externally if the
computers have wireless adapters as default. The following picture shows the concept, which I
explained above.

Internet DSL Modem

PC2

Wireless Router
PC3

PC4

Figure 1

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Software configuration will depend on operating system that the computers are using and the
wireless devices that you are using.

Architecture of Wi-Fi

Extended
Service Set

Distribution System
Access
Point

Station 3
Access
Point
Basic Service Set
Station 4

Station 1 Station 2
Basic Service Set

Figure 2: Wi-Fi Architecture

This is the generic architecture of the Wi-Fi wireless technology. The architecture has
following set of devices.
 Station
 Access Point
 Basic Service Set
 Distribution System
 Extended Service Set.

Stations are components connected to the wireless medium and communicating with each
other. They are executing same protocol (Media Access Control -MAC). MAC protocol is
responsible for reliable data delivery, access control and security of the wireless network.
When powered on, the stations will scan available channels to discover active network.

Basic Service Set (BBS) is the smallest building block in Wi-Fi wireless network architecture.
BBS consists of number of mobile or fixed stations.

Access Point (AP) has station functionalities, which are called central coordination functions,
and central coordination function is responsible for controlling MAC protocol executed by the
stations.

Distribution System (DS) consists of BBSs. BBSs may be connected together through Access
Points in order to form the Distribution System (DS). Access Points (AP) are functioning as a
bridge between distribution system and the wireless medium for associated stations.

Extended Service Set (ESS) integrates LANs and Distribution system, which is already
formed by integrate many BSSs, and it appears as a single logical LAN.

Wi-Fi Network Topologies

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There are three types of topology are available in Wi-Fi networks. They are listed and
described as follows.
1. AP based topology
2. Peer-to-Peer topology
3. Point-to-Multipoint bridge topology.

AP based topology:

Figure 3

In AP based topology, clients communicate through Access Points. The Extended Service Set
in this topology has 2 or more Basic Service Sets. As you can see in the picture the overlapping
allow clients for roaming.

Peer-to-Peer topology:

Figure 4
In Peer-to-Peer topology, client devices within the wireless coverage area can communicate
directly without Access Points. This topology is easy to set up and fast.

Point-to-Multipoint bridge topology

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This topology is basically used to connect two LANs from two different buildings even if the
buildings are few miles far away. The line of sight range between buildings depends of type of
wireless bridges and antennas are used.

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Security Concerns in Wi-Fi Networks
As other networks, the Wi-Fi also is facing many security challenges. In addition to the general
security issues, it has to have solutions especially for the following types of the security
constraints.
1. Eavesdropping
2. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks:
3. Denial of Service

Eavesdropping:
Eavesdropping means that listening private conversation secretly. There are many tools such as
Network Sniffers, protocol analysers, password collectors and so on, to listen private
conversations in Wi-Fi network communication. It is easy to perform and almost impossible to
detect. It is possible to eavesdrop data from few kilometres away with suitable equipments.

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MIMA):


In MIMA, the attacker makes independent connection between two victims and controls their
entire conversation through his system. However, the attacker makes them believe that they are
communicating directly to each other over a private connection. The attacker can intercept,
record, delete or update victims’ messages.

Denial of Service:
This attack can be happened on different levels. The attacker can attack transmission layers by
creating frequency jamming. Although it is not very technical, it satisfies attackers’ plan. The
same type of attack can be performed on the MAC layer through spoofed disassociation
messages. A specific user can be targeted easily through this type of attack. Finally, more
technical knowledged attackers can attack high layer protocols. However, it is very challenging
for the attackers.

It is obvious that the open Wi-Fi networks can be monitored, copied or read data over the
network very easily unless security methods are used. The requirements for the Wi-Fi security
can be classified as follows.
1. Authentication
Authentication allows only authorized users to access the network. In Wi-Fi networks,
authentications are implemented on users and servers level.

Generally, username and password are used to enforce user authentication. It will
prevent users, who does not enter correct username and password, to access network.
The risk on the user authentication method is the attacker can steel username and
password through eavesdropping attack. However, it can be overcome through
cryptography.

Server authentication is to secure the communication between client and server. In Wi-
Fi Digital Certificate is used for the server authentication. Software in client machine
validates the digital certificate before communication initiationed.

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2. Privacy
Privacy policies are developed and enforced on the users to increase security of the Wi-
Fi network. It depends on Wi-Fi providers.

The following normally used techniques in Wi-Fi network to control the security challenges
mentioned above.

Service Set Identifies (SSID):


A unique ID is broadcast over a specific WLAN. The ID will be acting as a password
when a mobile device tries to connect with BSS. The SSID differentiates one WLAN form
another. So, all Access Points and devices attempting to connect to a particular WLAN must
have a same SSID. This provides very little security to the network.

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)


It uses 64bits or 128bits preshared key to encrypt data. The negative point in this security
method is that the data encryption is only happened between Wi-Fi stations. Access Points, in
Wi-Fi network, are connected through wires. If data enters this wired side of the network WEP
is no longer valid. So, it does not provide enough security to the Wi-Fi network.

Wireless Protected Access (WPA):


Them important characteristic of WPA is that the WPA uses a kind of protocol, known as
Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), to support wireless packets to be encrypted. This
strongly increases the level of data protection and access control. In addition to that WPA uses
“uses message integrity code” to ensure data integrity. Generally, WPA is accepted as a good
security method for the Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi in future
Of course, nowadays the Wi-Fi is much famous and useful, particularly for mobile users.
Although many versions in Wi-Fi have been released yet, “Wi-Fi version 802.11n” is expected
to be released in the near future. It has some more characteristics than other versions; its
maximum data-transferring rate will be 600Mbit/s. The maximum data-transferring rate
currently is nearly 54Mbit/sec (Version 802.11g). So it will be a gift for mobile users.
However, in future we can expect Wi-Fi new versions with more and more data-transferring
rate and extended coverage.

Conclusion

Wi-Fi is a gift for this modern mobile world. Wi-Fi encouraged people to use the mobile
devices. Mobile devices are giving users more advantages than other devices. In my point of
view, the good thing in Wi-Fi network is public accessing Internet. Although there are some
security problems in public accessing network it is much easier to get information instantly.

Anyhow, the area, which can be covered by Wi-Fi, is still limited. However, I strongly believe
that this problem will be solved in the very near future. And also Wi-Fi network is requiring
strong security method for secure communication. Finally, I have no hesitation to say that the
Wi-Fi is the gift for this world.

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References:

[1].http://www.microsoft.com/uk/smallbusiness/starting/technology-in-business/mobile-
working/using-wifi-hotspots.mspx

[2]. http://computer.howstuffworks.com/wireless-network1.htm

[3]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi

[4]. http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/8/802_11.html

[B1]. “William Stallings”, “Data and Computer Communication”, 7th Edition [Pg-543-580],
Person Education 2002

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