Chapter 1. Wireless Networking Fundamentals

To understand Wireless Networking, there are two things that are fundamental: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and radio waves. TCP/IP governs how data flows across the Internet, whether it is over a dial-up modem, a cable modem, or a wireless network. Radio waves surround us; some carry useful information, others are just noise. This book is more concerned with the former, but the noise is of interest too, since it can drown out the useful signals. The first half of this chapter explains TCP/IP, and the second discusses radio waves. The rest of this book looks at how the two work together.


Most of the concepts presented in this book require a basic understanding of TCP/IP, the networking standard used by the Internet as well as home or office connections. To understand TCP/IP, you’ll need to know how computers identify one another (IP addresses), talk to their immediate neighbors (subnet addressing), and talk to machines on the Internet or other networks (routing).

IP Address

TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. It is a set of protocols that enable computers on the network to communicate with one another. (A protocol defines how data is transmitted between computers; if both computers adhere to the same protocol, they can exchange data.)

On a TCP/IP network, each computer (also called a host) has an IP address. An IP address is much like a Social Security number: it uniquely identifies each computer on the network. An IP address has four numbers separated by periods and looks like this: Each number occupies 8 bits (1 byte) and thus can range from 0 to 255 (although there are some combinations that are reserved and have special meanings). Each IP address takes up 4 bytes.

By convention, an IP address contains two components, as shown in Figure 1-1.

Components of an IP address

Figure 1-1. Components of an IP address

The first is the network number , and the second is the host number . Hosts that are on the same physical network normally share the same network number. There are five classes of IP address, indicated by the value of the first byte of the IP address:

Class A

0 to 127: Each Class A network supports a maximum of 16,777,214 hosts. Though there are a total of 128 network numbers here, only 125 are usable.

Class B

128 to 191: Each Class B network supports a maximum of 65,534 hosts. A total of 16,382 Class B networks are available.

Class C

192 to 223: Each Class C network supports 254 hosts. A total of 2,097,150 Class C hosts are available.

Class D

224 to 239: These networks are reserved for multicast addressing, which supports broadcasting the same data to multiple hosts.

Class E

240 to 254: These networks are reserved for experimental use.

The following IP address ranges are reserved for special purposes and hence are not used to assign to any host (for a complete list of special-use addresses, see to

Broadcast addresses. These are used to send traffic to hosts on the current network. to

Loopback addresses. is used to loop back to the current host (so if you try to make a network connection to that address, you are talking to yourself). to

Link local addresses. These are used for hosts that have to assign their own IP addresses.


The protocols used on the Internet are defined in a collection of notes called RFCs (Requests for Comments). For more information, see

The following IP addresses are reserved for private networks (such as a home network). These private networks can be configured to see the outside world (see Section 1.1.4 later in this chapter, as well as DHCP and NAT in Chapter 5) without letting the outside world see them:

  • to

  • to

  • to

  • to

Figure 1-2 shows the Network number and Host number used in each class of IP addresses.

Network and Host numbers in each IP address class

Figure 1-2. Network and Host numbers in each IP address class

IP Subnet Addressing

If you have ever manually configured a computer for TCP/IP networking, two of the configuration values are the IP address and a number called a subnet mask. If your network uses automatic configuration (see the sidebar DHCP and NAT in Chapter 5), then the IP address and subnet mask are automatically assigned to your computer.

To calculate a network number from an IP address, you can apply the subnet mask to it using Boolean arithmetic. For example, consider the IP address This is a class C network and thus the first three numbers represent the network number. To derive the network number, we apply a subnet mask of (or 11111111.11111111.11111111.00000000 in binary). Performing an AND operation between the IP address and the subnet mask gives:

      11000000 10101000 00000001 00000010   
AND   11111111.11111111.11111111.00000000
=     11000000 10101000 00000001 00000000
=       192.     168.      1.       0

The result ( is the network number. Table 1-1 shows the default subnet mask for the three classes of networks.

Table 1-1. The default subnet masks for the three classes of networks

Address class

Subnet mask in bits

Subnet mask value

Class A

11111111 00000000 00000000 00000000

Class B

11111111 11111111 00000000 00000000

Class C

11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000


Subnets are sometimes specified using the network number and number of bits in the subnet mask. So, the Class C example in Table 1-1 with a network number of would be written because there are 24 bits in the subnet mask.

Supernet Addressing

Subnetting can be a wasteful way to allocate IP addresses. Consider a company that has more than 254 hosts: in theory, they would need a Class B IP address. But a Class B address can support 65,534 hosts; any remaining IP addresses would go unused, wasting a limited resource.

Instead of using a Class B address, you can instead combine a few Class C addresses into a supernet. Suppose you have about 700 hosts. You would need to obtain three Class C addresses such as:




Each Class C address can support up to 254 hosts, so three Class C addresses are sufficient to support 700 hosts. But how do all the hosts know that they are in the same supernet? The answer lies in the subnet mask again. Let’s examine the binary equivalent of the IP addresses just listed:   11000000 10101000 00000001 00000000   11000000 10101000 00000010 00000000   11000000 10101000 00000011 00000000

The binary patterns are all similar up to the first 22 bits.

So our subnet mask now becomes 11111111 11111111 11111100 00000000, or

IP Routing

Let’s now discuss how data packets (short blocks of data used to transfer information) are transmitted between networks. Consider the first case where there are two computers on the same physical network (see Figure 1-3).

Two computers in a physical network

Figure 1-3. Two computers in a physical network

When A wants to send a packet to B, it first must know B’s IP address (see Figure 1-4). But to actually move data to B, A also needs to know the Ethernet address (also known as the MAC — Media Access Control — address) of B. (An Ethernet address looks like this: 05-EF-45-4D-2E-A5.)

To find out the Ethernet address of another computer, the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) is used. ARP keeps a table containing a list of IP addresses and their corresponding Ethernet addresses (you can list the contents of this table by running the command arp -a at the Windows XP Command Prompt). If the table contains the Ethernet address of B, then A simply sends the packet over to B. If the table does not have an entry, A broadcasts an ARP query (“Who has the IP address”) to all the computers in the network. B will respond with its Ethernet address, which is then stored in A’s ARP table. A can now send the packet over to B.

What happens if A needs to send packets to another computer on another physical network? ARP can’t cross network boundaries, so a router takes care of moving data between networks (see Figure 1-4).

Using a router in two physical networks

Figure 1-4. Using a router in two physical networks

If A is sending packets to B, it does so using the method just described. If A needs to send packets to D, it uses the following steps:

  1. A uses ARP to find R’s Ethernet address.

  2. A sends the packets to R, but specifies D as the final destination.

  3. R uses ARP to find D’s Ethernet address.

  4. R passes the packet to D.

Note that a router has more than one IP address, since it is connected to multiple physical networks. So, A and B know R as, and C and D know it as

If you want to watch ARP resolution in action, launch the Ethereal protocol analyzer (see Chapter 4) and do the following:

  1. Select Capture Start.

  2. Select the network adaptor that is connected to the network you want to monitor.

  3. Set the filter to arp and click OK.

  4. Open the Windows XP Command Prompt, and run the command arp -d ip-address (where ip-address is the IP address of the computer you want to connect to) to remove if from your computer’s ARP cache; this forces it to broadcast the ARP request the next time you try to connect.

  5. Ping the computer using ping ip-address at the Windows XP Command Prompt.

When the ping is complete, return to Ethereal, click Stop in the Capture window, and examine the log of ARP requests in Ethereal’s main window. You should see the request and response, assuming that a computer with the ip-address exists on your local network and is currently up.

Domain Name System (DNS)

Identifying computers on the network (and on the Internet) by IP address is not particularly human-friendly. Just as you are addressed by your name (rather than your Social Security number), computers on the Internet are commonly addressed using domain names . Some examples of domain names are,, and

Instead of using IP addresses, we use domain names that are meaningful and easy to remember. A DNS server is a database that contains the list of IP addresses and their corresponding domain names. Because the database is huge, it is not practical for a single machine to host all the domain names. Hence DNS is inherently distributed — there are many DNS servers on the Internet, and each of them can turn some of the world’s domain names into IP addresses.

When you type into your browser, your computer first obtains the IP address of by querying a DNS server (usually your ISP’s or organization’s DNS server). If that DNS server does not contain an entry for the domain name, it then looks it up on other DNS servers that may contain an entry for Ultimately one of these servers will find the IP address; if not, you’ll get an error message.


To find out the DNS server(s) that you use for your network, use the command ipconfig /all at the Windows XP Command Prompt. You can use the nslookup utility (which also displays your DNS server) to send queries to your DNS server interactively.

Limitations of IP Addressing

The current version of IP addressing is Version 4, or IPv4. IPv4 uses 32 bits for addressing. If all the possible addresses are allocated, there would be at most 232 hosts, which is about 4.3 billion (4,294,967,296) addresses (not forgetting that a portion of these addresses are reserved for special purposes). Even with 4.3 billion addresses, it was estimated that we would still run out of IP addresses by the year 2008 (or the year 2028, depending on whose estimates you are looking at).

Though many schemes have been devised to prolong the “life” of IPv4, such as supernetting and Network Address Translation (NAT; see DHCP and NAT in Chapter 5), the industry is looking towards using IPv6, which supports 128-bit addressing (2128 different addresses).

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