Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why we need (and should already have) a 4 channel plan in 2.4GHz

A long time ago I took the original AirMagnet Academy class. At the time it was known as AM-101. In the class I was taught that there were 14 channels in the 2.4GHz ISM spectrum for 802.11b. I also learned that there were only 3 non-overlapping channels because the AP spreads out it's signal in a channel mask 20MHz wide. So an AP on channel 1 would use the frequencies from 2.402GHZ to 2.422GHz. Channel 6 would go from 2.427 to 2.447 and channel 11 would use 2.453 to 2.472. Channel 14, I was told, was not used here in the USA because it was too close to 11 and would overlap it so the FCC mandated we not use it.
It took me 2 more years before I realized that the FCC had allocated the channels (in my opinion) incorrectly and that channel 14 was in the wrong place. I just never actually looked deeply enough nor calculated it out enough to catch it. Then one day I did calculate it and said, "hmm".

Lets take a look. Each channel is positioned 5MHz over from it's neighbor and the counting starts at 2.412 (I assume this is so someone doesn't try and put an AP up on 2.400GHz and have the left hand side 10Mhz hang out into the 2.3GHz spectrum.) So channel 1 is 2.412 and channel 2 is 2.417 channel 3 is 2.422 etc. Reference here.
Here this should help:
Notice what happens above channel 13, suddenly it jumps from 2.472 to 2.487. Why? I have no idea. It always remained a mystery to me.
Nowadays, however, we have a very crowded frequency range. Every mother's son has an AP not to mention all the non-802.11 interferers. This makes it hard to find room to breathe. I recently went back to my original spreadsheet and tried to see if we could use some of that real estate up around channel 14.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that if we continue to extend the 5HMz per channel philosophy up all the way to 2.497 GHz we can create channels 14, 15 and 16. This allows us to put an AP on (the newly created) channel 16 at 2.487 that will not overlap with channel 11 and will also not leave the 2.4 range. Nirvana!!
An interesting byproduct of this would be 2 non-overlapping 40HMz wide 802.11n bands as well. One from 2.402 to 2.447 and another from 2.452 to 2.497.
Unfortunately, I learned while researching this that the FCC will not allow use from 2.4835 GHz to 2.5 GHz. This is probably legacy from outdated military radar or other radios that caused similar restrictions in the UNII bands as well. The regulation may be found here
Which is really too bad. Funny enough, we found a way around military interference with 802.11h using Dynamic Frequency Selection and transmit power control in the 5GHz band. Why can't we do the same here, we could really use the bandwidth regardless of Voidmstr's Law. What do you think?

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