10 Wi-Fi Terms You've Probably Been Using Incorrectly

Sometimes we fall into bad habits. Unfortunately, the improper use of terminology is quite common in the Wi-Fi industry. This can cause a great deal of confusion when people discuss technical topics. Therefore, as a Wi-Fi industry, I think we should start referring to the following terms using more accurate terminology so we are all on the same page.

Here goes:

  1. Over-the-Air Rogue APs - if it's not on your wired network, it's NOT a "Rogue AP" so let's start calling them Neighboring APs so we all know what someone is talking about rather than having to inquire each and every time someone mentions a rogue for clarification. And let's reserve using the term Rogue APs for when unauthorized APs are on the internal wired network.
    Correct Term: Neighboring APs

  2. Co-Channel Interference (CCI) - APs and clients that are operating on the same channel don't cause interference with one another, they contend for the same airtime and backoff if another one is transmitting. This is distinctly different from interference where a transmission cannot be properly decoded because the receiver can't distinguish the valid signal from noise.
    Correct Term: Co-Channel Contention (CCC)

  3. Collision - okay, here is one that most of you may not have really thought deeply about. Collisions don't actually happen on wireless networks (not in the traditional wired network meaning of the term 'collision'). Instead, the receiver simply cannot properly decode a valid signal because it can't distinguish it from the surrounding noise with the precision required by the modulation used.
    Correct Term: Interference

  4. Coverage Area - most Wi-Fi professionals refer to an APs coverage area as the physical area in which they intend for clients to connect to the AP, usually with an associated signal strength (such as -67dBm). However, the RF signal actually keeps going and can cause co-channel contention (see what I did there!) over a much larger area (usually out to a signal strength of around -85dBm). So, to refer to the area in which we expect clients to connect to the AP based on an RF design let's start using a different term such as Association Area and leave the term Coverage Area to refer to the area where CCC occurs.
    Correct Term: Association Area

  5. AES versus TKIP - this one is easy to get wrong, even for Wi-Fi professionals! Many times we interchangeably use AES, TKIP, and WEP to refer to the encryption on the wireless network. However, in so doing we confuse encryption protocols with cipher suites. For accuracy we should always mention like for like. CCMP, TKIP and WEP are all encryption protocols that we configure for a wireless network. Each of those protocols use a cipher suite to accomplish the heavy lifting: CCMP uses AES, TKIP uses RC4, and WEP uses RC4. Thanks to George Stefanick for bringing this up.
    Correct Term(s): Reference protocols (CCMP, TKIP, WEP) or ciphers (AES, RC4) but don't use them interchangeably

  6. 802.1x - I see this all the time in written material to refer to the IEEE 802.1X Port Based Network Access Control. Unfortunately, it should be used with capital letter 'X' since it is a (standalone) standard, whereas lowercase letters refer to amendments to standards (see here). So, whenever you reference it use the correct capitalization (802.1X).
    Correct Term: 802.1X

  7. WAP - many people use this term to refer to an access point and it's just annoying. It's just AP people. Referring to it as wireless AP (WAP) is just redundant.
    Correct Term: AP

  8. Antenna Gain in Decibels (dB) - many people refer to antenna gain in dB, which is incorrect. Decibels (dB) alone is a relative measurement and requires a point of reference. Instead, you should refer to antenna gain referencing either an isotropic radiator (dBi) or less commonly referenced to a standard dipole antenna (dBd). This establishes the absolute reference point for the measurement which actually gives it meaning.
    Correct Term(s): dBi or dBd

  9. 802.11b 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps Data Rates - do you reference all of the lower data rates of 1, 2, 5.5, and 11 Mbps as 802.11b? If you do, you've been using this amendment name incorrectly. The original 802.11 standard (802.11-1997) defined the 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps data rates as part of the DSSS PHY, as is generally referred to as 802.11 Prime. Then in 1999, along came the 802.11b amendment which added the 5.5 Mbps and 11 Mbps data rates as part of the HR-DSSS PHY. So, to be correct, when talking about 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps data rates you should reference 802.11-Prime (not 802.11b).
    Correct Term: 802.11 Prime (or 802.11-1997)

  10. 5 GHz Signals Attenuate Faster than 2.4 GHz Signals - it's common for many Wi-Fi professionals and writers to state that 5 GHz signals attenuates faster than 2.4 GHz signals in order to describe the common symptom that 5 GHz has less effective coverage area. However, this too is incorrect in most circumstances. 5 GHz signals attenuate through free space at the same rate as 2.4 GHz signals according to the FSPL (free space path loss) formula; it is not directly dependent on the frequency of the signal. Instead, the construction of the receiving antenna is a fractional multiple of the frequency to which it is tuned. This makes a standard 1/4 wavelength antenna for 2.4 GHz longer than a 1/4 wavelength antenna for 5 GHz, which causes a difference in antenna aperture. To put it simply, a 2.4 GHz antenna has a larger aperture than a similar 5 GHz antenna and can "capture" more of the signal as it passes by the antenna element.
    Correct Term: 5 GHz Antennas Have Smaller Apertures

Do you have any other terms that are misleading or misused and you think should be corrected? Drop a comment below!