IEEE 802.11 specifies a 2.4 GHz operating frequency with data rates of 1 and 2 Mbps using either Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) or Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). In IEEE 802.11b data is encoded using DSSS (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum) technology. DSSS works by taking a data stream of zeros and ones and modulating it with a second pattern, the chipping sequence. In 802.11, that sequence is known as the Barker code, which is an 11 bits sequence (10110111000) that has certain mathematical properties making it ideal for modulating radio waves. The basic data stream is XOR'd with the Barker code to generate a series of data objects called chips. Each bit is” encoded" by the 11bits Barker code, and each group of 11 chips encodes one bit of data. IEEE 802.11b uses 64 CCK (Complementary Code Keying) chipping sequences to achieve 11 Mbps. Rather than using the Barker code, CCK uses a series of codes called Complementary Sequences. Because there are 64 unique code words that can be used to encode the signal, up to 6 bits can be represented by any one particular code word (instead of the 1 bit represented by a Barker symbol).
The wireless radio generates a 2.4 GHz carrier wave (2.4 to 2.483 GHz) and modulates that wave using a variety of techniques. For 1 Mbps transmission, BPSK (Binary Phase Shift Keying) is used (one phase shift for each bit). To accomplish 2 Mbps transmission, QPSK (Quadrature Phase Shift Keying) is used. QPSK uses four rotations (0, 90, 180and 270 degrees) to encode 2 bits of information in the same space as BPSK encodes. The trade-off is increase power or decrease range to maintain signal quality. Because the FCC regulates output power of portable radios to 1 watt EIRP(equivalent isotropic radiated power), range is the only remaining factor that can change. On 802.11 devices, as the transceiver moves away from the radio, the radio adapts and uses a less complex (and slower) encoding mechanism to send data.
The MAC layer communicates with the PLCP via specific primitives through a PHY service access point. When the MAC layer instructs, the PLCP prepares MPDUs for transmission. The PLCP also delivers incoming frames from the wireless medium to the MAC layer. The PLCP sub layer minimizes the dependence of the MAC layer on the PMD sub layer by mapping MPDUs into a frame format suitable for transmission by the PMD.
Under the direction of the PLCP, the PMD provides actual transmission and reception of PHY entities between two stations through the wireless medium. To provide this service, the PMD interfaces directly with the air medium and provides modulation and demodulation of the frame transmissions. The PLCP and PMD communicate using service primitives to govern the transmission and reception functions. The CCK code word is modulated with the QPSK technology used in 2 Mbps wireless DSSS radios. This allows for an additional 2 bits of information to be encoded in each symbol. Eight chips are sent for each 6 bits, but each symbol encodes 8 bits because of the QPSK modulation. The spectrum math for 1 Mbps transmission works out as 11 Mchips per second times 2 MHz equals 22 MHz of spectrum. Likewise, at 2 Mbps, 2 bits per symbol are modulated with QPSK, 11 Mchips per second, and thus have 22 MHz of spectrum. To send 11 Mbps 22 MHz of frequency spectrum is needed. It is much more difficult to discern which of the 64 code words is coming across the airwaves, because of the complex encoding. Furthermore, the radio receiver design is significantly more difficult. In fact, while a 1 Mbps or 2 Mbps radio has one correlator (the device responsible for lining up the various signals bouncing around and turning them into a bit stream), the 11 Mbps radio must have 64 such devices.