What Is Wireless B?

by Sage Kalmus

In developing devices to wirelessly network computers to one another and to use computers to wirelessly access the Internet, engineers are required to comply with industry standards set forth by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Built off the 802 specifications developed for accomplishing these same tasks using ethernet cables, the IEEE first created 802.11a or Wireless A standards, followed by 802.11b or Wireless B standards.

From A To B

The Wireless A standard was groundbreaking, but it didn't last long, because while it could provide extraordinary speeds of 54 Mbps, it could not do so at any great distances. Therefore it wasn't long before IEEE replaced Wireless A with Wireless B. By reducing speed capabilities below the point of overkill, as most wireless networks couldn't support 54 Mbps speeds anyway, the IEEE was able to allow for wireless connections over greater distances while keeping costs under control. While Wireless A devices have a range of about 12 meters indoors and 30 meters outdoors with full line-of-sight contact, Wireless B devices have a range of 30 meters indoors and 120 meters outdoors, again within line-of-sight.

From B To G

Wireless B provides average speeds of 4.5 Mbps and maximum speeds of 11 Mbps. By comparison Wireless G provides average speeds of 16 Mbps and maximum speeds of 54 Mbps. Those 16 Mbps maximum speeds are only achievable, however, when Wireless G is used in connection with other Wireless G devices. Most wireless devices today still use 802.11b standards. Even most Wireless G devices are still Wireless B-compatible, but when connected over a Wireless B network, Wireless G devices only provide average speeds of 7 Mbps, the same as is achievable using a Wireless B device. What's more, Wireless G does not provide any improvement in range, giving the same 30 meters indoors and 120 meters outdoors.

Broadband Speeds

There is no question that Wireless B is faster than Wireless A and that Wireless G is faster than Wireless B. However, as previously indicated, wireless connectivity speeds are constrained by current broadband technology. Wireless B devices may only achieve a maximum speed of 11 Mbps compared with Wireless G's 54 Mbps. But most broadband networks can only achieve speeds of 7 Mbps. So the extra speeds Wireless G and Wireless N devices provide are in large part unnecessary and, more, inaccessible.

Cost Considerations

Wireless B devices cost as little as half to a third as much as Wireless G devices and as little as a quarter of what Wireless N devices cost. Considering that Wireless B offers sufficient speeds to handle most broadband connections and support the needs of most Internet users, there is little wisdom in paying two to four times as much for a Wireless G or Wireless N device. The exception to this is if you're planning on wirelessly networking computers together, in which case the extra speeds could be worth the extra cost.


At one time, Wireless B was also known as Wi-Fi, although today the term Wi-Fi is used to apply to any 802.11 standard – A, B, G or N. Wi-Fi is actually none of these. It is a certification program developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, WirelessEthernet.org, to help ensure different devices that support wireless connectivity would work with one another. As such, all "Wi-Fi devices" comply with IEEE 802.11 standards, including Wireless B standards, but not all 802.11 devices, including Wireless B devices, conform to Wi-Fi standards.

International Conventions

While the U.S. and certain other first-world nations have advanced to Wireless G and even Wireless N standards, in many countries of the developing world with limited high-speed Internet infrastructures, Wireless B is still necessarily the standard. Wireless A isn't even an option in many of these countries, where it is illegal to operate on the 5 gigahertz bandwidth 802.11a uses.

About the Author

Based in Maine, Sage Kalmus has written extensively on fitness, nutrition, alternative health, self-improvement and green living for various websites. He also authored the metaphysical fiction book, "Free Will Flux." Kalmus holds a Bachelor of Science from Boston University's College of Communication and is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor with special training in Touch-For-Health Kinesiology.

Photo Credits

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