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> Chapter 8 - Deploying Wireless Networks > Introduction to wireless networking > Wireless concepts

Wireless concepts

Wireless networking is radio technology, subject to the same characteristics and limitations as the familiar audio and video radio communications. Various techniques are used to modulate the radio signal with a data stream.

Bands and channels

Depending on the wireless protocol selected, you have specific channels available to you, depending on what region of the world you are in.

  • IEEE 802.11b and g protocols provide up to 14 channels in the 2.400-2.500 GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band.
  • IEEE 802.11a,n (5.150-5.250, 5.250-5.350, 5.725–5.875 GHz, up to 16 channels) in portions of Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) band

Note that the width of these channels exceeds the spacing between the channels. This means that there is some overlap, creating the possibility of interference from adjacent channels, although less severe than interference on the same channel. Truly non-overlapping operation requires the use of every fourth or fifth channel, for example ISM channels 1, 6 and 11.

The capabilities of your wireless clients is the deciding factor in your choice of wireless protocol. If your clients support it, 5GHz protocols have some advantages. The 5GHz band is less used than 2.4GHz and its shorter wavelengths have a shorter range and penetrate obstacles less. All of these factors mean less interference from other access points, including your own.

When configuring your WAP, be sure to correctly select the Geography setting to ensure that you have access only to the channels permitted for WiFi use in your part of the world.

For detailed information about the channel assignments for wireless networks for each supported wireless protocol, see Reference.


Wireless LANs operate on frequencies that require no license but are limited by regulations to low power. As with other unlicensed radio operations, the regulations provide no protection against interference from other users who are in compliance with the regulations.

Power is often quoted in dBm. This is the power level in decibels compared to one milliwatt. 0dBm is one milliwatt, 10dBm is 10 milliwatts, 27dBm, the maximum power on Fortinet FortiAP equipment, is 500 milliwatts. The FortiGate unit limits the actual power available to the maximum permitted in your region as selected by the WiFi controller country setting.

Received signal strength is almost always quoted in dBm because the received power is very small. The numbers are negative because they are less than the one milliwatt reference. A received signal strength of -60dBm is one millionth of a milliwatt or one nanowatt.


Transmitted signal strength is a function of transmitter power and antenna gain. Directional antennas concentrate the signal in one direction, providing a stronger signal in that direction than would an omnidirectional antenna.

FortiWiFi units have detachable antennas. However, these units receive regulatory approvals based on the supplied antenna. Changing the antenna might cause your unit to violate radio regulations.