Wireless LANs: Fact sheet | ACMA

Wireless LANs: Fact sheet

What is a LAN?

A wireless local area network (WLAN) is the generic term used for equipment that can form data networks with other equipment over short distances (usually less than 500 metres) without the use of connecting wires.

WLANs can exist either as a stand-alone network (also known as an 'ad-hoc network') or be connected to a wired network through an 'access point'. Usually WLANs are connected to a corporate ethernet LAN or by a service provider to the internet.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a US standards-making body, has developed technical standards covering equipment used in LANs. The most recent WLAN standard is the IEEE 802.11-2007 standard that encompasses all amendments and previous standards from 1999 to 2005. During this period there have been a number of technological developments that have enhanced WLAN characteristics including higher data rates.

Commonly deployed previous standards known as IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b and IEEE 802.11g, operate in either the 5 GHz or the 2.4 GHz frequency bands. More recent IEEE 802.11 standard, has been developed utilising improved technology on either frequency band or both simultaneously to achieve several times higher data rates than previously standardized.

There are also WLAN standards developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and known as the Wireless Access Systems/Radio Local Area Networks (WAS/RLAN) technologies.

An industry organisation known as the Wi-Fi Alliance aims to ensure WLAN equipment made by different manufacturers will be compatible. It has coined the term 'Wi-Fi' to signify compliance. Compliance is achieved by ensuring all equipment meets defined interoperability requirements during testing in an independent laboratory before manufacturers may use the Wi-Fi logo. Look for the Wi-Fi Certified logo if you are buying IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11 equipment.

WLAN devices supplied to the Australian market are authorized by the radiocommunications class licence. They are subject to radiocommunications standards and labeling arrangements. They may also, depending on particular application, be required to comply with telecommunications requirements. Details of these arrangements can be obtained from the Supplier resources and overview page of industry acma on the ACMA website.

Using a WLAN

The Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2000, the LIPD class licence, authorises the use of WLAN equipment and a range of low power devices that commonly operate on an 'unlicensed' basis overseas. Class licences do not have to be applied for and no licence fees are payable. They are 'open, standing authorities' allowing anyone to operate specific equipment that meets an applicable standard or standards, provided that operation is within the conditions of the licence.

Class licences operate in a similar manner to a 'public park'. Operation within the same frequency band, for the devices under the class licence, is 'uncoordinated'. The interference is generally avoided by the pre-defined set of technical requirements of the licence. However because operation is uncoordinated, users of the 'public park' under the class licence, have no guarantee that they can operate free of interference from other users.

If the equipment complies with the conditions listed in a class licence, it is automatically covered by that licence.

Class licences operate in a similar manner to a 'public park'. All users operate in the same band and are subject to the same limits. Operation within the same frequency band is 'uncoordinated', but interference is generally avoided by the design of the equipment and by restricting power.

Spectrum sharing requires all users to transmit at very low power. Because of this sharing arrangement, users of the 'public park' have no guarantee that they can operate free of interference from other users.

For example, WLAN 802.11b equipment shares the same spectrum as equipment such as household microwave ovens, cordless phones, barcode readers, biomedical telemetry, movement detectors, radio location devices, video surveillance, other industrial scientific and medical devices, and many others. Any one of these items has the potential to interfere with the operation of WLAN 802.11 equipment.

More information

More information about Wi-Fi compliance is on the Wi-Fi Alliance website.

There is more information about WLANs licensing and operation on the ACMA website see:

The ACMA also has fact sheets on a range of other topics.

Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.

Last updated: 04 July 2014