Review of 802.11 Wireless Networks

802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide
Matthew S. Gast
O'Reilly & Associates

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

September 25, 2003

Few technologies have gone from obscurity to ubiquity as quickly as 802.11 networking. However, this explosion has come at a price. 802.11, or "WiFi", can be difficult to configure and debug, and is rife with security issues. Building and maintaining a quality WiFi network installation requires good information. Attempting to provide such information is Matthew Gast's book, 802.11 Wireless Networks.

Although its 18 chapters are not officially divided into sections, there is a logical division to the topics Gast covers. After an introductory chapter and one which provides an overview of what is covered under the auspices of 802.11, the author enters in to a low-level description of the protocol. This description is quite detailed, especially Chapter 4, where Gast describes 802.11 internals in significant detail. It's my guess that most folks won't need all this information, but if anyone does, the author provides a pretty good overview of the IEEE standards documents.

While Chapters 3 through 11 seem primarily aimed at WiFi developers, this detail may also be useful to for network administrators required to troubleshoot difficult problems. Of more general use to network administrators, though is the information on deployment and maintenance issues provided in Chapters 12 through 17. It is here that the author describes the installation of WiFi client and server hardware and software, as well as issues such as troubleshooting and performance tuning. These chapters are more accessible than the first half of the book, but that doesn't mean that they don't contain valuable information. The book concludes with two appendices covering the 802.11 MIB and 802.11 deployment on Apple products, a glossary, and a thorough index.

The early part of the book is very thorough, although parts of it already feel dated. This is not the author's fault, it's a reflection of just how fast this industry is moving. However, Gast does do a very good job of framing the "big picture" security issues, despite the lack of maturity of the solutions, and he provides a pretty solid background to the underpinnings of wireless technology in general. If anything, the first half of the book might verge on being "too thorough", as it will quite possibly scare off some readers without the required fortitude. For myself, I found its depth refreshing.

By comparison, the last half of the book is much more light-weight, primarily due to the restrictions in dealing with the hardware and software solutions that are currently available. This section may have been given more heft by the inclusion of more examples and a few case studies of moderately complex deployments or troubleshooting scenarios. Even without these additions, however, it's still a strong description about how to manage 802.11 networks.

Overall, I thought that 802.11 Wireless Networks provided a thorough explanation of just about all aspects of WiFi networking. I was especially pleased that the author pulled no punches in his description of the protocol. While his commentary on wireless network administration wasn't quite as strong, it was still very complete and easily understandable. I found this book to be a very worthwhile introduction to this complex topic. Those who want to understand this new technology would do well to work their way through this fine book.


In 802.11 Wireless Networks, Matthew Gast has provided both a very thorough description of the 802.11 network protocols as well as a good introduction to deployment and maintenance of currently available WiFi equipment. Less self-assured readers may find the first few chapters daunting, and the pace of change means that some of the book's contents are almost immediately out of date, but I believe this is an excellent book for readers interested in learning more about this topic.

Click here to return to the index of reviews.