WaveLan is a copyright of Lucent,
and is their name of the wireless ethernet product line that was first an
NCR product and then and AT&T product. It is also known as the DEC
This page was written before the current 802.11 specification was created.
Since that time, Lucent has discontinued the older, proprietary gear
refered to in this page. Unfortunately, they continued to use the name Wavelan on
their 802.11 gear for a time. They then renamed their 802.11 equipment
Orinoco, and finally renamed the whole division of the company Avaya.
Personally, I find this name game annoying and confusing, but it seems to
be very popular with corporate giants these days.
The WaveLan comes in ISA, MCA, PCI, and PCMCIA versions. They operate on two bands: 915
Mhz and 2400 Mhz, using Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS).
Spread Spectrum is a relatively new and somewhat complex radio
technology that involves spreading the signal out of a wide portion of
bandwidth, the original signal is mixed with a larger pseudo-random
sequence. The receiving end strips away the pseudo-random sequence and
"votes" on the results, majority winning for that bit. The result is a
modulation method quite impervious to interference, either natural or
The WaveLan operates at 1.5 MBPS, half-duplex, in a carrier-sense
multiple-access environment. It is license free, operating under the FCC
Part 15 rules limiting power output and antenna height for such devices.
Typically, a small "rubber duck" antenna is attached to the back of the
device. However, with a decent antenna, such as a 10 element beam antenna,
extending its range far beyond the 800 ft. it normally has. It has been
used as an internet backbone in Latvia.
Distances over over 6 KM have been achieved, using high-gain antennas, and
with direct line-of-site orientation.
Problems with the WaveLan:
- Cost - The retail cost of these cards was high - about
$400-$600. We were fortunate enough to find a source that
had used cards for $125 several years ago. More recently, these cards
have appeared on ebay for a fraction of that cost. I suspect these
will be in flea market dollar bins before long.
- Power - Though a decent antenna can extend the range quite a
bit, the WaveLan was designed for limited distances and is therefore a low
power (100 mW) device. It is theoretically possible to build an amplifier
to boost the power, but any design needs to be able to pull a signal from
the WaveLan itself to be able to switch from Transmit to Receive and back
- Security - Though Lucent touts the WaveLan as a secure device,
it is not in fact very secure. It uses Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum as
its modulation method, which could be very secure, but this security was
crippled by the use of the same spreading code on all WaveLan
cards. This means that although it is fairly difficult for a random
eavesdropper to find, let alone decode, a WaveLan signal, it is very easy
for another WaveLan user to do so. If you are thinking of that you could
change the spreading code, be aware that it is inside one of the
proprietary chips itself, and is virtually impossible to modify. This was
probably done at the insistence of the US Government, which wants to be
able to listen to all of its citizens transmissions. While Lucent does
provide a selectable Network ID, there are only 65,280 possible codes, and
it would be fairly easy to write a program that tries all codes in quick
succession until the proper Network ID is found. Hence, the radio
link-layer of the WaveLan is not very secure. Some cards come with a DES
or AES implementation, of unknown key length and robustness. Our cards did
not. So we suggest implementing
some encryption and authentication on top of the WaveLan architecture,
such as IPv6.
- Legality - In the US, these devices are licensed to operate
under "Part 15" of the FCC rules, which limit the size of the antenna and
the power output. Modifying the antenna and power output would put the
device outside of the Part 15 rules. Fortunately, Licensed Ham Radio
operators are also allowed to operate in the same 915 Mhz band at higher
power and with any antenna. But Amateur Radio is restricted to
- Drivers are available for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD,
Windows 95, Windows NT. I do not know about driver availability for the
newer Microsoft products.