For success designing and implementing Cisco Wireless solutions, a CCNA Wireless student needs to be familiar with the options for various wireless topologies. Two were defined by the 802.11 committees, while others were made possible thanks to excellent developments by wireless vendors like Cisco Systems.
The 802.11 Topologies
Ad Hoc Mode
While not popular, it is possible to have wireless devices communicate directly with no central device managing the communications. This is called the Ad Hoc network topology and is one of the two topologies defined by the 802.11 committees. In the Ad Hoc type topology, one device sets a group name and radio parameters, and another device uses this information to connect to the wireless network.
This type of wireless network topology is referred to as an Independent Basic Service Set (IBSS). This is easy to remember as we know the devices are working independently of an access point (AP).
Network Infrastructure Mode
When an access point is used to create the network, the official term is network infrastructure mode for the network. There is a Basic Service Set (BSS) setup that uses a single access point, or the Extended Service Set (ESS) that uses multiple access points in order to extend the reach of the wireless network.
Access points running in the network infrastructure mode are often described as a cross between hubs and bridges. The APs act like hubs in that they service a single collision domain and must operate in a half duplex fashion. Fortunately for the AP, it does possess intelligence beyond a simple hub, however, and processes frames and forwards these based on MAC address information.
Vendor-Specific Topology Extensions
Perhaps your network contains clients that you want to connect to the wired infrastructure but these devices are in a location where it is difficult to extend actual physical wires. This is the perfect time to have the access point function as a workgroup bridge. The access point extends the wired LAN out to these wireless devices.
In this case, the job of the access point is to strengthen the wireless signal from another access point. Perhaps it is strengthening the signal of an access point acting in the workgroup bridge role. When repeaters are used, there must be overlap in the access point cell coverage. In order to provide optimal performance, the overlap needs to be 50%.
Outdoor Wireless Bridge
These access points are typically used within a few miles of each other and are used to connect two or more LANs. The Cisco technology allows the configuration of point-to-point or point-to-multipoint topologies.
Outdoor Mesh Networks
The outdoor mesh network features an access point acting as a root device. This AP has an Ethernet connection to a distribution network and it associates with a Wireless LAN Controller (WLC). The other access points in the design act as mesh APs. All these devices need is power and can act as repeaters as required in order to allow all devices to reach the root access point. While the IEEE is working on a mesh standard called 802.11s, the Cisco solution features Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol (AWPP). AWPP promotes the mesh devices finding the best path back to the root AP.