The IEEE 802.11 family of standards has a rich history of success. The technology is stable and mature. One member of this family, 802.11p, has always been over-shadowed by its more popular 802.11a/b/g/n siblings. In this blog post, we see that 802.11p definitely belongs in this family and is in fact very similar to its siblings.

802.11p is part of the 802.11-2007 set of standards. It defines wireless access in vehicular environments (WAVE). It operates in the 5.850 to 5.925 GHz band and can use the full bandwidth (20 MHz or half (10 MHz) for increased range and channelization. WAVE networks operate using the higher layer standard, IEEE 1609. The goal of WAVEs is to enable both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadside equipment communications. Applications for this technology include road and bridge tolls, vehicle safety, commerce, and in-vehicle Internet access. For examples of the different applications targeted by this standard, see


The physical layer in 802.11p is the same as the physical layer in 802.11a except for the different sampling rate. The 802.11-2007 standards define three different PHY layer modes: 20 MHz, 10 MHz, and 5 MHz. The different modes can be achieved by using reduced clock/sampling rates. 802.11a usually uses the full-clocked mode with a 20-MHz bandwidth. In comparison, 802.11p usually uses the half-clocked mode with a 10-MHz bandwidth. The different modes affect the following parameters:

  • Bandwidth – In 802.11p, 10 MHz is usually used, making the signal more robust against fading. The 20 MHz mode is optional.
  • Carrier spacing – The 802.11p signal uses a carrier spacing reduced by half when compared to 802.11a.
  • Symbol length – The symbol length is doubled, making the signal more robust against fading.

Besides the clock rate, the adjacent channel rejection (ACR) and the spectrum emission mask (SEM) are also changed [1, p. 9-10].

Aside from the above differences, there are many similarities between 802.11a and 802.11p. They both use orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) for transmission. It’s is a logical choice with many inherent advantages (see Nutaq’s OFDM reference design). If we watch the video presented in [2], we see that OFDM is the perfect choice. In V2V communications, the relative speed between a transmitter and a receiver is constantly changing, creating selective transmission channels. With its robustness to fading effects, OFDM is highly suited for this situation. However, let’s not forget about the Doppler effect, which generates carrier frequency offset. OFDM transmission is known to be sensitive to frequency synchronization.

Overall, 802.11p is definitely the future in the automotive market. Nutaq’s OFDM reference design, implemented on the PicoSDR or ZeptoSDR platforms, is a great way to start developing with this technology.