Which technology is used to uniquely identify a WLAN network

Wireless local area networks (WLANs) have become an essential part of homes, businesses, and organizations. These networks allow multiple devices to connect over a wireless signal, providing convenient access to the internet and shared resources. However, with the proliferation of WLANs, it becomes imperative to have methods to uniquely identify each network. There are a few key technologies used for this purpose.

Which technology is used to uniquely identify a WLAN network

Service Set Identifier (SSID)

The SSID is the name that identifies a particular WLAN. It is a 32 character alphanumeric key broadcast by wireless routers and access points to announce the presence of a wireless network in the area. Clients scan for nearby SSIDs and connect to the desired network by selecting its SSID. For example, a cafe may set the SSID of its public WLAN to “CafeWifi” while a home WLAN may have an SSID set to “SmithResidence.” The SSID allows clients to differentiate between multiple networks in the same wireless range and pick the one they need to connect to.

SSID broadcast

By default, most WLANs have SSID broadcast enabled. This means that wireless access points regularly transmit the SSID to announce the presence of the wireless network. However, SSID broadcast can be disabled for better security to hide the WLAN from casual intruders. Users would then need to manually enter the accurate SSID on each device to access a hidden network.

Basic Service Set Identifier (BSSID)

The BSSID refers to the MAC address of an access point. It uniquely identifies each access point, allowing wireless devices to differentiate between multiple access points. Even when two wireless networks have the same SSID, comparing the BSSID allows a client to determine which access point it is connecting to. It also assists in steering wireless clients to the optimum access point. The BSSID is a 48-bit hardware address assigned to the wireless adapter on the access point by the manufacturer.

Why use BSSID?

Using the BSSID provides the following advantages in WLAN implementations:

  • Helps manage connections to multiple access points with the same SSID
  • Assists wireless clients in roaming between access points
  • Identifies individual devices on large wireless networks for monitoring and troubleshooting

Therefore, referencing the BSSID along with SSID offers more granular control in differentiating WLANs.

802.11 Protocol

The underlying technology behind WLANs is the 802.11 protocol established by IEEE. It defines the standards for communication between wireless clients and access points using radio waves in the frequency bands of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. There have been several iterations of the 802.11 protocol over time.

Each version brought improvements in aspects like speed, frequency, and modulation techniques. For instance, 802.11n uses multiple antennae and spatial multiplexing to deliver better speeds. The amendments provide backwards compatibility so newer clients can still connect to older networks.

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The 802.11 standards also define different authentication mechanisms for securing wireless networks:

  • Open system: Allows any device to authenticate and connect to the network without requiring a password
  • Shared key: Clients need to provide the correct WEP password to access the WLAN
  • WPA and WPA2: More advanced protocols introduced stronger encryption through temporal keys

Thus the authentication protocol used also plays a role in uniquely identifying and securing a WLAN.

Wireless Channels

WLANs use radio frequency channels for communication between the access point and connected devices. Available channels differ by country due to differences in regulations. For instance, in the commonly used 2.4 GHz band, there are 14 overlapping channels in Japan while North America and Europe have just 11 usable channels. Access points are configured to broadcast on one of these channels. Nearby WLANs need to be set on different channels to avoid signal interference. Channel numbers can help differentiate between multiple nearby WLANs. For large networks, adjusting channel assignments helps reduce congestion.

Channel Overlap

Adjacent 2.4 GHz channels have frequency overlaps so using non overlapping channels like 1, 6, and 11 improves performance in dense Wi-Fi environments. The 5 GHz band offers up to 24 non overlapping channels in certain countries giving networks more room to manage interference. Understanding signal overlap among the defined channels aids in planning and coordinating WLAN deployments.

Wireless Encryption

Wireless networks transmit data over the air which makes it imperative to encrypt communications for privacy and security against eavesdroppers. A number of encryption methods have emerged for use in Wi-Fi networks:

  • Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP): Older security method using a pre shared key is now considered insecure
  • Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA): Uses temporal key integrity protocol (TKIP) encryption standard
  • WPA2: Introduces stronger AES encryption protocol to replace TKIP

Therefore, two WLANs with the same SSID names can still be differentiated based on whether they use WEP or the more secure WPA2 encryption protocols.

Encryption Keys

Wireless clients provide the correct encryption key or passphrase to access an encrypted network. Thus, the encryption keys act as an additional parameter to uniquely identify a wireless network along with SSID and BSSID. The use of pre-shared keys versus enterprise authentication mechanisms provides further granularity in WLAN identification for network administrators.

Wireless Traffic Analysis

Looking at wireless network traffic and packet transmissions provides in-depth insight into identifying unique networks. Packet sniffers and wireless analyzers capture Wi-Fi frames over the air to study MAC addresses, SSIDs, encryption status and other parameters of nearby WLANs.

By passively listening to wireless transmissions, these tools gather:

  • Source and destination hardware addresses
  • Name of calling and called network interface
  • Signal information like network name, channels, encryption enabled or disabled

This traffic analysis unambiguously fingerprints wireless networks facilitating detection and troubleshooting.

Administrator Access

The information broadcast by access points is meant only for client devices to facilitate wireless connectivity. But gaining administrator access allows in-depth analysis of all parameters being transmitted by an access point:

  • Radio frequency details
  • List of connected stations with signal strengths
  • Channel widths along with interference metrics
  • Session logs providing list of previously connected clients
  • DHCP address allocation logs
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These parameters help uniquely identify and monitor enterprise wireless networks.

Wireless Certificates

Wireless networks enabled with WPA or WPA2 enterprise authentication use digital certificates along with authentication servers for enhanced security.

Access points are provisioned with server signed digital certificates from a trusted Certificate Authority like Verisign or Digicert. The certificate binds the access point credentials to the issued certificate. Wireless clients can only connect after validating this certificate from the access point. For large deployments, certificates are unique per access point, assisting in identification.

RADIUS Servers

In enterprise networks, an authentication mechanism using RADIUS servers and Ethernet ID facilitators helps manage wireless users and permissions.

It offers the ability to ascertain which specific access point a client connects to along with their identity. Monitoring connection attempts, permitted access, and failures aids in wireless network management. Thus certificates and authentication architecture aid in uniquely labeling and securing enterprise WLANs.

Wireless Network Names

Humans rely heavily on the SSID or WLAN name in differentiating and picking networks for their devices. However, as we have explored, there are more robust mechanisms involved under the hood when devices connect wirelessly.

Relying only on the SSID has disadvantages:

  • Does not indicate signal strength or channel conflicts

Wireless Hardware Identifiers

Every wireless networking hardware device has unique device identifiers assigned by the manufacturer. These include:

MAC Address

The Media Access Control (MAC) address is a 12-digit hexadecimal identifier given to the network interface controller (NIC) on wireless radios. No two NICs have the same MAC address making it an effective way to identify wireless infrastructure devices like routers or access points. MAC addresses assist network administrators in differentiating hardware components particularly for monitoring and logging. Though MAC addresses can be spoofed, spoofing requires technical sophistication.

Device UDID

Devices come with a Unique Device Identifier (UDID) such as routers and switches. The UDID is a serial number allowing vendors to uniquely identify and authenticate hardware units. Device management systems leverage UDIDs for tracking deployed infrastructures across customer sites. It enables managing software updates, licensing and other support.

WLAN Planning

Setting up wireless networks requires selection of many hardware parameters and radio settings that facilitate identifying WLAN implementations:

Access Point Models

Enterprise wireless networks use managed business grade access points while consumer devices employ simple wireless routers. Models indicate supported features and configuration interfaces.

Business APs offer:

  • Dedicated wireless network controllers
  • Centralized monitoring and troubleshooting
  • Optimized antenna designs
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE)

So identifying the wireless hardware models deployed uniquely differentiates enterprise level WLANs from home networks.

Wireless Controllers

Enterprises use wireless network controllers to remotely configure and coordinate across multiple access points. The WLAN controller dispatches traffic, provides firewall capabilities and assists roaming. Presence of a wireless controller points to large wireless network implementations versus stand alone consumer grade wireless routers.

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WLAN Architecture

Network architects design WLANs using information like building plans, required density, usage levels and applications. This determines appropriate models, antenna selection and precise access point placements. Careful WLAN architecture is key for optimal experience in body worn communications, location tracking use cases. Understanding network blueprints and layout maps uniquely conveys an WLAN’s intended function.

Future Wireless Identification Methods

While existing mechanics adequately identify wireless networks, continued innovation looks to improve efficiencies:

5G Cellular

5G networks allow hotspot functionality to replace WLANs altogether. Licensed 5G spectrum offers carefully controlled interference coordination natively in cellular networks. This could limit WLAN deployments needing manual wireless planning.

In 5G networks, the equivalent identifier to SSID and BSSID would be network slices functioning as virtual partitions. Network slice selection facilitates subscriber identification even sharing the same physical infrastructure.

6G Vision

Looking ahead, 6G radio access networks target replacing the multiple connectivity standards we handle today with a unified worldwide wireless fabric. Advanced radio techniques like lattice modulation eliminate division into separate networks needed currently. In this environment, end device addresses may be the singular way of identification rather than differentiation of wireless infrastructure itself.


To conclude, wireless networks require identification to allow client devices to select the appropriate network out of the many that typically exist in close proximity. The SSID serves as the handy human readable name while parameters like BSSID, 802.11 standard, radio channels and encryption protocols offer deeper technical identifiers.

Additional methods like wireless traffic analysis and device specific identifiers provide greater details to network administrators. As wireless standards evolve with 5G and 6G down the line, the exact approach to WLAN identification could transform while achieving the same purpose picking the optimal network to connect seamlessly. Careful wireless planning paves the way for this future.


What is the key identifier broadcast by wireless networks?

Service Set Identifier (SSID) is the main label used by wireless routers and access points to announce presence of a wireless network for clients to identify and connect to.

How does BSSID assist in WLAN identification?

The Basic Service Set Identifier refers to MAC address of an access point which distinguishes between access points including when SSID is the same.

What encryption options help secure and identify wireless networks?

Protocols like WEP, WPA, WPA2 each have increasing levels of encryption strength facilitating secure access for legitimate users while keeping out non-authorized access.

How do hardware identifiers uniquely label networking devices?

MAC addresses and Device UDIDs give every wireless hardware component a unique, unchanging identifier irrespective of the network names.

Will 5G and 6G change how wireless networks are identified?

Potential for both cellular standards is to create a unified wireless fabric promisingly reducing need for multiple standards and planning, with user addresses taking prominence.