The 802.11 Frame Format: New and Improved.

The 802.11 Frame Format: New and Improved.

By CWNP On 08/07/2007 - 13 Comments

When will the madness end?  With 802.11n, we have a newly elongated frame format.

Frame Control: 2 octets
Duration/ID: 2 octets
Address 1: 6 octets
Address 2: 6 octets
Address 3: 6 octets
Sequence Control: 2 octets
Address 4: 6 octets
QoS Control: 2 octets
HT Control: 4 octets (new!)
Frame Body: 0-7955 octets (yeah baby!)
FCS: 4 octets

Could they POSSIBLY make this frame any LONGER?  Yes, in fact they can...and will.  802.11s (mesh) is adding addresses 5 and 6 (which are obviously 6 octets each).
…and if you think this is bad, you should see HT Beacons and Probe Responses.  They now contain the HT Capability and HT Information elements.  The HT Capability field is the size of a “MAC” truck – making a beacon that I just observed 237 octets long.  Beacons vary depending on what they are carrying, but 237 octets?  Dang!  At this size, every beacon is a MAC-Layer denial of service.  Can you imagine the overhead of having 10 WLAN profiles in a WLAN controller, each beaconing at 100 TUs?  Yikes.   You better scale back that HT beacon interval when you have lots of WLAN profiles.

One more thing…and you’re going to love this…

A new 802.11 frame subtype is introduced in the 802.11n amendment...the Control Wrapper.  Wrapper?  Did someone say wrapper?  Geez.

The Control Wrapper frame is used to carry any other control frame together with a High Throughput Control

Frame Control: 2 octets
Duration/ID: 2 octets
Address 1 (aka DA): 6 octets
Carried Frame Control: 2 octets
HT Control: 4 octets
Carried Frame: variable - because it's a control frame
FCS: 4 octets

The value for the Duration/ID field of the Control Wrapper frame is generated by following the rules for the Duration/ID field of the control frame that is being carried.

The value for the Address1 field of the Control Wrapper frame is generated by following the rules for the Address1 field of the control frame that is being carried.  

The Carried Frame Control field contains the value of the Frame Control field of the carried control frame.  The Carried Frame field contains the fields that follow the Address1 field of the control frame that is being carried, excluding the FCS field.

The interesting thing here is that they hack off the Frame Control, Duration/ID, Address1, and FCS fields of the original control frame...leaving...not much. Then, they put on a whole new header and a new FCS.  Basically it's the original control frame with a new header....but they call it a wrapper instead...and they make us memorize yet another frame type.  Grrr.

Devin Akin

CTO, The CWNP Program 

13 Responses to The 802.11 Frame Format: New and Improved.

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09/09/2007 at 01:03am
Why not leave the original control field as is? What is the purpose of this wrapper again??

08/24/2007 at 13:46pm
Good info.


08/10/2007 at 10:44am
Yes quite interesting complicated frame lengths.
Thanks for adding "N" to the CWNP site.
This a nice blog as well.
After reading this , I really want to be a "Wrapper" :)

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