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Always wondered what certain networking terms stood for, but no-one to ask? Atera has you covered. Here’s your overview of one of the most common acronyms – BSSID.
BSSID stands for Basic Service Set Identifier, but what does that really mean? In this article, we will cover what the term means, what other related acronyms are important to know, and when you might need to find and use your BSSID in an IT business.

What exactly is BSSID?

BSSID stands for Basic Service Set Identifier, and it’s the MAC (Media Access Control) physical address of the access point or wireless router that is used to connect to the WiFi. This term is used in wireless networking, and BSSID itself is used to describe the different sections of a WLAN (wireless local area network). For an admin – it’s important to stay on top of the BSSIDs in your environment, but for your end-users, they will probably only care about SSID. An end user will not notice when their BSSID changes, which could happen simply from moving from one part of a building to another – and it won’t have any impact on connectivity.

In order to understand BSSID, you also need to have an understanding of what SSID is – which stands for Service Set Identifier.

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Ok, I’ll bite! what is SSID?

As we said, if you’re a wireless network user, you probably only care about the SSID, the service set identifier that allows you to connect to a network. Each WLAN needs its own unique name so that they can exist on the same host, and so each will be given its own SSID. When you connect wirelessly, the SSID is used to recognize which service profile is being used. For example, in a hospital you might have staff, patient, guest and administrator. This means you can offer different permissions and authentication and authorization rules to different users, so that guests don’t have the same access rights as administrators. This can be managed via usernames and passwords.

As an administrator of an IT network, you need to think further than SSIDs, and consider BSSIDs as well. This is because inside each WLAN, there will be more than one access point. The BSSIDs are used to identify the access points and keep them separate from one another. While the SSID is the name of the network itself, the BSSID is the AP MAC address for each access point. While the user has no idea when they move from one BSS to another, (which as we said, will happen automatically without any noticeable change or impact to connectivity and availability) an administrator will want to stay on top of this information. This is because one part of the network could have too much traffic, or you might need to find a specific client.

BSSID vs SSID

SSID is the name of a wireless network that devices use to identify and connect to it. It’s essentially the network’s public name that users see when searching for available Wi-Fi connections.

On the other hand, BSSID is the unique identifier for a specific access point within a wireless network. It distinguishes between multiple access points sharing the same SSID. BSSID helps devices pinpoint the exact access point to connect to, ensuring a seamless and stable wireless connection, especially in areas with multiple access points.

How do I find a BSSID?

Sometimes you might need to find your BSSID for a specific access point. Your first step is your MAC address, as each access point’s MAC address is used to create the BSSID. This means you need to know the MAC address in order to find the BSSID. This is simple when a BSS has a single WAP alongside wireless nodes, but as IT admins know – sometimes you come across ad-hoc networks which don’t have a WAP. In this case, there will be a randomly generated 48-bit string of numbers used. It will look like a MAC address, and be used for every packet. This makes it a little harder to track down your BSSID.

If you’re looking for your BSSID on the Windows OS, you can run the command netsh wlan show interfaces | find “BSSID”. On macOS, you can hold the Option key down while you’re also clicking on the WiFi icon which is found in the top right-hand corner. The drop-down menu will have the BSSID listed automatically. To find your BSSID, different apps are available for this on both the Play Store and the App store.

Are there any other terms I need to know?

When it comes to wireless networking, you might also hear a few other similar acronyms. Here are two of the most common, and what they mean in an IT environment:

ESSID

An extended service set identifier is often used interchangeably with a service set identifier. It will be used across multiple access points which are all using the same WLAN.

IBSS

This stands for independent basic service set. You don’t need any network infrastructure whatsoever, but one or more stations will be communicating with one another if they both consent. You can’t use this to connect to any other basic service set, as there are no access points.

So, there you have it – the basics of BSSID!

In short, while SSID is the network name, which arrives as default but can be configured and changed according to your business requirements, the BSSID of access points is default, usually configured from the MAC address, or randomly if you are dealing with an ad-hoc network. Either way, this can’t be changed by the admin or the user. We’ve also covered a number of ways to track down your BSSID if you need it for monitoring or maintenance purposes, and dropped the knowledge on a few more networking acronyms you need to know! In short, by now you should be a BSSID maven!

Want to learn more about maintaining your IT environments with in-depth knowledge of networking basics? Try this great article on understanding rootkit, a malicious way that attackers can gain access to your whole network.

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