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Based on the maximum-likelihood principle and the preamble structure of IEEE 802.11a wireless local area network (WLAN) standard, this paper proposes a new symbol synchronization algorithm for IEEE 802.11a WLANs over frequency-selective fading channels. In addition to the physical channel, the effects of filtering and unknown sampling phase offset are also considered. Loss in system performance due to synchronization error is used as a performance criterion. Computer simulations show that the proposed algorithm exhibits better performances than the simple correlation-based algorithms. When compared to the algorithm based on the generalized Akaike information criterion, the proposed algorithm presents comparable performance and exhibits reduced complexity.