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In this paper, a novel idea of user cooperation in wireless networks has been exploited to improve the performance of the IEEE 802.11 medium access control (MAC) protocol. The new MAC protocol leverages the multi-rate capability of IEEE 802.11b and allows the mobile stations (STA) far away from the access point (AP) to transmit at a higher rate by using an intermediate station as a relay. Two specific variations of the new MAC protocol, namely CoopMAC I and CoopMAC II, are introduced in the paper. Both are able to increase the throughput of the whole network and reduce the average packet delay. Moreover, CoopMAC II also maintains backward compatibility with the legacy 802.11 protocol. The performance improvement is further evaluated by analysis and extensive simulations.