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This paper studies an important problem in the IEEE 802.11 distributed coordination function (DCF)-based wireless local area network (WLAN): how well can the network support quality of service (QoS). Specifically, this paper analyzes the network's performance in terms of maximum protocol capacity or throughput, delay, and packet loss rate. Although the performance of the 802.11 protocol, such as throughput or delay, has been extensively studied in the saturated case, it is demonstrated that maximum protocol capacity can only be achieved in the nonsaturated case and is almost independent of the number of active nodes. By analyzing packet delay, consisting of medium access control (MAC) service time and waiting time, accurate estimates were derived for delay and delay variation when the throughput increases from zero to the maximum value. Packet loss rate is also given for the nonsaturated case. Furthermore, it is shown that the channel busyness ratio provides precise and robust information about the current network status, which can be utilized to facilitate QoS provisioning. The authors have conducted a comprehensive simulation study to verify their analytical results and to tune the 802.11 to work at the optimal point with maximum throughput and low delay and packet loss rate. The simulation results show that by controlling the total traffic rate, the original 802.11 protocol can support strict QoS requirements, such as those required by voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or streaming video, and at the same time achieve high channel utilization.