What Is an Ad Hoc Wireless Network?

An ad hoc network connects directly to other devices without a server

"Ad hoc" means makeshift, or improvised, so a wireless ad hoc network (WANET) is a type of on-demand, impromptu device-to-device network. In ad hoc mode, you can set up a wireless connection directly to another computer or device without having to connect to a Wi-Fi access point or router.

Due to the nature of an ad hoc connection not needing an existing infrastructure to sustain the network, it's entirely decentralized and is considered a peer-to-peer network.

Instead of using a central managing device (like a router) where the network's data constantly flows in and out before and after reaching the child devices (like phones and computers), every node that makes up the ad hoc network forwards data evenly throughout the entire structure.

man on laptop in office
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Wireless Ad Hoc Network Details

Following are some features, uses, benefits, and disadvantages of ad hoc networks:

  • Expensive equipment isn't necessary to set up an on-the-fly, ad hoc network.
  • There isn't a single point of failure in an ad hoc network.
  • Ad hoc networks are useful when you need to share files or other data directly with another computer but don't have access to a Wi-Fi network.
  • In emergency situations where a wireless network is suitable but there isn't an underlying network to use, wireless ad hoc networks deploy quickly and produce similar results.
  • More than one laptop can be connected to the ad hoc network, as long as all the adapter cards are configured for ad hoc mode and connect to the same SSID. The computers need to be within 100 meters of each other.
  • You can use an ad hoc wireless network to share your computer's internet connection with another computer.
  • No central management hub where all devices can be controlled.

Types of Wireless Ad Hoc Networks

Wireless ad hoc networks are categorized into different classes. Here are a few examples:

  • Mobile ad hoc network (MANET): An ad hoc network of mobile devices.
  • Vehicular ad hoc network (VANET): Used for communication between vehicles. Intelligent VANETs use artificial intelligence and ad hoc technologies to communicate what should happen during accidents.
  • Smartphone ad hoc network (SPAN): Wireless ad hoc network created on smartphones via existing technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  • Wireless mesh network: A mesh network is an ad hoc network where the various nodes are in communication directly with each other to relay information throughout the total network.
  • Army tactical MENT: Used in the army for "on-the-move" communication, a wireless tactical ad hoc network relies on range and instant operation to establish networks when needed.
  • Wireless sensor network: Wireless sensors that collect everything from temperature and pressure readings to noise and humidity levels, can form an ad hoc network to deliver information to a home base without needing to connect directly to it.
  • Disaster rescue ad hoc network: Ad hoc networks are important when disaster strikes and established communication hardware isn't functioning properly.

Ad Hoc Wireless Network Limitations

For file and printer sharing, all users need to be in the same workgroup, or if one computer is joined to a domain, the other users have to have accounts on that computer in order to access shared items.

Other limitations of ad hoc wireless networking include the lack of security and a slow data rate. Ad hoc mode offers minimal security; if an attacker comes within range of your ad hoc network, he or she won't have any trouble connecting. 

Newer Wi-Fi Direct technology eliminates many of the limitations and security threats present in ad hoc wireless networks.

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