Wireless Local Area Networking Explained

Wireless LAN definition and examples

What does WLAN mean?

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A wireless local area network (WLAN) provides wireless network communication over short distances using radio or infrared signals instead of traditional network cabling.

What Does WLAN Mean?

WLAN means wireless local area network. A WLAN can be built using any of several different wireless network protocols, most commonly Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Network security remains an important issue for WLANs. Wireless clients usually have their identity verified (a process called authentication) when joining a wireless LAN. Technologies such as WPA raise the level of security on wireless networks to rival that of traditional wired networks.

WLAN Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Supports a large number of devices.

  • Setting up a WLAN is easier than laying cables for wired networks.

  • Accessing a WLAN is easier than a wired LAN, cable length isn't a factor.

  • WLANs are common outside of businesses and homes, like in public areas.

Cons

  • It's easier to hack a WLAN, which is why encryption is necessary.

  • Wireless interference can hijack the speed and stability of a wireless network.

  • More wireless devices, like repeaters, are needed to expand a wireless network.

WLAN Devices

A WLAN can contain as few as two devices and as many as one hundred or more. However, wireless networks become increasingly difficult to manage as the number of devices increases.

Wireless LANs can contain many types of devices, including:

  • Mobile phones
  • Laptop and tablet computers
  • Internet audio systems
  • Gaming consoles
  • Other internet-enabled home appliances and devices

WLAN Hardware and Connections

WLAN connections work using radio transmitters and receivers built into client devices. Wireless networks don't require cables, but several special-purpose devices (also possessing their own radios and receiver antennas) are usually used to build them.

Local Wi-Fi networks, for example, can be constructed in either of two modes: ad-hoc or infrastructure.

Wi-Fi ad-hoc mode WLANs consist of peer-to-peer direct connections between clients with no intermediate hardware components involved. Ad-hoc local networks can be used to make temporary connections in some situations, but they don't scale to support more than a few devices and can pose security risks.

A Wi-Fi infrastructure mode WLAN uses a central device called a wireless access point (AP) that all clients connect to. In-home networks, wireless broadband routers perform the functions of an AP plus enable the WLAN for home internet access. Multiple APs can be interfaced to either and connect multiple WLANs into a larger one.

Some wireless LANs extend an existing wired network. This type of WLAN is built by attaching an access point to the edge of the wired network and setting up the AP to work in bridging mode. Clients communicate with the access point through the wireless link and can reach the Ethernet network through the AP bridge connection.

WLAN vs. WWAN

Cell networks support mobile phones that connect over long distances, a type of wireless wide area network (WWAN). What distinguishes a local network from a wide network are the usage models they support along with some rough limits on physical distance and area.

A local area network covers individual buildings or public hotspots, spanning hundreds or thousands of square feet. Wide area networks cover cities or geographic regions, spanning multiple miles.