Wireless LAN Basics

Wireless LAN or Wireless Local Area Network is a term to refer to a Local Area Network that does not need cables to connect the different devices. Instead, radio waves are used to communicate. Technologies that can be used to do that include IEEE 802.11 and Bluetooth.

Benefits of Wireless LANs

  • People can access the network from where they want; they are no longer limited by the length of the cable
  • Some cities have started to offer Wireless LANs. This means that people can access the internet even outside their normal work environment, for example when they ride the train home.
  • Setting up a wireless LAN can be done with one box (called Access point). This box can handle a varying number of connections at the same time. Wired networks require cables to be laid. This can be difficult for certain places.
  • Access points can serve a varying number of computers.

Disadvantages of Wireless LANs

  • Wireless LANs use radio waves to communicate. Special care needs to be taken to encrypt information. Also the signal is much worse, and more bandwidth needs to be spent on error correction.
  • A typical IEEE 802.11 access point has a range of meters from where devices can connect. To extend the range more access points are needed.
  • There are many reliability problems, especially those connected to interference from other devices.
  • Wireless LANs are much slower than wired ones; this may not matter for most users though, because the bottleneck in a home network is usually the speed of the ADSL line (used to connect to the Internet).

The 802.11 standard is also called Wireless Ethernet or Wi-Fi by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA, see https://www.wi-fi.net), an industry standard group promoting interoperability among 802.11 devices. The 802.11 standard offers two methods for configuring a wireless network—ad hoc and infrastructure.