What Is a WLAN? A Guide About Wireless Local Area Network
Gone are the days when a wired connection was essential to connect to the internet. These days, WLANs are all around us.
From homes, offices, cafes, and even a lot of public places, WLANs are present to ensure that our connectivity to the internet is never lost.
WLANs help us connect to the internet even when we are on the move. A major reason why smart devices were able to gain popularity was that it freed people from their stationary postures and allowed them to move and work at the same time.
This guide will tell you all you need to know about Wireless Local Area Networks.
What Is WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network)?
Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN is a wireless network that allows two or more devices to be wirelessly connected to form a local area network on a limited scale.
A gateway is then used to connect the Internet.
WLANs allow people to work and move within the range of the network. Wifi is probably the most widely known WLAN trademarks that use the IEEE 802.11 standards.
WLAN and wifi have changed a lot of things and brought in a sort of new internet age. Not only are people connected to each other online, but they are able to do so in a more convenient fashion.
For people who have not experienced wired internet, they will have an extremely hard time adjusting to it. And even people who have worked in a stationary position will have an unbelievable time going back to an environment where there are no wireless internet connections.
What is The History of WLANs?
WLANs have come a long way since its inception back in the early 70s. Professor Norman Abramson at the University of Hawaii is credited with developing the world’s first wireless computer communication network called the ALOHAnet.
Like any other technology, WLAN was incredibly costly. Over time and by the late 90s, different versions of the IEEE 802.11 were set as the technical standards.
Previous attempts at commercializing WLAN like the HiperLAN/1 and HiperLAN/2 were not commercially successful. But by 2009, 802.11n was added to the 802.11.
WLANs are not able to operate at both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. A higher rate of data transfer and reliability, along with smart devices really made the technology a success.
What is WLAN Used For?
WLANs are used in a variety of scenarios.
The most common being home and workplace usage. Instead of lining your entire space with wires and still having to connect to cable, WLANs can help you connect and roam on site.
WLANs are also used as a means to attract audiences at restaurants or other establishments where people are likely to spend a meaningful amount of time.
Connectivity on the go is taken for granted, but it’s importance is specially highlighted when you have urgent work to attend to, but don’t have a WLAN to connect to.
How Does Local Area Network Work?
In the past, LAN networks were created using coaxial cables which were used to carry radio signals. A physical connection was made using these cables between two or more computers in order to transfer data and to share files.
Over time, modern technology like ethernets became the go to. The maximum data rate that ethernet can give is 100 Mbps. On average ethernet cables are extended to a hundred meters, but you can choose to reasonably go above this.
To the user, the WLAN would be the same as being connected to a LAN workstation. The major difference is that by using the WLAN, the device is connected wirelessly to the local area network.
What are The Benefits of a WLAN?
WLAN has a number of advantages and benefits that it brings to internet users. Some of them are listed below:
Internet connectivity while on the move
The major benefit of a WLAN is that it allows people to be connected even if they are moving. The ability to use the internet for work and play while on the move has changed a lot of things for the better.
Another advantage of using WLAN is that it is cost effective. Installing cables quickly becomes extremely expensive when you have to cater to a large number of users and factor in the maintenance cost.
Less hassle for IT and maintenance staff
WLANs also make it easier for IT maintenance and support staff who don’t have to individually check for broken connections all the time. Not to mention that WLANs are easier to install and require less dealing with cables and wires during installation.
Flexibility for organizations
WLANs also help organizations adjust their number of users or devices that need to be connected to the internet.
Useful in disasters and when physical infrastructure is damaged
WLANs can also prove incredibly useful when there is a natural disaster as it reduces the need for physical infrastructure to provide internet connectivity, granted that the range will be limited.
What are The Types of WLAN?
WLAN or more specifically the IEEE 802.11
that are differentiated in terms of their operating modes.
Infrastructure is the most common type of WLAN.
This type of WLAN that uses the infrastructure mode relies on the wireless devices to connect to the WAP (wireless access point) if they want to access the network.
Meaning that laptops, computers and other devices need to be within range of the WLAN and enter the correct credentials to be authorized to join the WLAN.
Generally, wireless access points are fixed and have a certain range that they are able to cover. A network can potentially have multiple wireless access points and the client software will be responsible for choosing the best WAP to connect to in this potential circumstance.
Ad hoc networks do not rely on a WAP, instead they are networks where stations only communicate peer to peer.
The peer to peer network grants access to wireless devices that they can connect with each other. Data and information can then be shared between the devices that are connected to each other on the WLAN.
Signal strength is not a good metric to judge the WLAN, as the system will register the strength of the nearest peer.
Bridges are used to connect networks to each other.
Wireless ethernet bridges allow the devices connected on a wired ethernet to be connected to a wireless network.
Wireless distribution system
WDS or wireless distribution systems allows the wireless interconnection of access points in an IEEE 802.11 network.
Wireless distribution systems allow the network to be expanded using multiple access points without relying on wired infrastructure to support them
The biggest advantage of using WDS is that MAC addresses of data packets are preserved between different access points.
What are the Prices for Local Area Network Equipment?
There is great variance in the prices for local area network equipment.
The factors that dictate price include the scale at which the LAN must act as intended, the choice between traditional WLAN or hierarchical WLAN, future planning etc.
Site surveys are going to be significant for traditional WLAN. An estimate for a space that can cater to around 1500 personnel and area of around 650,000 square feet is around $170,000.
Infrastructure cost for the traditional WLAN would be a little over $330,000, while the cost for WLAN would be around $220,000 for the same area and user specifications.
To manage a traditional WLAN, ther personnel you will need to hire need to be qualified and highly paid at the same time. You can expect the salary of one such individual to be around $100,000 per year and as a recurring cost.
While hierarchical WLANs are easily manageable and require less oversight, you can expect to pay around $50,000 in salaries for this WLAN.
The cost to set up a local area network and the equipment involved greatly vary depending on the scale and size of the installation, operations and maintenance of the network.
To get the best price, a good idea might be to survey the market and find out prices for a WLAN similar to your needs. If you’re planning to outsource the installation and maintenance then it is best to go with seasoned professionals as a poorly set up WLAN can become the source of a cyber attack and cause harm to your business.
What is the difference between a WLAN and a WAN?
WAN stands for wide area network.
WAN and WLAN are used in two entirely different scenarios. WAN is used when the need for connectivity is greater than a hundred kilometers and can often be around a thousand kilometers. WLAN may or may not require physical infrastructure.
Wireless WAN utilizes satellites to establish the network and maintain connectivity. While the wired WAN uses optical fiber cables.
Compared to a WAN, the number of people who can connect to a WLAN is incredibly small.
WAN is mainly used when the geographical distance is quite significant, sometimes even cross continental.
What is the difference between a WLAN and a MAN?
MAN stands for metropolitan area network.
There are two key differences between MAN and WLAN. The first being that MAN has a much greater range than a LAN or WLAN. The second difference is that MAN requires the use of physical infrastructure like fiber optics to make and connect areas to a network.
MAN is used when there is a need to connect one city to another. It’s range is far greater than a LAN that is typically restricted to a single building. MAN is used when the distance is around 50kms or more.
What is the difference between a WLAN and LAN ?
LAN stands for local area network.
The main difference between WLAN and LAN is that LAN relies on a physical connection, mainly in the form of ethernet cables. In the past coaxial cables were used, but have since been replaced by newer and better ethernet cables.
To use a LAN, users would need to connect an ethernet cable to their computers or other devices if they want to connect to the network. Whereas, this is not the case with WLAN and users can wirelessly connect with the network.
How to Setup a Wireless Local Area Network?
To set up a wireless local area network you will need some equipment. This includes a wireless router, an internet connection usually through an ethernet cable, and a power source.
You will first need to connect your wireless router to the internet source and then to a power outlet. You can then move on to name the network as it is a good security practice, but even if you don’t the network will have a default name.
Then you will need to use the documentation that comes with the wireless router and enable WEP security. Set recommended security features according to your router’s documentation.
You can opt to use access points if you don’t intend to use a wireless router. Access points should be placed in a central location if possible.
What are the Examples of WLAN?
There are many examples and scenarios where WLAN is used. Here are a few of them:
- Need to connect devices wirelessly
Wireless connectivity has become a necessity. Not only do staff need internet connectivity for their laptops or computer systems, they also need internet for their smartphones, and other personal devices.
- Need to provide connectivity to a varying number of devices
WLAN works great when the number of devices can vary. People can come and go along with their devices and connect to the WLAN only when they need to.
- Network needs to be limited to a small area
Different departments within a location can have their own WLAN for their teams and workforce.
What are General Wireless Local Area Network Problems and Solutions?
WLAN isn’t the perfect solution for all use cases. There are pros and cons to every network solution. We will now be discussing some of the problems that you might face using WLAN along with their solutions:
- Reduced performance
There can be a number of reasons that you might experience a loss in internet speed or connectivity when using a WLAN. One reason might be that there are simply too many people using the WLAN and that there are no accommodation plans for this many users.
- Installation errors
Often caused when access points are placed incorrectly or antenna controllers are used incorrectly, among other issues. It’s best to have a professional come and evaluate your setup if you’re stumped and don’t know what to do moving forward.
- Coverage issues
Coverage issues happen when the access points for your WLAN are not placed correctly. There might be multiple access points for a relatively small space and they will interfere with each other, or you might not have an access point covering the space in the first place. Examining the range of your access points as well as the distance between each of them is the best way to ensure smooth coverage.
- Software issues in WLAN controllers
Depending on the client’s needs you might need to update to the latest version of the software and discuss how you will carry out software maintenance with the device’s vendors.
- External interference
External interference from neighboring wireless networks, wireless devices including video cameras, motion detectors, etc. can interfere with your WLAN’s performance. It is best to conduct an audit of all devices in the vicinity and near it if you want to avoid these issues from the get go.
Network security is going to be an issue that IT and network administrators will need to learn how to deal with. A common problem can be unauthorized access to the network.
While this might not be an issue if the person just wants to use the internet, it can become a problem if the network is exposed to a hacker.
Maintaining security should first start by ensuring that the legitimate users of the WLAN are aware of their responsibilities. They should not share passwords and WLAN keys with unauthorized personnel. Network admins should also ensure that systems are up to date and traffic is monitored.
Speed is an essential factor as a fast internet connection is necessary for workplace efficiency and productivity.
Limiting the number of people who can connect to the WLAN is one way to improve connection speed as bandwidth will not be shared between too many users.
- Limited range
WLANs are designed to be used on a limited scale. But network requirements might change over time. Your WLAN might not be able to reach where it needs to.
Solving this issue is simple as WLANs are scalable. Using a Wifi booster or range extender is a great way to increase WLAN range.
- Connectivity issues
Connectivity issues can happen for a number of reasons. An increased number of users or a difference in system version or some other reason might cause your WLAN users to face connectivity issues.
Solving these issues is complex and you will need to investigate your physical infrastructure along with the particular individual devices and scenarios that are causing the connectivity issues.
What is the WLAN Port on my Router?
WLAN ports are devices that allow computers to connect to the WLAN.
WLAN ports can be thought of as a router. The main difference between the WLAN port and other routers is that the WLAN port has no wired ports. Connections to the WLAN need to be wireless.
A common confusion and fumble that non technical people make is that they confuse WAN ports with WLAN ports.
What is WLAN Security Setting?
WLAN security settings are used to prevent unauthorized access to your WLAN. In the case that your WLAN was left unprotected, WLAN along with other devices on the network would be vulnerable to harm.
WLAN security settings ensure that any user that wants to connect to the WLAN first has to give their credentials and the correct security key before they are permitted to connect to the network.
This authorized entry makes the network as a whole safer.
What is the WLAN Test?
WLAN tests are essential as they help you get a better idea of how well your system meets performance and security needs of your organization.
There are multiple factors that affect WLAN. Proper documentation of all these factors is vital to ensuring that the WLAN test has been conducted professionally.
Here are some of the factors that you should take note of in a WLAN test:
Performance testing helps certify that the WLAN has the capability needed to handle specific applications used by its intended users.
Signal coverage testing
Signal coverage testing measures the area at which the WLAN is accessible and it’s performance at that range.
This test checks the WLAN’s security measures against things like unauthorized access attempts and checking that security measures are up to standards.
In-motion testing helps check whether the WLAN can support the user's application usage when they are moving between different coverage areas.
Acceptance testing is done to ensure that the organization acknowledges the tests conducted like signal coverage, performance, security, and capacity. It is a formalized process that relies on adequate documentation that states different stages of the WLAN installation, operations and maintenance.
This is a simulation conducted that assesses the WLAN’s behavior before it is actually deployed. It helps measure its effectiveness and performance prior to the actual installation.
Prototype testing is usually done in a lab setting. It is used to assess unfamiliar parts of a WLAN system.
Pilot testing is a sort of practice match before the main event. The WLAN is placed in a limited capacity but in a real world scenario to assess its performance and capabilities.
What is a WLAN Key?
To put it simply, think of the WLAN key as your Wifi password.
Each router or access point comes with a WLAN key that is already preset. You can change these whenever you want, but it will not be a good idea to give them the same key. In the case that one router is compromised, other access points and routers will also be at an extreme risk.
WLAN keys or passwords are important because they help secure your network. To gain access to your network, a user will need to enter the right key. If a wrong password is provided then the user will not be granted access to the network.
There are two different kinds of WLAN keys.
Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP is the older of the two kinds of WLAN keys. Data using this key was encrypted with a 40-bit key between the router and computer. These are vulnerable to hackers and should not be used anymore.
Wifi Protected Access or WPA uses a temporary key that changes with every packet. WPA2 and WPA3 are the two main protocols that utilize the temporary keys. These are far more secure and are used for modern Wifi networks.
What is WLAN Direct?
WLAN Direct, also interchangeable with Wifi Direct, is a Wifi standard that is used for peer to peer communication. This means that two devices can establish a Wifi connection between themselves, eliminating the need for an intermediary access point, router, or internet connection.
WLAN Direct utilizes single hop communication. In this form of communication, a data packet would leave the source, pass through a single network to reach its destination. Since there are only two devices, this process makes absolute sense.
Wifi Direct is similar to bluetooth, in that it allows devices to transfer files and connect to each other. Wifi Direct can take place even if the devices are made by different manufacturers, granted that at least one device is compliant with Wifi Direct.
Most modern laptops, mobile phones, along with other smart devices can use WLAN Direct. Apple devices also use a proprietary feature called Multipeer Connectivity that is similar in its working and protocols to WLAN direct.
What is WLAN Access Point Router?
In larger offices and buildings, access point routers are used to make a wireless local area network.
The access point router is a device that is connected to a wired router, ethernet cable, or a switch, and creates a WLAN for a specified area.
A main use of an access point router would be to give WLAN to a part of your office or building that is just outside of the reach of a nearby router. By installing an access point router to the required area, and connecting it to an ethernet cable that connects to the server room, you can get internet connectivity in that space.
Access points also help you when you want to cater to a larger number of devices.
Other features that make using access points advantageous include access control list and captive portal support, along with a clustering feature in some routers that can help make routine IT tasks more efficient by only doing these tasks from a single point.