WLAN vs. Wi-Fi- What is the difference?

Contrary to popular belief, WLAN and Wi-Fi is not the same thing. WLAN stands for Wireless Local Area Network, while Wi-Fi refers to Wireless Fidelity. Read on to discover the differences and similarities between WLAN and Wi-Fi.

Over the years, data communications have improved immensely as people can share files and information with more comfort and ease. However, the notion of wireless connectivity continues to become more complex in the business world. For instance, many people use WLAN and Wi-Fi interchangeably, yet these two terms are two different wireless technologies. Although they both use radio waves to transmit data between devices, WLAN refers to any wireless local area network while Wi-Fi is a type of WLAN under the IEEE 802.11 standards. Let us look at some more differences between WLAN and Wi-Fi.

What is the difference between WLAN and Wi-Fi?

 
WLAN
Wi-Fi
Definition
The use of wireless digital networking signals to connect a variety of computers and other devices within a specific geographical area
A trademark of Wireless Local Area Trademark Alliance (WLANA)
Coverage
A Wide geographic area of up to 5km, like a city, town, or country
A Small range that is close to the transmitter that is up to around 90 meters (300ft.), like within a house, building, or office
Speed
Approximately 1-10Mbps
10Gbps

WLAN vs. Wi-Fi – How do they compare?

Definition

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) refers to a network of computer systems connected together using high radio frequency signals to share data within a few hundred feet. Similarly, this network can connect a variety of computers to a central information system, a scanner, or a printer. As a result, users can enjoy reliable mobility without having to deal with setting up several cables for interconnectivity. The foremost standard for wireless LANs is IEEE (Institute of Electrical &Electronic Engineers) 802.11.

On the other hand, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) is a trademark logo owned by Wi-Fi Alliance, formerly known as Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), an International Non-Profit Organization. The brand name refers to a category of WLAN devices, which are branded according to the standards under IEEE 802.11. Buyers of these branded devices or hardware have an assurance that such products will work seamlessly with other Wi-Fi branded products produced by various manufacturers across the globe.

Therefore, WLAN is more versatile and flexible than Wi-Fi as it contains more means of connectivity.

Range of coverage

Generally, WLAN has much broader coverage than Wi-Fi as it connects a variety of computers and devices that are not necessarily in proximity to one another. As a result, computers and other low-voltage devices can share information and access the internet over extensive physical distances of about 5km, using antennas to boost the signal.

Alternatively, Wi-Fi uses similar radio waves like the WLAN, and the quality of its signal degrades as you go further away from the source. Depending on the network used, a standard home Wi-Fi network, using one router, serves only one family. As a general rule of thumb, Wi-Fi routers using the 2.4GHz bandwidth can reach a maximum of 150 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors, while older 802.11a routers that used the 5GHz band reached about a third of these distances. However, newer Wi-Fi routers (802.11n and 802.11ac) can operate on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz to cover much greater distances.

Therefore, WLAN offers a wider coverage range than Wi-Fi.

Theoretical speed

Being that WLAN is spread over an extensive geographical area, this network offers a lesser theoretical speed compared to Wi-Fi. Generally, WLAN has a data transmission speed of about 1-10Mbps and experiences more congestion, which drastically reduces the bandwidth available for transmission to connected devices.

On the other hand, the maximum theoretical speed of a Wi-Fi network depends on its Wi-Fi standard. The fastest Wi-Fi standard is the 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard that provides a maximum speed of 10Gbps. Other Wi-Fi standards include 802.11b with 5.5Mbps, 802.11g, and 802.11a that runs on 20Gbps, and also 802.11n with a maximum rate of 600Mbps.

Wi-Fi is, therefore, faster than WLAN due to high transmission rates.

WLAN vs. Wi-Fi – A comparison review

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)

Wireless LAN

When you connect different computers using wireless communication within a small geographic area, you create a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). WLAN adheres to the IEEE 802.11 standard when connecting laptops, desktops, personal digital assistants, printers, workstations, and smartphones. The network is easy to install and is ideal for use in a specific building, region, or any other vast terrain.

In 1990, WLAN installation was quite costly and was only used where wired connections were not possible. Luckily, in the late 1990s, the cost drastically reduced upon the IEEE 802.11 standard, enabling WLANs to use access points (AP) to send and receive radio waves to connected devices to access the internet. More so, the network works with a frequency of 5GHz (802.11a) and 2.4GHz (802.11b), and devices connected to this network are clients.

Furthermore, the Wireless Local Area Network has a decent transfer rate ranging from 1 to 10Mbps. It uses star topology whereby all its nodes receive/send data through the use of access points. Such wireless communication works best with offices, buildings, or large homes and does not require any cable setup to connected devices. The network also features various security measures, including WPZ or WEP, and can also use infrared technology, when necessary.

Pros                                     

  • Guarantees reliable and flexible communication as it needs no cable configuration
  • Reduces ownership costs
  • Easy to add/remove workstation
  • Devices can connect from anywhere through its access points
  • Minimal network obstruction by trees and buildings

Cons

  • Requires license to operate
  • Data transfer rate decreases as the number of connected devices increase
  • Low data security

 Wi-Fi

802.11ac vs. 802.11ad

Wi-Fi refers to a wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to offer wireless high-speed network and internet connections. It is a trademark logo for the Wi-Fi Alliance, an organization of companies that manufactures Wi-Fi enabled devices. The Wi-Fi Alliance is responsible for overseeing tests that certify devices with the Wi-Fi logo can work seamlessly with wireless networks.

Generally, Wi-Fi works by establishing a wireless adapter that creates hotspots to allow connected devices to access the internet. These hotspots are accessible areas within the proximity of the adapter that is free from unnecessary obstructions and interference.

Furthermore, Wi-FI networks are available practically anywhere through the use of access points, also referred to as routers. These devices direct traffic across a particular local area network to effectively provide internet connectivity. Routers can support a variety of Wi-Fi standards, meaning they can connect various generations of devices.

Most modern smartphones and laptops support Wi-Fi connectivity. However, it is advisable to ensure that your router is compatible with your devices before purchasing it. Check the box or documentation your device came in to see its compatible Wi-Fi standards. You may also opt to use an external adapter if you need to connect to another type of Wi-Fi network.

Pros

  • Increased efficiency
  • ease of access
  • Readily available
  • Cost-efficient
  • Secure network connectivity
  • High data transfer speeds

Cons

  • High initial setup costs

Conclusion

Every home and business environment needs fast, secure, and seamless connectivity. WLAN and Wi-Fi are wireless networks that offer connected devices internet access and an option to share information efficiently. By understanding the difference between these two networking systems, you can readily choose which one is most suitable for you or your organization.

Final verdict: So which is better WLAN vs. Wi-Fi?

All factors considered, Wi-Fi is a more reliable and flexible network connectivity due to its ease of access and secure network. It also has higher data transfer rates than WLAN.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is WLAN better than Wi-Fi?

Both WLAN and Wi-Fi offer similar connectivity. WLAN is ideal for large offices and homes, while Wi-Fi works best in a smaller environment due to its limited range.

What does Wi-Fi stand for?

Wi-Fi refers to Wireless Fidelity and is a trademark logo for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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