Guide

Wireless technology

Wireless local area networks (LANs)

A local area network (LAN) without cables is called a wireless LAN (WLAN).

What is wireless LAN?

WLANs are data networks that allow computer systems to connect together through a wireless radio connection, so that they can share data and access external networks such as the internet. You can connect WLAN-enabled devices anytime they are in a WLAN's range.

How to set up a wireless local area network?

All you need to set up a WLAN is:

  • an access point to allow devices to communicate with each other
  • adapters for each PC, laptop and handheld device

The term Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) is often used in connection with WLANs. Wi-Fi refers to a set of industry standards called IEEE 802.11 that most WLANs are built to. Read more about WLAN standards.

Advantages of wireless LAN

WLANs can broadly do anything that a 'wired' LAN can do, without the messy cables between the user device and the network. A wireless set up can:

  • enable workers to share a network and hardware
  • allow workers to remain online even if they move their laptop, netbook, tablet or other mobile devices around the wireless-enabled space
  • provide for greater flexibility in an office, eg 'hot desking'

WLANs can extend network access to areas where cabling might not be cost-effective or practical. For example, from an office to its adjacent warehouse or storeroom, or across retail outlets, hotels, or public spaces such as health centres and job centres.

WLANs can particularly benefit businesses that:

  • have staff working away from the office (eg sales staff)
  • rely on flexible working styles, such as 'home working' or ‘hot desking’
  • are located in premises where wiring is impractical or cost prohibiting (eg listed buildings)

What are WLAN ‘hotspots’?

WLAN 'hotspots' are wireless-enabled areas offering customers access to a broadband internet connection, usually for a usage fee. Such services are becoming common in public areas such as airports, stations, cafes and hotels, so that workers can be in regular communication with their business while travelling.

It is important to make sure that you use a secure wireless network using strong encryption, or use a VPN over any unencrypted wireless network. See more on securing your wireless network