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What is a Wireless LAN?

Executive Summary
This document introduces the benefits, uses and basic technologies of wireless LANs (WLANs). A WLAN is an on-premise data communication system that reduces the need for wired connections and makes new applications possible, thereby adding new flexibility to networking. Mobile WLAN users can access information and network resources as they attend meetings, collaborate with other users, or move to other campus locations. But the benefits of WLANs extend beyond user mobility and productivity to enable portable LANs. With WLANs, the network itself is movable. WLANs have proven their effectiveness in vertical markets and are now experiencing broader applicability in a wide range of business settings.

This document describes the business benefits and applications of WLANs and explains how WLANs differ from other wireless technologies. It explains the basic components and technologies of WLANs and how they work together. It explores the factors that customers must consider when evaluating WLANs for their business applications needs. Finally, it introduces the Wireless LAN Alliance (WLANA), a non-profit consortium of wireless LAN vendors that provides ongoing education about specific applications, current technologies, and future directions of wireless LANs.

A wireless LAN (WLAN) is a flexible data communication system implemented as an extension to, or as an alternative for, a wired LAN within a building or campus. Using electromagnetic waves, WLANs transmit and receive data over the air, minimizing the need for wired connections. Thus, WLANs combine data connectivity with user mobility, and, through simplified configuration, enable movable LANs.

Over the last seven years, WLANs have gained strong popularity in a number of vertical markets, including the health-care, retail, manufacturing, warehousing, and academic arenas. These industries have profited from the productivity gains of using hand-held terminals and notebook computers to transmit real-time information to centralized hosts for processing. Today WLANs are becoming more widely recognized as a general-purpose connectivity alternative for a broad range of business customers. The U.S. wireless Lan market is rapidly approaching $1 billion in revenues.

Applications for Wireless LANs
Wireless LANs frequently augment rather than replace wired LAN networks-often providing the final few meters of connectivity between a backbone network and the mobile user. The following list describes some of the many applications made possible through the power and flexibility of wireless LANs:

  • Doctors and nurses in hospitals are more productive because hand-held or notebook computers with wireless LAN capability deliver patient information instantly.
  • Consulting or accounting audit engagement teams or small workgroups increase productivity with quick network setup.
  • Network managers in dynamic environments minimize the overhead of moves, adds, and changes with wireless LANs, thereby reducing the cost of LAN ownership.
  • Training sites at corporations and students at universities use wireless connectivity to facilitate access to information, information exchanges, and learning.
  • Network managers installing networked computers in older buildings find that wireless LANs are a cost-effective network infrastructure solution.
  • Retail store owners use wireless networks to simply frequent network reconfiguration.
  • Trade show and branch office workers minimize setup requirements by installing preconfigured wireless LANs needing no local MIS support.
  • Warehouse workers use wireless LANs to exchange information with central databases and increase their productivity.
  • Network managers implement wireless LANs to provide backup for mission-critical applications running on wired networks.
  • Senior executives in conference rooms make quicker decisions because they have real-time information at their fingertips.

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