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Wireless Network Technology Basics

When wireless networks first emerged onto the market, the technologies were good only for limited distances. As the technologies have improved, so has the range of their usability. Four main classes of wireless networks exist based on range and geographical areas:

  • Wireless personal-area network (WPAN): The WPAN makes use of short-range wireless technologies, usually less than 10 meters, or 11 yards. These technologies include IrDA, Bluetooth, and ZigBee. Bluetooth has replaced IrDA as the main WPAN technology in use today, and ZigBee is an up-and-comer in that arena.

    Personal-area networks join devices such as cellphones to computers to sync data and wireless earpieces to phones.

  • Wireless local area network (WLAN): WLANs make use of LAN technologies and cover a larger area than that of the WPAN. A WLAN typically provides network connectivity throughout an office, a building, or several buildings within a small geographical area, with all the networking components connected via LAN technologies. The technology used for a WLAN is short range and typically includes, but is not limited to, 802.11 networking components.

  • Wireless metropolitan-area network (WMAN): With another increase in the geographical area, you deal with the WMAN. The technologies used in a WMAN allow wireless connections over longer ranges than the WLAN, which are limited to several hundred meters or yards. The WMAN uses technologies such as WiMAX, which can cover several kilometers or miles. The distinction between the WLAN and WMAN is made primarily by the types of technology used.

  • Wireless wide-area network (WWAN): The largest area covered is the WWAN, which uses public carriers rather than private equipment. The public carriers may make use of WiMAX but most often make use of other cellular network technologies (such as GPRS, HSDPA, and 3G) to communicate.

    When using a device on a WWAN, the user can connect to his office network via a secured connection or connect two offices within the area of the cellular network provider.

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