Key Terms You Should Know for Wireless Networking

By Doug Lowe

A wireless network is just a network that uses radio signals rather than direct cable connections to exchange information. Simple as that. A computer with a wireless network connection is like a cellphone. Just as you don’t have to be connected (tethered) to a phone line to use a cellphone, you don’t have to be connected to a network cable to use a wireless networked computer.

Here are the key concepts and terms you need to understand to set up and use a basic wireless network:

  • WLAN: A wireless network is often referred to as a wireless local area network (WLAN). Some people prefer to switch the acronym around to local area wireless network, or LAWN.
  • Wi-Fi: The term Wi-Fi is often used to describe wireless networks although it technically refers to just one form of wireless network: the 802.11 standard.
  • SSID: A wireless network has a name, known as a SSID. SSID stands for service set identifier. (Wouldn’t that make a great Jeopardy! question? Four-letter acronyms for $400, please!) All the computers that belong to a single wireless network must have the same SSID.
  • Channels: Wireless networks can transmit over any of several channels. For computers to talk to one another, though, they must be configured to transmit on the same channel.
  • Ad-hoc: The simplest type of wireless network consists of two or more computers with wireless network adapters. This type of network is an ad-hoc mode network.
  • Infrastructure mode: A more complex type of network is an infrastructure mode network. All this really means is that a group of wireless computers can be connected not only to one another, but also to an existing cabled network via a device called a wireless access point (WAP).