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Types of Wireless Networks and Usage

There are three primary usage scenarios for wireless connectivity :

  • Wireless Personal Area Networking (WPAN)
  • Wireless Local Area Networking (WLAN)
  • Wireless Wide Area Networking (WWAN)

WPAN describes an application of wireless technology that is intended to address usage scenarios that are inherently personal in nature. The emphasis is on instant connectivity between devices that manage personal data or which facilitate data sharing between small groups of individuals. An example might be synchronizing data between a PDA and a desktop computer. Or another example might be spontaneous sharing of a document between two or more individuals. The nature of these types of data sharing scenarios is that they are ad hoc and often spontaneous. Wireless communication adds value for these types of usage models by reducing complexity (i.e. eliminates the need for cables).

WLAN on the other is more focused on organizational connectivity not unlike wire based LAN connections. The intent of WLAN technologies is to provide members of workgroups access to corporate network resources be it shared data, shared applications or e-mail but do so in way that does not inhibit a user’s mobility. The emphasis is on a permanence of the wireless connection within a defined region like an office building or campus. This implies that there are wireless access points that define a finite region of coverage.

Whereas WLAN addresses connectivity within a defined region, WWAN addresses the need to stay connected while traveling outside this boundary. Today, cellular technologies enable wireless computer connectivity either via a cable to a cellular telephone or through PC Card cellular modems. The need being addressed by WWAN is the need to stay in touch with business critical communications while traveling.

The following table summarizes each wireless connectivity usage scenario by a wireless technology.

Wireless Usage Scenarios by Technology

Wireless Standard Application Category Usage Scenario
Bluetooth Wireless Personal Area Networking (WPAN)
  • I want to instantly connect my notebook computer to another Bluetooth enabled notebook to transfer a file.
  • I want to collaboratively work on a document where meeting participants use notebooks that are wirelessly connected via Bluetooth.
  • Using a Bluetooth enabled, wireless headset, I want to listen to a CD playing on my notebook computer while it is in my briefcase.
  • I often travel to a remote site and want to walk up to a shared printer, connect and print a document without having to physically connect using a standard printer cable.
  • I want to connect to the Internet via a cellular phone without having to take my telephone out of my briefcase
802.11b Wireless Local Area Networking (WLAN)
  • I want to always be connected to my corporate LAN while moving about in my office building or campus.
  • Usage demands that I have access to corporate network data at performance levels equivalent to a wire based LAN connection.
Cellular Technologies (GSM) Wireless Wide Area Networking (WWAN)
  • I want access to e-mail and web resources while traveling away from the home office.

Bluetooth and 802.11 are emerging as the preferred technology in the commercial space for WPAN and WLAN respectively. Higher throughput, longer range and other characteristics make 802.11 better suited for WLAN than Bluetooth. The rest of this document gives a basic overview of these two technologies detailing the basic concepts, the principles of operations, and some of the reasons behind some of their features.

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