Research Hub > What Are the Different Types of Wireless Networks?

September 06, 2022

Use Case
4 min

Wireless Networks: What are the Different Types and Which is Right for You?

Whether in your home or business, you can avoid running cables between equipment locations with a wireless network. But there are so many types of wireless networks and standards that it is hard to figure out which will work best for your needs.

Wireless networking. Wi-Fi. You can't walk into a coffee shop anymore without seeing or hearing these words. A wireless network is a computer network that is not connected by cables of any kind. Wireless networking allows devices to stay connected but roam untethered to any cables. Your smartphone can connect to Wi-Fi at Starbucks; you can connect a printer to your laptop that is in another room; you can run an entire business without snaking cables through your building.

Whether in your home or business, you can avoid the costly, time-consuming and often tedious process of running cables between various equipment locations. 

But there are so many different types of wireless networks — LAN, WAN, PAN, MAN — and so many different standards — B, G, N, AC — that it is hard to figure out which will work best for your needs.

Wireless Networks

There are four main types of wireless networks.

  1. Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPAN) are short-range networks that connect devices within a relatively small area. A WPAN generally connects devices within a person's reach, though the range can extend up to about 30 feet. Using Bluetooth technology, a WPAN can interconnect compatible devices near a central location, such interconnecting a headset to a laptop on your desk.

  2. Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) are wireless networks that use radio waves, not Bluetooth technology like WPANs. There is usually at least one cable that is the access point for internet access, such as a wired internet connection going into a router, which then broadcasts the wireless signal to other devices. WLANs are used for connecting to local resources and to the internet. The range can be confined to a single room or home or spread across an entire building or campus with the use of spread-spectrum or OFDM technologies.

  3. Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWAN) can be maintained over large areas, such as cities or countries, via multiple satellite systems, antenna sites or mobile phone signals. With a wide coverage area, WWANs provide a way to stay connected when other forms of network access are unavailable. 

  4. Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks (WMAN) connect several different WLANs in a metropolitan area, such as different buildings in a city.

Between these four options, there are really only two choices for personal use and small businesses — WPAN and WLAN. A WPAN would provide interconnectivity of devices within a 30-foot range, perfect for a home office or very small office location. But if you need coverage to extend to your entire house or large business building, a WLAN is the choice for you, since it provides coverage across a local area and can support user totals in the thousands.

Wireless Network Standards

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the standard for Wi-Fi technology that all wireless routers follow, 802.11. The 802.11 standard applies to several specifications of WLANs and defines an over-the-air interface between a wireless client and a base station or between two wireless clients.

The five Wi-Fi technologies are A, B, G, N and AC. B and G use the 2.4 GHz frequency; A and AC use the 5 GHz frequency; and N uses both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies. Your choice for your home or business will come down to three: Wireless G, N or AC. Routers that only support Wireless B are no longer manufactured.

Wireless AC routers are the best option for small business use because they have good broadcast capability and allow for multiple devices to enjoy optimal performance at the same time. Depending on the router you choose, you can enjoy added security features and server hosting capabilities.

Wireless N routers are a good choice for a home office wireless network. They support several computers and other electronic devices at one time, so the router will continue to perform even when running computers, entertainment systems and other peripheral items at once.

Wireless G routers are not a good choice for small offices if you need to connect a lot of devices to each other or need to use complex programs or cloud applications on the internet.

Before purchasing a wireless router, you will want to ensure that the wireless interfaces on your devices support your chosen technology. Not all devices support Wireless AC, for example.

Figuring out the right wireless network and its necessary components can be a confusing and twisty journey. For home offices and small businesses, WLAN is the way to go because of its better range capabilities, and Wireless AC routers provide the opportunity to connect multiple devices to the network without slowdown occurring.