Wireless Connectivity

Your Simple Guide to Wireless Networks

Wireless networks are crucial for mobility and flexibility in the workplace. We use them to access the cloud, use collaboration tools, video conference, and manage smart building technology. While everyone understands what wireless internet does for us, understanding how a wireless network works or the components that go into it is not common knowledge.

We created a simple guide to wireless networks to cover the basic components of a wireless network, different types of wireless networks, network security, and how to determine your wireless networking requirements. As always, we would love to hear from you so send any questions about this guide to ContactUs@Matrix-NDI.com.

Types of Wireless Networks

There six main types of wireless networks that are used every day around the globe. Usage includes personal communication, business communication, intercontinental or global networks, and emergency services. Keep in mind that we are discussing wireless networks, we will not be discussing wired networks in this article. Here are the six main types of wireless networks:

Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN)

The wireless personal area network (WPAN) is for use by one individual. This generally refers to Bluetooth connected devices such a mouses, printers, keyboards, smart watches, and other personal devices.

Wide Local Area Network (WLAN)

WLAN is probably the most common wireless network term that you will hear. It is an extension of a wired network that allows wireless connectivity within a building or a campus (aka the Wi-Fi in your office building or home).

Mobile ad-hoc Network (MANET)

A mobile ad-hoc network is not reliant on any pre-existing infrastructure and the data travels from one network node to another until it reaches the target destination. There is no central node or router so if one node is interrupted, the data can find a different route to its target. These networks are most common in the military, agriculture, and disaster rescue situations.

Wireless Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

A MAN is a network that extends citywide. It allows for many WLANs to interconnect for seamless coverage across a large geographical area.

Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN)

A wireless wide area network covers are regional, national, or global geographical area. It uses cellular network such as 3G/4G/LTE/5G for connection. Any user who needs to connect to the internet in field setting can obtain a WWAN card or enabled device to ensure connectivity wherever they are. It is important to note that WWAN speeds and performance are much lower than a WLAN.

Cellular Network

The cellular network delivers voice and data on a regional, national, and global scale. They are generally known as LTE, 0G-5G, or UMTS.designer hand working and smart phone and laptop on wooden desk in office with london city background-2

Determining your Wireless Network Needs

In the business world, WLANs are the most deployed as they cover basic wireless needs required for day-to-day operations. The reason for this is that they are scalable in extending the network into areas where cabling is undesirable or infeasible, they encourage mobility, and they can connect office spaces or buildings together. However, it is important to explore your unique business needs before selecting a network type. Here are some questions to consider before making a decision:

  • What level of coverage do you require?
  • How do your users move throughout your space? Do they have dedicated workstations? Do you require coverage in hallways or lobbies? Do you require coverage outdoors or for field employees?
  • What level of protection does your data need?
  • What current applications, databases, and systems do you use? Will they be compatible with the wireless network you are intending to implement?
  • How many users and devices will be connected to the network?

This is by no means a complete list of questions, but it gives you an idea of things to consider and work through with your provider.

WLAN Components

Since WLAN is the most deployed wireless network for businesses, we will dive into the basic component structure.

  • Wireless Router: The router performs traffic directing functions between a local network and the global internet.
  • Wireless Access Points (WAP), or simply Access Points (AP): The access point allows users to connect wirelessly to the internet throughout the area of coverage (the office, building, coffee shop, etc.).
  • Wireless Adaptors, or Network Interface Cards (NICs): the most common adaptors are either USB or PCI cards. They connect a device to the WLAN and transmit radio waves. It is important to note that modern devices have a built-in wireless adaptor.
  • Wireless Bridge and/or Repeater: A wireless bridges and repeaters work to improve Wi-Fi coverage or extend it further. Their primary purpose is to receive your wireless signals and relay them back and forth between your device and your router or access point. Bridges are generally used to link two networks together in an organized manner, while repeaters are simply used to extend the length of the wireless signal.
  • Wireless Controller: Wireless controllers are used in networks with a large quantity of WAPs. They act as a central management hub and allow for advanced functions like access control, restricted bandwidth by user or group, traffic prioritization, and centralized authentication.

Wireless Network Security

By nature, wireless networks are at a higher risk for attack than wired networks. Wireless network security aims to bar unauthorized access to your systems, devices, or data. While security standards are ever-changing, there are some basic safeguards to have in place to protect your network.

  • Ensure your hardware is up to date and your firewalls are configured properly.
  • Access to any wireless network should be password protected (including guest networks).
  • Consider a managed cybersecurity solution.
  • Anti-virus or anti-malware software on connected devices.
  • Ensure data encryption is enabled.
  • Educate on and enforce the use of strong password practices. This means passwords that are longer than 10 characters and contain special characters or numbers. Passwords should not contain names, common words, or memorable dates.

Wireless security and cybersecurity are extremely large topics, and this is a simplified run through of steps that can be taken to protect your network. For more information on cyber attacks check out our blog Top 8 Types of Cybersecurity Attacks.

As we mentioned earlier, this article is a discussion on wireless networks, not wired networks. It is important to note that no wireless networks exist without low voltage cabling infrastructure. At Matrix-NDI we specialize in both low voltage cabling and wireless networking, and we are here to answer any of your questions surrounding your current or future wireless environment. Reach out to us at ContactUs@Matrix-NDI.com or call 763-475-5500.

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