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Wireless vs. Wi-Fi: What is the difference between Wi-Fi and WLAN?

What is the basic difference between Wi-Fi and WLAN?

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Though many use "wireless LAN (WLAN)" and "Wi-Fi" interchangeably, there is a difference between Wi-Fi and WLAN, and here it is fundamentally: Wi-Fi is a certain type of WLAN.

I made a crude Venn diagram to illustrate how these two types of wireless communications relate:

While wireless LANs refer to any local area network (LAN) that a mobile user can connect to through a wireless (radio) connection; Wi-Fi (short for "wireless fidelity") is a term for certain types of WLANs that use specifications in the 802.11 wireless protocol family.

According to WhatIs.com:

The term Wi-Fi was created by an organization called the Wi-Fi Alliance, which oversees tests that certify product interoperability. A product that passes the alliance tests is given the label "Wi-Fi certified" (a registered trademark).

Interestingly enough, the latest standard, 802.11n, ratification is planned for September 2009.

To familiarize yourself with how different wireless technologies differ with Wi-Fi, here are a few other resources from our site and sister site, SearchNetworkingChannel.com:

You can learn more about wireless protocols and specifications, plus how to configure and deploy a WLAN in our wireless protocols learning guide.

This was first published in September 2009

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