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

Learn the differences between WLAN (Wireless LAN) and a Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) and why knowing the difference between networking protocols is so important, from our expert Tessa Parmenter.

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

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:

wireless vs. WLAN vs. Wi-Fi Venn diagram

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 last published in September 2009

Dig Deeper on WLAN Standards



Find more PRO+ content and other member only offers, here.

Have a question for an expert?

Please add a title for your question

Get answers from a TechTarget expert on whatever's puzzling you.

You will be able to add details on the next page.

1 comment


Forgot Password?

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an email containing your password.

Your password has been sent to: