Telecommunications companies set up computer networks to provide Internet access. Both wireless wide-area networks, or WWAN, and wireless local-area networks, or WLAN, provide access. The network you choose depends on your particular Internet requirements. Compare the setup methods and other features of these wireless networks to decide which type of service meets your Internet needs.
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Wireless local-area networks provide Internet access within a small geographic space. This is the Wi-Fi access that you find at some business locations. Unlike dial-up services, cable and other wired Internet access, all computers within the WLAN's effective range can get online without any wires. The typical radius of a WLAN access point is 65 to 300 feet.
A wireless wide-area network provides Internet access over a larger geographic area than a WLAN. The 3G and 4G networks used with mobile phones are WWAN examples. Some WWAN broadband equipment can reach up to 45 miles. All computers within this geographic area can access the Internet wirelessly. Although the reach of a single WWAN does not extend nationwide, you can get nationwide access through an interconnected system of wireless wide-area networks.
Computers usually have WLAN equipment installed at the factory level. You just need wired Internet access, a modem and a wireless router in your home or office to set up your own WLAN. Dial-up Internet does not work for setting up a WLAN. You need a T-1, DSL, cable or broadband connection. If you are accessing someone else's Wi-Fi service, you do not need anything except the factory-installed WLAN equipment. Likewise, some computers also have WWAN equipment installed by the manufacturer. However, if you have a computer that does not have this technology, the Internet service provider will give you a WWAN card to activate the service. You also need an Internet access provider to set up WWAN. The difference is that WWAN uses wireless cellular technology instead of the WLAN requirement of a wired Internet connection.
Choosing a Service
At the time of publication, the typical monthly price for WWAN access is about $60. You can get Internet access for the home at cheaper rates if you want to set up your own home-based WLAN. For example, some providers offer DSL for as little as about $15 per month. However, if you need mobile access over a large area, WWAN provides that convenience at a higher price. If you are happy with using free Wi-Fi in local coffee shops and other businesses, then WLAN is all you need. If you need secure communications, the 128-bit encryption technology used by WWAN is safer than WLAN.