Wireless LANs (local area networks) use the 802.11 specifications set forth by the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Both everyday home users and professional businesses use this wireless technology when connecting to the Internet to make things simpler and easier than other forms of networking. Wireless hardware technology does offer benefits, such as the broadcast-SSID (secure set identifier) option, which masks a wireless network to outsiders, but there are clear downsides to using this type of infrastructure as well.
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Wireless LANs allow greater mobility than other types of Internet infrastructures such as wired networks. Wireless networks require no physical connection from each computer to the network's resources, which means that connection wires don't need to be transferred when moving a work station. The mobility factor enables a computer to obtain Internet access wherever a wireless signal is present instead of worrying about finding a physical wall connection. This presents an advantage to both home Internet users and many professionals who use mobile devices, such as health care workers and inventory clerks.
Wireless LANs offer cost savings in terms of installation and overall maintenance of the network. Wireless LANs communicate via radio frequencies instead of through physical connections, which means that hefty costs for extending wires and outside Internet lines are not incurred for a wireless network. Instead, a virtual private network (VPN) can be used to avoid physical building-to-building connections. For maintenance costs, wireless LANs save the money traditionally used to repair cables between the network and individual computers.
Technology used to construct wireless LANs offers reliability to users in terms of the constant Internet connection. Since not as much cable and wires are used, wireless LANs save the downtime and repair time that are traditionally involved in repairing faulty cables and connections that need to be replaced. Using fewer cables also means that there is less of a chance for accidental wire damage, which increases the reliability of a wireless LAN.
Security issues involve both benefits and disadvantages for a wireless LAN. Networks that use wireless technology have more chances for security breaches. Wireless LANs use radio frequencies to communicate, which presents a vulnerability to any outside intruder who wants to find and hack the network. In addition, increasing wireless access points on the network also increases the number of entryways you have to remember to protect with firewalls and other security software. On the other hand, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) technology offers strong encryption algorithms to secure wireless LANs.
Technology used in wireless LAN infrastructures typically offers signal ranges only up to a couple hundred feet. This presents an advantage to home users as only one access point is needed. However, larger wireless LANs, such as those in offices and businesses, must spend money on adding more access points like wireless routers and repeaters. During this process, installation costs are incurred, as well as security costs for protecting wireless access points.
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