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What’s the difference between WLAN and WWAN?

What’s the difference between WLAN and WWAN?

March 2010

WLAN (Wireless Local Area Networks) and WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Networks) both connect to the Internet wirelessly, but use different technology. WLAN, also referred to as WiFi, is intended for “local” use (the “L” in WLAN), and is probably the most common way to wirelessly connect to the Internet. WWAN, also known as a “3G” or “4G” network, is a mobile broadband3 option that covers a “wide” area (the “W” in WWAN).

Imagine the two wireless options as if they were phone connections instead of Internet. WLAN is like your home phone. It’s generally affordable, and you can use it in or around your house (or wherever the WLAN router (“hot spot”) is located).

WWAN is like your cellular phone: you can use it anywhere you have coverage. It uses cellular service, provided by mobile operators, so it requires a monthly subscription fee or “session-based pricing”.

Look at both sides
+ Most computers come with WLAN technology built in
+ It’s easy to set up a WLAN network in your home, using a router and Internet service provider (ISP)
+ Connections are found in homes, offices, hotels, coffee shops and airports; sometimes free to use
+ Keeps you constantly connected to your network
+ Easy for small businesses to grow and connect more users without adding wires
+ Typically faster than WWAN
– The area covered is fixed and typically small
– Because it uses radio waves, signal strength can sometimes be compromised
– When it is not free, users must usually purchase usage in 24-hour increments

+ Provides regional, nationwide and global wireless coverage
+ Insert the WWAN card from your service provider or select a notebook with built-in WWAN technology and then contract with a service provider
+ Provides better security than WLAN, thanks to built-in 128-bit encryption
+ Utilises cellular technology to securely transfer data or connect to the Internet
+ Ideal for users away from home needing to connect virtually anywhere in their coverage area
– ISP contract may cost more than WLAN for those who rarely need or use wireless Internet access
– Replacing a lost external WWAN card can be costly

Which connection is right?
Home users: If most of your computing is done in your home, WLAN is usually the best choice.
Students: Since most universities provide Internet service on their campus, WLAN may be the best option.
Travellers: If you’re constantly on the road and can’t be without your web connection, WWAN is right for you.
Netbook users: HP Mini netbooks come with built-in WLAN capability but if you want Internet connections beyond hot spots, you may want to order an HP Mini with built-in mobile broadband.

Getting started
If your laptop has a built-in wireless card, all you need is an ISP, a modem (sometimes provided by the ISP) and a router. Today’s HP mobile broadband laptops allow you to purchase a system with WWAN already built in. Or, for select models, you can add an after-market WWAN kit that is easily installed.


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