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Time: November 16th, 2023

Have you ever wondered the difference between wireless LAN and Wi-Fi? If you’re a Wi-Fi professional or have a CWNP certification, you probably already know the technical difference between WLAN and Wi-Fi. But these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and this article will give you a clearer understanding.
WLAN (Wireless LAN)

LAN stands for “Local Area Network”. A LAN is generally a network contained within a building or campus, representing a geographical or functional construct usually connected via cabling of various sorts. Add a W to LAN, and it becomes a wireless LAN. Therefore, WLAN is a wireless form of LAN. Since it’s wireless, it has a spectrum, and WLAN operates in four frequency bands: 2.4 GHz, 3.6 GHz, 4.9 GHz, and 5.8 GHz.

Simply put it, a WLAN is a network that uses wireless communication technology to transmit data within a limited range. Its range is usually limited to a building or an area, such as our common home wireless network or a wireless network within a company. In a wireless LAN, multiple computers, cell phones, tablets, and other devices can be connected at the same time, and they can be interconnected to share data and resources, such as printers, storage devices, and so on.

In fact, in the early development of WLAN, in addition to the IEEE standard WLAN, there are also some non-IEEE WLAN standards, such as Europe's HiperLAN (High-Performance Radio Local Area Network), Japan's HiSWAN (High Speed Wireless Access Network), China's WLAN standard WAPI. 

These non-IEEE WLAN standards also have a certain market share and application areas during their release period, but they are not as widely adopted and supported as IEEE 802.11 WiFi. With the passage of time, IEEE802.11 standard WiFi gradually become the dominant WLAN, so in this sense, WLAN is basically equal to WiFi.

Do you know the full name of Wi-Fi? It’s called “Wireless Fidelity”, which is a technology that allows electronic devices to connect to the Internet wirelessly. Wi-Fi is actually not a stand-alone network but an application based on a wireless LAN. Wi-Fi is often written as "WiFi" or "Wifi", but these terms are not recognized by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Wi-Fi is a technology that utilizes the WLAN protocol. Wi-Fi has evolved through the 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11g, 802.11n (wifi4), 802.11ac (wifi5), 802.11ax (wifi6), and IEEE 802.11be (wifi7) standards.
As for why it is called 802.11, it is because the number 802 represents the establishment time of the LAN/MAN Standards Committee (February 1980). And there are many work-groups under the 802 Committee, and then the wireless LAN work-group number is exactly the 11th work-group. So 820.11 is commonly used to refer to wireless LAN.
The Difference Between Wireless LAN and WiFi

1. Technical standards: 
A wireless LAN is a type of network whose technical standards include IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, and so on. And Wi-Fi is a wireless LAN technology that uses the IEEE 802.11 standard. In other words, Wi-Fi is an implementation of wireless LAN.

2. Application scenarios:
Wireless LAN is mainly applied to data transmission and resource sharing within the LAN. For example, within a company, employees can connect to the internal file server through wireless LAN to realize file sharing. Wi-Fi technology, on the other hand, is more often used in wireless Internet access scenarios, such as coffee shops, airports, and other public places, where people can connect to the Internet and surf the web via Wi-Fi.

3. Security:
WLAN is easy to deploy and expand, flexible, and cost-effective. On WLAN, service data is transmitted through radio signals. As such, service data can easily be intercepted or tampered with by attackers when being transmitted on open wireless channels.

4. Different speeds and stability:

The transmission speed of Wi-Fi technology tends to be faster than wireless LAN, and the Wi-Fi signal is more stable and less prone to interference. This is one of the reasons why we can surf the Internet faster using Wi-Fi at Internet access locations than we can at home on a wireless network. Wi-Fi is pretty much the only WLAN that services human clients directly, although in-building cellular may qualify as well. Most other WLANs likely service headless client device nodes.
Overall, the difference between wireless LAN and Wi-Fi is actually not so wide, and they are both important applications of wireless communication technology. 

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