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Types of Wireless Networks according to the distance (Range)
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Wireless Technologies are categorized into various types depending upon the range up to which they operate. They are described in the following section. Starting from the largest distance, they are Wireless Wide Area Network (WWANs), Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks (WMANs), Wireless Local Area Network (WLANs), Wireless Personal Area Network (WPANs).

1) Wireless Wide Area Network (WWANs): These types of networks can be maintained over large areas, such as neighboring towns, cities or countries, via multiple satellite systems or antenna sites looked after by an ISP ( Internet service provider). These networks are designed to cover an area of more than 35 Km. These types of systems have been categorized as 2G (2nd Generation), 3G (3rd Generation), 4G (4th Generation) systems and upcoming generations. WWAN services are typically delivered to smart phones and other handheld devices sold by cellular service providers. The family of WWAN technologies includes GSM, UMTS, CDMA One, CDMA2000 and many more.

2) Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks (WMANs): WMAN technology allows connecting several wireless LANs (Local area Networks). In this, multiple networks are connected together to extend the range. It includes metropolitan area such as different buildings in a city, which can be an alternative or backup to laying copper or fiber cabling. WMAN networking technology is also known as Wireless Local Loop (WLL). It allows communication in between two or more terminals (nodes) with the help of single access point, within a radius up to 35 km. The most well-known WMAN wireless networking technology includes WiMAX (WorldWide Interoperability for Microwave Access) created by WiMAX Forum which was founded by Esemble, Nokia, Harri and CrossSpan in 2001. This wireless network is also known as IEEE 802.16 (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), standard which defines the technology.

3) Wireless Local Area Network (WLANs): WLANs allow users to link two or more devices through access points(APs) to the wider Internet. It provides mobility function to its users to cover local area such as a university campus, library or canteen, small offices or home being a part of network i.e. these networks are limited upto a few meters. In this technology a temporary network can also be formed by a small number of users without the need of an access point (APs). Sometimes it is called as a local area wireless network (LAWN). The maximum range of a WLAN is about 300 feet (100m) at 2.4 GHz of frequency. For operating frequency of 5 GHz the coverage range further decreases.

4) Wireless Personal Area Network (WPANs): WPAN is another wireless network that interconnects devices in a short span, generally within a person’s reach. Few example, technologies that are part of WPAN are Infra Red (IR), Bluetooth (IEEE 802.15.1) and Zigbee (802.15.4). These will allow the connectivity of personal devices within an area of about 30 feet(10m). However, IR requires a direct line of site and the range is less.

Comparison of Wireless Network Types

Type Coverage Performance Standard Applications
Wireless WAN Worldwide
(> 35 km)
Low Cellular 2G, 3G, 4G Mobile access to the Internet from outdoor areas
Wireless MAN Within a city
(up to 35km)
High IEEE 802.16, WiMAX Fixed wireless between homes and business and internet
Wireless LAN Within a building or Campus
(>100m)
Moderate IEEE 802.11, WiFi, Hiper LAN Mobile extension of wired network
Wireless PAN Within a reach of a person
(10-100m)
Moderate IEEE 802.15 Cable replacements
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