computers connected to each other and wireless icons

There are many types of wireless communication, with the ever-growing number of standards and types of wireless technologies on the market, any busy business owner should be excused for getting cellular 5G, and 5GHz WiFi confused every now and then. While our guide is by no means complete, we have prepared an overview of the different, most commonly encountered types of wireless technologies and the types of wireless communication they are used for, to make it a bit easier for you to understand.

Types of Wireless Communication

The days of the word “wireless” describing your nan’s vintage radio are long gone in the future year of 2020. There are now more types of wireless communication on the market that we thought will be possible even as recently as just 20 years ago, and the word “wireless” is now a casual name for quite a few of them. Not all kinds of wireless are equal, however, and not all can (or are) used in the same applications. Some of these terms may be familiar to you: radio and television broadcasting, radar communication, cellular communication, global position systems (GPS), WiFi, Bluetooth and radio frequency identification are all examples of “wireless”, with wildly different uses in some case. Today, we will focus on the types of wireless technologies that commonly find application in information technology.

Types of Wireless Network

There are two types of wireless network most commonly found in everyday scenarios:

  • Local Area Network (LAN) – for example your internal office network or your network of home devices (computers, game consoles, mobile phones and tablets connected to the same router in one location form a local area network). In the past, a wired connection using what is commonly called an “ethernet cable” would be required to set-up a local area network. Although wired networks are still quite common for many reasons, such as better protection from interference and security when compared to wireless, WiFi is now commonly used for local networking.
  • Wide Area Network (WAN) – is a type of a network extending over a larger area, and the Internet may be considered a WAN. In the case of the Internet, wires are used to move the bulk of the data travelling around the network because they are generally faster and more reliable as well as less susceptible to interference. However, with the advent of the modern smartphone and other mobile devices such as tablets, more and more users connect to the Internet wirelessly using cellular data. This is different from WiFi, and still confuses many of the less tech-savvy users.

Types of Wireless Network used for Local Area Networks

It is hard to imagine modern life without the ubiquitous WiFi. WiFi has come a long way since its beginnings in Australia as a radio astronomy experiment at Macquarie University and today, close to five billion devices use WiFi for networking with the number steadily growing. WiFi is commonly used to established local area networks where device mobility is a factor (for laptops and smartphone users) or where cabling may be impractical. WiFi routers found commonly in everyday settings can usually cover a small to a medium-sized area such as an office or residential premises; the range of WiFi can be extended with the use of repeaters. There are two radio bands commonly used for WiFi communication in Australia. When we talk about local area wireless networks, we are typically describing a scenario where a WiFi-enabled device like a smartphone, tablet, personal or a laptop computer connects to a router in an office or home, to enable internet access without the need to use network cables on-premises.

2.4GHz

The 2.4GHz (gigahertz) band provides a longer range of coverage, but at the expense data transmission rates (in simple terms, it is slower). It is compatible with a wide range of WiFi-enabled devices.

5GHz

The 5GHz band is faster, suffers less from interference from common household appliances than the 2.4GHz band. Still, it does so at the cost of a smaller coverage area because wall penetration of higher frequency radios is lower. Some older devices may not support the 5GHz frequency and will be unable to connect to 5GHz WiFi. It is important to remember that 5GHz WiFi must not be confused with cellular 5G, which is a different type of technology altogether. Some router manufacturers add to this confusion – by default, many routers include “5G” in the default names of their 5GHz WiFi networks. 5GHz WiFi is a short-range, home and office networking system, whereas “5G” means the fifth generation of cell phone networks.

Types of Wireless Network in Cellular Communication

When we talk about cellular wireless communication, we are most commonly referring to a scenario where a device like a mobile phone/smartphone or a sim card enabled tabled, or laptop computer connects to a cellular tower to facilitate internet access on the go. Cellular communication typically uses radio waves of specific frequency for data and voice transmission.

3G

3G is the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunication technology. Most often, it is found in mobile phones/smartphones, and sim card enabled tablets.

4G

4G is a loose term for the fourth generation of cellular telecommunication technologies, up to about ten times faster than 3G.

LTE

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution which has sometimes been marketed as 4G LTE, but it is technically not 4G but rather an evolution of 3G. Still, the performance of both 4G and LTE is comparable in most everyday scenarios where coverage is not an issue, blurring the difference between 4G and LTE for most users.

5G

5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networking, providing further bandwidth (speed) improvements over the past iterations of cellular wireless networks.

Types of Wireless Communication Used in Short Range Wireless Devices

Not all wireless communication technologies are used for networking or for enabling internet access (though some of them do allow for very short-range networking and file exchanges).

Bluetooth

Bluetooth uses radio waves in the frequency range of 2.402 to 2.480GHz (and this must not be confused with 2.4GHz WiFi we described earlier). Typical everyday uses of Bluetooth include connecting wireless computer peripherals (such as mice, keyboards, speakers, game controllers) and remote control (for example between a mobile phone and Bluetooth enabled car or home audio systems).

Infrared

Infrared communication uses invisible to the naked eye infrared light rather than radio waves. It is only used for short-range communication and requires a line of sight between the two devices (because light does not readily penetrate solid objects such as walls, unlike radio waves).

We hope we’ve helped to clear at least some of the confusion the naming and application of the many wireless communication technologies used in IT applications. If you need help with wireless connectivity in your business, would like to set up a medium or a small business WiFi, or would like to hear more about any of our other business IT solutions and how they can improve the quality of life and productivity in your business, book a coffee meeting with Eric today.