Wireless vs. WLAN vs. WiFi​ – What Does Each Mean

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Wireless technology plays a key role in today’s communications, and new forms of it are becoming vital to emerging technologies including robots, drones, self-driving vehicles and new medical devices over the next five years. 

Nevertheless, we are witnessing a massive growth in new wireless devices, from computer accessories and peripheral to smart chargers and gaming headsets.


Being invented and released to the common folk in 1997, WiFi is here to stay for the long run. Whether it’s used in offices or just households, WiFi has been the main high-performance networking technology. Just imagine life for a few seconds without WiFi; all these cables lined up throughout your house or the office. Pretty nasty isn’t it?

WiFi is currently in a state of fast-paced development with WiFi 6 (802.11ax) being launched in 2019. Nowadays, devices are also built with WiFi 6 in mind which is the reason behind WiFI 6 routers, WiFi 6 laptops, WiFi 6 network cards, WiFi 6 smartphones.

5G Cellular

Although far from being mature, 5G is the next big thing and its rollout has already begun. It is commonly thought that the rollout duration will be between 5 to 8 years. 5G might actually go along in the beginning, supplementing Wi-Fi in some large sites like for instance airports or factories.

Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Wireless

Both traditional and software driven cars will need to exchange data with each other, as well as with traffic lights, signs etc . The V2X Wireless systems shall facilitate this communication. Not only the V2X will ensure data transfer and different status checks, but also navigation services could be provided as well. The chance is that V2X could potentially become part of new vehicle regulations, but this requires certain sets of requirements and protocols which are not yet in place. V2X systems will also require 5G networks in order to perform at their best capabilities.

Long-Range Wireless Power

To diminish to some extent the amount of cables, we all must have tried at some point the wireless power systems for our gadgets. Not the best experience isn’t it? The manufacturers of those chargers had extremely high hopes for these products, but the market didn’t find them so revolutionary.

In practice, one had to actually place the phone for instance on such a charger, which doesn’t make a real impact compared to using the actual cable. On top of that, the current wireless chargers are also not charging as fast as we all hope.

Fortunately this has started to improve significantly. There are already few technologies released, that can facilitate device charging at higher ranges or even with small obstacles in between.

Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) Networks

I have been working lately with several IoT devices in the medical sectors. In case of a power failure, it is absolutely mandatory that these devices stay online. Such devices or IoT applications in general, can still be connected, by benefiting from LPWA networks. Their main advantage of these networks is that they provide the necessary connectivity in a very power friendly and efficient way.

Wireless Sensing

When different wireless devices communicate to each other, there is basically a push and pull data continuu. All these signals can be captured and interpreted for sensing purposes. The sensing technology could be used by our smart household gadgets. Potentially you start watching your favourite Netflix series, your robot notices that and brings you a beer. Pretty neat right?

Enhanced Wireless Location Tracking

Whether you own a business or simply use your mobile device like most of us do, think about not benefiting from the location sense of devices connected to the wireless world. You order your food or just an Uber, could we do that without the location sensing? We could, but that would take extra time and we all know how precious time is nowadays.

Location sensing might not be so accurate today, but that’s going to change. The incoming IEEE 802.11az shall be the standard and will provide higher precision tracking to as close as one meter accuracy.

Millimeter Wave Wireless

This technology performs at frequencies ranging between 30 to 300 GHz with wavelengths ranging between 1 to 10 mlm. Wi-Fi and short range 5G can potentially benefit from this technology.

Backscatter Networking

Ideal for IoT and small devices, such as smart home sensors, the Backscatter tech can enable data transfers at very low power consumptions.

Software-Defined Radio (SDR)

Although the tech has been available for many years, it never actually took off as it’s rather expensive. The main idea behind SDR is basically shifting away most of the signal processing in radio systems, from traditional hardware chips into software, thus enabling the support of more frequencies and protocols.

Andrew Smith