What is a WLAN and Does My Small Business Need One?

What is a WLAN and Does My Small Business Need One?

If you run a company, it’s extremely difficult to do business without online connectivity. Sales potential, marketing efforts, lead generation and logistical processes can all be drastically enhanced by an effective wireless connection — and in this day and age, you’re probably doing your business a disservice by not having one.

But there are quite a few to choose from. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Peer-to-Peer (P2P) setups and an ever-increasing range of Wide Area Networks (WANs) have been increasing in popularity over the course of the last decade, and each has its own set of unique benefits. Yet by and large, the most popular method of online connectivity for small businesses continues to be the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) — and with good reason.

What is a WLAN?

People tend to use the terms WiFi and WLAN interchangeably when discussing standard wireless internet connections, but the truth is there is a subtle difference. A WLAN is a method of wireless delivery that joins two or more high-frequency radio devices. More often than not, those devices share a frequency with an internet access point in order to create a small network connection with a limited geographical catchment area (ordinarily around 30 to 150 feet).

WLANs are also sometimes referred to as Local Area Wireless Networks (LAWNs), and are one of the most common small business connectivity solutions offered by internet service providers.

How is that different from a WiFi connection? In name only.

Although people use the term WiFi to describe just about every type of wireless internet connection under the sun, it’s actually a trademarked name owned by the WiFi Alliance. Only products explicitly endorsed by the alliance are allowed to feature its logo — even if they’re WLAN-compatible.

It’s all semantics, really — but the distinction is good to know when you’re shopping around for relevant products.

Do I Need a WLAN for My Business?

It’s not necessarily fair to generalize and say a company will live or die based upon its internet connectivity. But the truth is, there aren’t many organizations that wouldn’t find a WLAN (WiFi certified or not) incredibly useful. For companies operating in the catering and accommodation space, free wireless internet connections are taken for granted by customers. But there are plenty of practical reasons for all businesses to have one.

First and foremost, businesses with a WLAN are able to utilize a wider range of devices. You’ve got to be connected to the internet to enjoy full use of the majority card machines, industrial equipment, phones and computers — and a premises-wide wireless network is the best way to do it. In turn, WLANs free employees up to get work done with different devices in different areas, increasing collaborative thinking and efficiency.

And so long as your company’s wireless requirements aren’t too picky or complex, investing in a WLAN is the simplest and cheapest way to develop your own network.

How Do I Set Up a WLAN?

In most cases, setting up a WLAN is incredibly simple. First and foremost, you need a broadband connection. Chances are your premises will already be connected to a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or area cable, and so you’ve just got to get it switched on. You can shop around for relatively cheap deals across a wide range of providers. They all offer different tiered plans based upon your needs, and most are WiFi certified.

After you select your provider and activate service, you’ll need a modem and a wireless router — which normally includes an Ethernet switch and access point. Your internet service provider will often allow you to rent these devices as part of your WLAN plan, but you can also purchase your own from a retailer. And because these devices are pretty user-friendly, they’re usually color-coded and super easy to set up.

If your company operates in a bigger space, you can also enhance your WLAN with an additional access point or signal booster. These devices aren’t terribly expensive, and can drastically boost your internet signal in order to cater to more staff members, consumers and devices.

As with any basic investment, you’ve got to do your research before setting up a WLAN for your business. Think about your requirements and what you’re going to be using your connection for. Then, ask service providers lots of questions and compare products.

But at the end of the day, you haven’t got much to lose. WLANs are easy to set up, super affordable and will drastically enhance your company’s offerings.

WLAN Photo via Shutterstock
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Nash Riggins Nash Riggins is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and an American journalist based in central Scotland. Nash covers industry studies, emerging trends and general business developments. His writing background includes The Huffington Post, World Finance and GuruFocus. His website is NashRiggins.com.

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