What Is the Difference Between Wi-Fi and WLAN?

Wireless local area network (or WLAN) is a network of computers or devices that uses high frequency radio signals to communicate data, while Wi-Fi, short for wireless fidelity, is the trademark name used to identify WLAN-compatible devices.

Conventional LANs, or local area networks, use physical wiring, such as coaxial cables, twisted pair and optical fibers to connect a network of computers together. WLAN eliminates the need for conventional wiring by using electromagnetic radio wave signals to communicate between computers within the network. WLAN can also connect other devices, such as a fax machine, printer or scanner to the computers within the network.

Wi-Fi is the trademark name used to describe devices manufactured with the ability to be used within a wireless network. The Wi-Fi Alliance is a global association of companies that support WLAN technology and endorse WLAN-compatible products. While many devices are WLAN-compatible, only products endorsed by the Wi-Fi Alliance are allowed to feature the Wi-Fi logo. These endorsed products have been tested against the standards put in place by IEEE 802.11, from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Based on these definitions, WLAN and Wi-Fi are not comparable terms. WLAN describes the wireless network, while Wi-Fi refers to a device's capability to operate within that network. A Wi-Fi device essentially means that the device is equipped to operate within a WLAN. These devices include desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and printers.