A wireless LAN or WLAN is a wireless local area network that uses radio waves as its carrier: the last link with the users is wireless, to give a network connection to all users in a building or campus. The backbone network usually uses cables.
WLAN is expected to be an important form of connection in many business areas. The market is expected to grow as the benefits of WLAN are recognized. Frost and Sullivan estimate the WLAN market to have been 0.3 billion US dollars in 1998 and 1.6 billion dollars in 2005. So far WLANs have been installed primarily in warehouses and resellers, but are recently being installed in various kinds of schools. Large future markets are estimated to be in health care, educational institutes and corporate offices. In the business environment, meeting places, public areas and side offices would be ideal for WLAN.
WLAN is an alternative to cabled LAN in places where cabling is difficult or impossible. Such places could be old protected buildings or classrooms. WLAN installations are also cheap because they consist only of the access points and backbone network installations, the last part of the network being in the air.
Early development included industry-specific solutions and proprietary protocols, but at the end of the 1990s these were replaced by standards, primarily the various versions of IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) (see separate articles) and HomeRF (2 Mbit/s, intended for home use). An alternative ATM-like 5 GHz technology, HIPERLAN, appears less likely to succeed, due to political and market factors.