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What Is a Wireless Network Card?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A wireless network card is a computer component that can be connected to a computer, usually internally, to allow that computer to then connect to a wireless network. While external devices can be used for wireless connectivity, these are often referred to as “dongles” or as wireless universal serial bus (USB) cards. Internal network cards are typically connected directly to the motherboard, usually through an expansion slot such as a peripheral component interconnect (PCI) or similar slot. A wireless network card allows the user of a computer to connect to a wireless network and access data through that network.

The basic functionality of a wireless network card is to allow a computer or other device to connect to an established wireless network. This type of network is often created in local areas through the use of a wireless hub or router, which can be connected to a modem to allow users to access the Internet wirelessly. External devices are often called dongles or USB cards, since they usually connect through a USB port. These external devices are usually easier to connect and disconnect, though they are not always as powerful as an internal wireless network card.

A wireless network card is usually fairly small, especially when compared to powerful video cards and other expansion components. It is typically designed as a basic circuit board, with a connection terminal installed onto a motherboard and a faceplate exposed through the back of a computer case. While different types of connections can be used for installing a wireless network card, they are usually connected to a basic expansion slot on the motherboard, such as a PCI or PCI express slot. The faceplate that aligns with the back of the computer case typically has one or more antennae, which sends and receives the wireless signal.

There are a number of different wireless network card manufacturers, though this basic design is quite common among developers. The antenna on the back of a wireless card is usually connected directly to the card, often with a hinge that allows the antenna to be adjusted. Some cards feature an antenna that is connected through a length of cable, which allows the antenna to be placed in an ideal location for communicating with a wireless hub or router. Different letters can be used to describe a wireless network card, such as “Wireless-G” or “Wireless-N;” these indicate the specific type of wireless standards utilized by the card. In general, the “higher” the letter in the alphabet, the stronger the signal these wireless devices can employ.

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