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One of the components required for connecting a computer to a wireless local area network (WLAN) is a WLAN adapter. Also called a wireless adapter, it is a unit of hardware installed in a computer or connected to one that enables the computer to become a part of a wireless network. The more traditional version is in the form of an interface card that is installed into an expansion slot on the computer’s motherboard inside the computer case. For this reason, it typically is referred to as an internal wireless adapter.
An alternative choice with easier installation is an adapter that connects through a universal serial bus (USB) port. One is shaped similar to a USB flash memory drive and plugs directly into a USB port. Another USB selection is a desktop model, which is designed to sit on the desk or a shelf and is connected to the computer using a cable.
The desktop model provides some advantages over the flash drive type. The mobility of the adapter allows it to be positioned more strategically in order to receive a stronger signal. This is particularly useful in situations where a computer is located under a desk or is recessed into a cavity of the desk. For either style, connecting it to the computer is as simple and easy as plugging it in to a USB port.
One of the primary considerations when selecting a WLAN adapter is the wireless standard with which it is compatible. Wireless protocols are established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The 802.11 standard is the protocol governing wireless networking and defines such things as band frequency and data rate. There are several variations of this standard, such as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n. It is critical for the components of a wireless network to be designed for the same wireless protocol in order for them to be compatible.
After it is installed and properly configured, the WLAN adapter will detect any available wireless networks within its reach. Connecting to one of the networks is then a matter of configuring the adapter and computer with the proper settings, which in most cases of home and business WLANs, includes security and identification information. Although the adapter might receive a signal from a number of networks, it can be connected to only one at any given time.