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What is a WWAN?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Wireless Wide Area Network or WWAN is a way to connect to the Internet without wires, achieved using cellular tower technology. Cellular service companies offer this type of connection for a monthly fee, or alternately on a pay-as-you-need-it basis. The connectivity allows a user with a laptop and a special card to surf the Internet, check email, or connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) from anywhere within the regional boundaries of cellular service.

As people become more dependent on online technology to conduct business and keep information flowing, wireless connectivity has become a virtual necessity. Many hotels and communities offer local connectivity, but coverage is often spotty or nonexistent. WWAN can all but guarantee connectivity when the user needs it.

To take advantage of this technology, a user must first purchase a WWAN PC card for his or her laptop unless the connectivity is built-in. By purchasing the card and paying a monthly fee, the user only needs to slip the card into the PC-card slot (sometimes known as the PCMCIA slot) to access the service. Plans vary among providers but most are rated according to data download caps.

In some cases, a person may not require 24/7 access to the service, but would like to use it occasionally when free local networks are not available. Some providers have plans that allow users to pay by the day for connectivity. By using the WWAN card, the person commits to a small charge, securing a 24-hour pass. At the end of the 24-hour period, the user can no longer connect, unless he or she purchases another pass.

As an alternate to a WWAN card, it is possible to connect some cell phones directly to a laptop using a Universal Serial Bus (USB) cable. The cell phone acts as a modem to patch the laptop into the Internet. This is only possible with certain phone models and plans, and the data transfer speed will be slower than connecting with a WWAN card. Before using this method, users should check with their cell phone provider to see what charges might apply, if any.

While there are certainly less expensive ways to get wireless connectivity in many cases, few cover the territory offered by WWAN for those visiting, living, or working in remote or “nonwired” areas. The service is commonly available in regions where services like Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable might not be. It can also be an international solution for global travelers, offering one more option for staying connected.

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Discussion Comments

By anon342065 — On Jul 17, 2013

So can we say that a WWAN card and a modem are the same thing? If not, then why, and what is the difference between a WWAN and a modem? I searched it a lot but to no avail.

By anon173452 — On May 07, 2011

My friend just bought his first laptop and got an account with clear.Com for a 4g,mobile wireless service. Is this a wwan? He just plugs it into his laptop and away he goes.

By anon123960 — On Nov 03, 2010

My 3g connection manager says that the wwan is either missing or disabled. Any ideal how to fix this?

By anon93858 — On Jul 06, 2010

when i sign onto the internet i keep getting a pop up before the internet connects saying that the WWAN is failing to connect and if it goes over a certain amount of tries it will stop me using the WWAN. what on earth does this mean because i don't have a clue?

By anon18625 — On Sep 26, 2008

Hi,You mentioned 24-hour WWAN pass card. Could you provide more details? I couldn't find any WWAN provider that would offer such an option

Thanks, Leon

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