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What Is the Difference between Ad Hoc and Infrastructure Modes?

By Gabriele Sturmer
Updated May 16, 2024
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The ad hoc and infrastructure modes are used by wireless local area networks to connect devices to the networks. Although both modes allow computers and devices to connect to each other on a wireless network, infrastructure mode requires the use of an access point for this communication to take place. Ad hoc mode, on the other hand, uses a direct computer-to-computer connection and is best suited for small home networks. Ad hoc mode involves connecting a computer directly to another computer, so it is often called peer-to-peer networking.

Ad hoc and infrastructure modes differ greatly in how the network is set up. In an ad hoc network, each device's network adapter directly communicates with other devices through the use of software. This software can be included with the device's operating system or purchased from a third party. This provides an inexpensive and quicker way to connect than using infrastructure mode. Another benefit of an ad hoc network is that the connection speeds can be significantly faster than when using a wireless accent point with infrastructure mode.

Infrastructure networks consist of the networked devices and the wireless access point or wireless router. Each device must connect to the access point before having access to other computers on the network. While both ad hoc and infrastructure networks can provide a secure connection, infrastructure mode supports various encryption methods. Additional security features allow the use of passwords and allow computers to connect by checking a device's media access control (MAC) address.

Another difference between ad hoc and infrastructure networks is in the area of expandability. The access point used with infrastructure mode can support multiple clients on both wireless and wired networks. The direct connection method used with ad hoc mode is prone to interference and is not useful for a large corporate network. In addition, ad hoc mode does not support wireless clients, so all computers will need wireless adapters. Wireless access points used in infrastructure mode can also support additional features, including Internet sharing, roaming and the ability to expand a network using multiple access points.

Although infrastructure mode is usually more useful than ad hoc mode, wireless access points lead to increased costs and more time for initially setting up the network. Another downside is that the network speed will be lower than an ad hoc network's because data must travel to the access point before reaching another computer. Large networks usually do, however, benefit from using infrastructure mode anyway.

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Discussion Comments
By MrMoody — On Jul 28, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - Most people who work with home networks are setting up in infrastructure mode.

Basically if you’ve got a wireless router that’s broadcasting a signal from a wired connection (like cable or DSL) then you’re in infrastructure mode. The only times in a home network where you would need ad hoc is if two units are talking to each other.

Notice that I said two units, not two PCs, because they don’t necessarily have to be PCs. For example, you can have a laptop send a command to a wireless printer to get it to print some documents.

That connection is ad hoc; it’s between the laptop and the printer. It’s like a peer to peer network, where two devices communicate with each other instead of going through some kind of a central hub.

Anyway, that’s basically how you can tell whether you’re in ad hoc or infrastructure mode.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jul 27, 2011

This is a good introduction on ad hoc vs infrastructure.

Based on what I’ve read, I think I typically work in infrastructure mode, since I always work with encryption with my wireless connection. I don’t think there’s anyone in our neighborhood who doesn’t have encryption of some sort on their wireless broadcasts.

I choose encryption because I don’t want anyone jumping onto my Internet signal and making me liable for any illegal activities they may be engaging in over the Internet.

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