A WLAN (wireless local area network) chipset can either refer to a piece of hardware designed to allow a computer to connect to a wireless network, or it can refer to the chipboard located within the WLAN hardware unit. A technician building or designing a piece of WLAN hardware may call the internal chip board inside the hardware a WLAN chipset. Types of WLAN hardware units that may be commonly referred to as a WLAN chipset include wireless cards, routers, and wireless signal boosters. Companies that manufacture WLAN chipsets are many, and include Netgear®, D-Link®, Broadcom® and ASUS®. Unlike display chipsets and sound chipsets, a WLAN chipset is almost always a standalone hardware device and is rarely built in as part of the computer's mainboard chipset.
Computers that connect to each other using wireless network hardware within a designated proximity are considered to be using a WLAN. A computer without a WLAN chipset cannot connect to a wireless network. Most people will encounter a WLAN chipset as a complete piece of WLAN hardware used to connect a computer to other computers without having to connect them to a wired network. While a wired network uses cables and a wired network hub to connect computers that need to exchange data, networks using WLAN chipset hardware broadcast and receive data streams to approved computers within the network.
Wireless network hardware can include wireless routers, wireless cards, or wireless-enabled devices. Wireless routers broadcast the network connection as a wireless signal that can be picked up and used by computers configured for connection to the wireless network broadcast. A wireless card, also known as a WLAN card, connects to the computer and allows it to communicate with wireless routers that broadcast a signal that is compatible with the wireless card. Common types of wireless network signals used by wireless networks include 802.11b and 802.11d.
Though a WLAN chipset usually connects a computer to the Internet through a modem connected to the WLAN network, this type of network can also be configured and run without an Internet connection. This type of setup allows computers connected to the same wireless hub to exchange information and use printers connected to computers in the network, but without a modem to connect the network to the Internet. A secured WLAN with no Internet connection can be more secure than a WLAN with an Internet connection because it is less vulnerable to security attacks originating from the Internet.