What is a WLAN Dongle?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A dongle is a hardware device with a several different definitions. The term can refer to any hardware device that is small and connects to a computer via a port, while other more particular meanings include a device to safeguard the security of proprietary software; any key that is needed for program operation and connected to a port; or an adaptor cable made to link a wireless card to an Ethernet jack. A WLAN is a Wireless Local Area Network, a computer network operating in a small area, with or without Internet access. A WLAN dongle is a hardware device that enables separate computers to be linked in a WLAN.

Cordless phones can interfere with WLAN dongles.
Cordless phones can interfere with WLAN dongles.

A WLAN dongle operates under the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) standard 802.11 for Wireless LAN. There are several versions of the 802.11 standard — a, b, g, and n — and it is important to match the standard to the networking needs and the equipment. The different versions operate on different frequencies — either 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, or both — and at different speeds, and computers may be equipped with one or more of them. The 2.4 GHz range can experience interference from other devices, such as microwave devices, cordless phones, Bluetooth® devices, and baby monitors. In general, newer versions are faster, and one piece of equipment on an old standard can slow down the system.

A WLAN dongle.
A WLAN dongle.

There are usage requirements imposed by regulatory bodies when employing a WLAN dongle. The regulations stem from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States and the R&TTE Directive (Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment) in Europe, for example. Requirements typically cover safety concerns and technical requirements and are set out in user’s information accompanying the WLAN dongle. The number of channels will differ depending on where the equipment operates. For example, the channels used in Japan are 1–14, in France, 10–13, and in the United States, 1–11.

Two types of configurations are possible with a WLAN dongle. One is an ad hoc WLAN, which may also be called an Independent Basic Service Set (IBSS) and which makes communication between wireless clients possible. Some of the computers in the group may have dongles, while others have a WLAN PC card. The other configuration type is infrastructure mode. Infrastructure mode requires the existence of an Access Point (AP), which may be a router. It makes communication between both wireless and wired clients possible and also enables Internet.

A wireless router can communicate with a computer that has a WLAN USB dongle.
A wireless router can communicate with a computer that has a WLAN USB dongle.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

everetra

@SkyWhisperer - I’ve discovered that wireless is for more than computers or their peripheral devices. The other day at the store I saw this USB wireless network adapter for-of all things-television sets.

It was not for all televisions, but certain brands could hook up to this unit and connect to RSS feeds of things like stock information which will display on your television screen.

I think this is another example of the tremendous convergence of different technologies, made possible by the Internet and a wireless adapter.

SkyWhisperer

@MrMoody - I can’t imagine going back to a wired Internet connection. I have a Linksys wireless router set up in my house that I use as the main hub for my wireless devices.

Setting the router up took some getting used to at first, because it requires some website administration and a few technical tweaks, but I take notes of everything I do so I have a record of my settings.

Also, about every six months or so there is a glitch in the Internet connection, so I have to reset my modem. But that’s easy to do.

As for my devices, I don’t just have a laptop that connects wirelessly. I also have printers as well. I can work from my laptop in my main living room and print to the printer in the office. It has made me a lot more productive and of course other family members can use the same network as well.

MrMoody

I have a wireless network in my home, and I also have a laptop computer with a wireless USB attachment. I can take the laptop anywhere within in my house, or for that matter anywhere there is a wireless WIFI network and immediately jump on the network.

Of course, WIFI is not new, but it used to be that you would need a special card in your computer to connect to the wireless network. Wireless USB makes it all a breeze.

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