Integrated Wireless - Wireless LAN or WLAN
Wireless Local-Area Network (WLAN) is also known as Wi-Fi and complies with one of several standards such as 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11a, or 802.11n. These standards differ by speed or bandwidth frequency utilized. Most portable computers come standard with WLAN capability but in a few cases the WLAN is an optional feature. In some instances, the military and police, for example, not want the built-in wireless for security reasons.
WLAN normally has a range of 300 feet. Obviously, this varies with the strength of signal and any obstacles that may be between the computer and the wireless hub. WLAN hot spots are becoming quite prevalent and can often be found in hotel lobbies, airport terminals, coffee shops, fast food joints, etc. Some U.S. cities have implemented city-wide WLAN networks, also known as Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN).
Integrated Wireless - Wireless WAN or WWAN
WWAN, which stands for Wireless Wide Area Network, is a form of wireless network. A WWAN differs from a WLAN (wireless LAN) as it uses cellular network technologies to transfer data. These cellular networks are offered regionally, nationwide, or even globally and are provided by wireless service providers such as AT&T/Cingular Wireless, Sprint, Verizon, Alltel or Rogers (Canada) for a monthly usage fee.
WWAN is also known as wireless broadband, mobile broadband or even wireless-anywhere or Internet-anywhere. Basically, data can be transmitted and received anywhere the chosen cellular provider has coverage. The most common uses are to access the "home office" computer, to send and receive emails, and to access the World Wide Web---all from the field or while on the road.
In the U.S., there are two primary and competing technologies utilized by the cellular companies. One is called GSM and the other CDMA. But each technology has progressed through multiple generations. GSM has progressed through GPRS, to EDGE, and now to UMTS/HSDPA. CDMA has progressed through 1xRTT, to 1xEV-DO, and now to 1xEV-DO RevA. The good news is that in each family, the later generations are backwards-compatible with the earlier generations.
It is also important to note that the cell phone towers themselves may or may not have been updated to the later generation. So, you could be driving down the highway and experience GSM, GPRS, EDGE and UMTS/HSPDA, for example, all in the same trip. You will only notice the differences in data transmission speed as sometimes it will seem slow and other times it will seem super fast.
The two most common ways to obtain a WWAN capability in your mobile computer is to buy an integrated (embedded) card or to buy a PC Card (also known as an AirCard) and insert it into the Type II PCMCIA slot on your computer. Today, the integrated card is normally a PCI card and the PC Card is the PCMCIA type. Newer-style, smaller form factors cards are also popular. PCI Express Mini modules and PC Express offer the advantage of a lower cost.
Group Mobile Comment: Since the transmission speeds and the monthly subscription costs are fairly similar from the major carriers, the most important decision criteria is which cellular provider has the best coverage and the fastest (newest generation) in the areas in which you will be traveling. Group Mobile has noticed coverage variability exists by city, by state, by metro versus rural, by Interstate highway versus back roads, etc. We suspect you have noticed the same thing as you converse on your cell phone. Make sure you check out the current coverage maps at the various cellular providers' websites.
Advantages of an Integrated (inside the computer) Radio Card:
1. It does not stick out of the computer like the PCMCIA card. That means you can't break it off or bend it. If you were to drop your laptop, there is a likely chance that you that it would land on the card, causing it to break.
2. The integrated card is inside the sealed area of the computer. Using a PCMCIA card solution, in effect, opens the inside of the computer, leaving it vulnerable to outside elements and compromising the sealed integrity of the rugged, mobile computer.
3. An integrated card can be placed as far away from the microprocessor as possible to minimize electronic interference. Integrated cards typically have better performance and fewer drop-offs than PCMCIA cards.
Advantages of a PCMCIA-slot Wireless Radio Card:
The PCMCIA cards are usually a less expensive option. Some of the cellular service providers will sell these cards at a discount when you sign-up for their service.