Pretty much when WLAN connectivity became widespread, we were referring to wireless LAN as "WLAN". But for whatever reason, people began to refer to it as "Wi-Fi" which to me, is just the certificate that the "WiFi Alliance" puts onto devices. In other words, it still feels kinda recent that people started using the term "WiFi" to me.

I still find it a little difficult to refer to that as "WiFi", because we're talking about WLAN devices in my mind. I'm unsure if this causes for confusion, though. Should I refrain from using WLAN and use WiFi instead, when responding to questions?

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    Are you asking about tags or about the body of your answers? – terdon May 9 '16 at 6:33
  • My main reason for using "wifi" is that "WLAN" is too easy to mix up with "VLAN". But you may do as you wish. – Jenny D May 9 '16 at 9:42
  • @terdon body of answers. It seems the tags /wlan and /wifi are synonyms. – polemon May 9 '16 at 23:00

Long before it got to the point where I felt the need to ask this question, I would probably have just started calling it "wifi". Much like when the world suddenly decided we were calling asynchronous Javascript "AJAX", and "SQL" suddenly became a word instead of three letters. I really don't care what you call it, but "wifi" is pretty much ubiquitous, whereas I'm not sure I've ever heard "WLAN" before now

  • OK, I'll try to force myself using "WiFi", then... Also, "SQL" is "ess-que-ell" and not "sequel" in my book. – polemon May 10 '16 at 0:48

As I see it, Wi-Fi stands in the marketing lingo for the standard IEEE_802.11. That's why the name is met on router labels, most likely with a specifier added like 802.11b or 802.11g. So in its strict meaning this term denotes a physical layer standard, as seen in the OSI Model.

As for WLAN, it denotes a Local Area Network, which uses wireless or (another name) radio interfaces as the physical layer in the OSI Model, though not necessarily exclusively. So a WLAN is a LAN, but the name indicates a radio access way is present.

The difference is then one between an area network vs a protocol group. The contrast becomes sharper when you compare both terms against Wireless WAN or WWAN for short. Here the physical radio layer part has many faces, not just Wi-Fi.

It is then intuitively clear to me that as far as strictness is concerned, WLAN is a more appropriate name for Wireless LAN than Wi-Fi. The latter, however, can be used to denote WLAN in its (Wi-Fi's) figurative, metonymous sense, which is far from precision, but is more popular.

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