Wireless ad hoc networks are a method by which data and Internet access may be shared directly between one or more computers or other devices. This can be contrasted with a traditional network where a router is used to connect the computers to each other and the Internet. With a wireless ad hoc network, one computer can act as wireless access point, or a number of computers may behave as nodes in the network. In this case, the routing of data tends to dynamic in nature, passing through node computers based on factors like bandwidth availability and wireless signal strength. Traditional networks may be more stable and dependable, though ad hoc networks can often be set up and propagated more quickly without the need for additional equipment.
In the simplest form, a wireless ad hoc network consists of a single computer that is set up to share resources via its Wi-Fi™ connection. A computer can usually be connected to the Internet, and then use its Wi-Fi™ to act as an impromptu router. This can allow for the sharing of files, the creation of a local area network (LAN), and provide Internet access to a number of devices when only a single, wired access point is available. Depending on the operating system in use, some type of gateway software may be required to bridge the ad hoc network with the Internet connection.
Ad hoc networks typically consist of a relatively small number of computers that are located closely to one another. Wi-Fi™ signal strength can play a large role in the performance of a wireless ad hoc network, and very large networks may become untenable. It can be very quick and inexpensive to put a wireless ad hoc network together, but most large, long term networks tend to use a traditional infrastructure.
Due to the ease with which a wireless ad hoc network can usually be set up, they can be useful in situations where the normal infrastructure has been damaged. They may also be employed in disaster response operations, or by militaries that need to quickly establish a computer network in a mobile fashion. Ad hoc networks can also allow moving components to network effectively, as in a mobile ad hoc network (MANET). This variation is designed to work with larger networks where the individual pieces may be in constant motion in respect to each other. A particular application of this technology is known as an intelligent vehicular ad hoc network (InVANET), which could potentially help in matters like traffic congestion and accident avoidance.