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Wi-Fi Explained 'Simply'

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Wi-Fi explainedMany of us use WiFi enabled phones and laptops, don’t we? So what is wi-fi?

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In simple terms, Wi-Fi is a medium, defined by a standard (just like Bluetooth) which enables a device to remotely connect to a router and access the internet through it. So, if you have a wi-fi enabled device and you are in a wi-fi hotspot (for example in a coffee shop or a hotel lobby), that is within the range of a wireless router, you can connect to that router and access the internet. Wi-Fi also enables different electronic devices to connect to each other as well. For e.g. 2 computers or a computer and a mobile phone can connect with each other through the wireless medium of Wi-Fi.

How does it work

  1. Your device’s wireless adapter translates data into a radio signal and transmits it using an antenna.
  2. The wireless router receives the signal and decodes it. It sends the information to the Internet using a physical, wired Ethernet connection.

The same process works in reverse as well. The router receives information from the Internet, translates it into a radio signal and sends it to the device’s wireless adapter.

By the way, a clarification here - Wi-Fi is not short for Wireless Fidelity. Wi-Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance that manufacturers products that are based on the IEEE 802.11 standards - the same standards which provide specifications for Local Area Networks (LANs).

A product becomes Wi-Fi enabled if it has a transmitting device or a radio which can transmit data at a certain frequency (which is defined for Wi-Fi) and receive data at another (defined) frequency. Obviously there should be an adapter to convert digital to analog and vice versa.

The Wi-Fi radios transmit at frequencies of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. This frequency is higher than the frequencies which cell phones, walkie-talkies and televisions use. The higher frequency allows the signal to carry more data.

Range

The range for a Wi-Fi network is very limited. A typical Wi-Fi router has a range of 30 m (or approx 100 ft) indoor and 90 m (or approx 295 ft) outdoor. This range also varies as the selected frequency band changes. In the 2.4 GHz frequency band, Wi-Fi has slightly better range than in the 5 GHz frequency band.

Security

As the level of openness is quite high, Wi-Fi is much more prone to security breaches than wired LANs. Wi-Fi’s encryption methods continuously fail in front of easily available softwares such as Aircrack. To prevent this, private Wi-Fi networks prefer allowing trusted IP addresses only.

Wi Fi vs. Bluetooth

While both are wireless technology terms, Bluetooth technology works under the IEEE standard 802.15.1, while Wi Fi is the 802.11 protocol. Therefore, devices using Wi Fi technology and those using Bluetooth are not interoperable. Bluetooth and Wi Fi though different, are not actually competitors. Wi Fi technology boasts faster data transfer speeds and range, and is a good replacement for Ethernet (802.3) systems. Bluetooth, on the other hand, requires less power and is therefore more prominent in small devices, such as PDAs.

Post your queries. In the next article we discuss about WiMAX.

*Image is the trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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