HOW WiFi WORKS
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How does WiFi work?
First there was the Internet and now technology is
becoming so advanced that words such as ‘online’ and ‘Internet’ are becoming old
and words such as ‘WiFi’ are becoming new. With each new advancement people are
able to do much more with their laptops and PCs and as more is continually being
explored the limits of what we are capable of are forever expanding. WiFi is one
such technological advancement that allows people to connect to the Internet
without using wires and without needing a physical connection. This means that
you could be on a boat in the middle of the ocean and as long as you were in an
Internet ‘hot spot’ you could still use your computer to connect to the
Wireless networking, also called 802.11, or WiFi,
is a form of technology that is becoming very popular in public spots such as
libraries, school campuses, coffee shops, and airports. These WiFi areas are
known as Internet hot spots because they offer a wireless Internet connection.
Many gadgets today such as the iPod Touch and Blackberries are being sold with
WiFi capabilities, meaning that you can use these tiny devices to connect to the
Internet wherever there is an Internet hot spot. WiFi has tons of advantages.
For starters, they are completely unnoticeable unless you’re looking for them
meaning that you could be standing right in the middle of a hot spot and not
even notice it. They also have very low start-up costs and are very easy to set
up. The biggest advantage to WiFi however is that it’s hoped that one day this
technology will be able to be used to allow everyone free access to the
Internet. So it may become even more important then to find out how it works.
What is WiFi?
really is simply put, an Internet connection that can be reached from a laptop
or personal computer without the use of wires or a physical connection. This
Internet connection is made possible by the same type of radio waves that cell
phones, televisions, and radios all rely on. A WiFi Internet connection works
very similarly to the way a two-way radio works.
When a computer (or other gadget) is fitted with a
wireless adapter, the computer can turn the information from the computer into a
radio signal which it will then transmit using an antennae. Once the information
has been sent through a radio wave signal, it will then be picked up by a
wireless router which will then send it to the Internet through a physical
Ethernet connection. This action can also happen in the reverse order with the
Internet receiving information and then sending it to the router which will pass
it on to the computer, all because WiFi works like a two-way radio where signals
can be passed back and forth between each other!
WiFi is very much like two-way radios and cell
phones in the way that it translates 1s and 0s into radio waves and they can
translate radio waves into 1s and 0s. However, WiFi is different from these
other types of radios in several ways. The first major difference is that WiFi
radio waves travel at frequencies of 2.4GHz or 5GHz, which is much higher than
the frequencies used for cell phones and other transmitters so that they can
carry much more information.
WiFi standards also run on 802.11 networking
standards, of which there are many different types. 802.11a travels at 5 GHz and
can transmit 54 megabits of information per second. This type of standard also
uses something called orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM.) This
technology breaks the initial signal up into many smaller signals for the router
to pick up, which eliminates much of the interference. 802.11b is the slowest
and the cheapest of all the 802.11 standards and its low cost was the reason
that it was once so popular. However as faster standards find way to lower their
costs, 802.11b is becoming a thing of the past. This standard travels at a slow
2.4GHz and moves 11 megabits of information per second. This standard uses
complementary code keying (CCK) modulation to help make it a bit faster.
802.11g is similar to 802.11b because it also runs at 2.4 GHz. However it avoids
the speed issue because it uses OFDM technology such as 802.11a does and can
also carry 54 megabits of information per second. However, this fact is
misleading because this standard also experiences a lot of network congestion
and so it actually only carries about 24 megabits of information per second.
802.11n is the newest standard in networking and although it hasn’t been fully
ratified yet, the hopes for this standard are that it will be fully operational
and functional by the end of 2009. It is currently being developed by the
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
These are not the only 802.11 networking standards
as there are others that focus specifically on certain features of WiFi networks
such as those that can be enabled from a car or those that will allow the user
to hop from one network to another. WAN (Wide Area Networks) is one type of
other networking standard. WiFi radios can also travel on any of the three
different frequencies at any time. This means that they can move from frequency
to frequency or ‘frequency hop’ which can reduce interference and allow many
users to access the same connection at the same time.
Multiple computers can access the router at one
time as long as they are all equipped with wireless adapters. However problems
can arise if too many users try to use the frequency all at once or if many
users use high-bandwidth applications at the same time. If this happens some
users could lose their Internet connection or experience a significant slowdown
with their connection.
Accessing WiFi Hot Spots
Whether you want to be able to connect to the
Internet wherever there’s a hot spot or want to start your own wireless network
in your home, you first need to make sure that your computer will be able to
read and send signals. If your PC or laptop is a newer model, it most likely
came preinstalled with a built-in wireless transmitter. However, if your
computer doesn’t have this built-in feature you can buy an adapter that will
plug right into your USB port or your PC card slot. Most of these external
adapters have the capabilities to handle many different standards.
Once the adapter and the software have been
installed you should be able to pick up any open wireless Internet connection.
If your computer has a built-in adapter, it will be able to pick up these
connections as soon as you try to connect. These wireless hot spots are not only
very convenient for when you need an Internet connection while you’re on the go
but creating a wireless connection in your home can also be very convenient.
Doing so can allow more than one person to use the Internet at one time and can
also allow you to take your laptop from room to room without having to set it up
with wiring and adapters every time.
Creating your Own Wireless Network
It’s easy to have your own wireless network in your
home if you want the convenience of multiple users or portability. You just have
to know which type of standard you want, how to set it up and how to keep it
safe. Wireless networks can be created from existing wired networks or when
there is no current network set up. Wired networks can become wireless through a
wireless access point whereas homes that have no network in place can use a
wireless router to install a wireless network.
A wireless router is a single unit that will connect to your DSL or cable modem
and it will contain an Ethernet hub, a firewall, and a wireless access point.
The router will either use wireless radio signals or Ethernet cables to
communicate with each other, connect to each other, and allow each other to use
the same printer and Internet connection. Wireless routers can usually send
signals approximately 100 feet however walls and doors can sometimes block the
signal. Larger homes will sometimes require a repeater or a range extender to
carry the signal farther.
Most wireless routers can use any type of
networking standard and this is when you will need to know which type of
standard you want to use. 802.11g is the most commonly used although 802.11b
will be the cheapest as well as the slowest. When you first connect your
wireless router, it will have factory default settings that you can keep or
change using a Web interface that the manufacturers will provide. These settings
include: the name of the network, which is usually set to the default of the
manufacturer’s name; the channel, which will generally be Channel 6 according to
the default but this can be changed if you experience a lot of interference; and
your security options which will include your own personal username and
Once your wireless network is in place the next
thing you will want to do is make sure that it is kept safe and secure. As long
as your wireless network is unprotected anyone in the area who has an adapter or
a PC card will be able to jump onto your network, which can greatly compromise
your own safety. Even if you think your wireless network is safe, it’s important
to always keep your own security standards current, especially in something
that’s changing all the time. The Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) security
system was once what was considered to be standard among wireless networks
however as things continue to change and technology advances, this system is
quickly becoming a thing of the past. Today there are generally two different
types of security that are recommended for keeping your wireless network safe.
The WiFi Protected Access (WPA) was developed from
the previous WEP system and is now being developed as part of the 802.11i
protocol. This system uses temporary key integrity protocol encryption and just
as the WEP, it requires a password to sign on. Most hot spots use this type of
security if they are not open hot spots although some still use the older WEP
Media Access Control (MAC) is a system that some
use because it is extremely secure. This security system requires you to enter
in specific MAC addresses and only these addresses can be used on the wireless
network. Although this means that the system is much more secure than softer
systems that only require a password to work, it is still not fool-proof.
Hackers can still find out what MAC address a certain computer carries that is
allowed on the network and the hacker can then simply use this address to have
complete access. MAC filtering systems also become less convenient if you get a
new computer or have someone visiting your home that wants to use your wireless
network with their computer. They will still be able to but you will first need
to go in and change your security settings so you can add their MAC address.
Wireless networks, no matter the type you choose or
the security platform you install, are very easy and inexpensive to set up
yourself at home. Most, especially those made for home use, come complete with
step-by-step instructions and some even offer hotlines for support.
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