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Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi logo

Wi-Fi (pronounced /ˈwaɪfaɪ/) is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance that may be used with
certified products that belong to a class of wireless local area network (WLAN) devices
based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. Because of the close relationship with its underlying
standard, the term Wi-Fi is often used as a synonym for IEEE 802.11 technology.[1][2]

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a global, non-profit association of companies that promotes


WLAN technology and certifies products if they conform to certain standards of
interoperability. Not every IEEE 802.11-compliant device is submitted for certification to
the Wi-Fi Alliance, sometimes because of costs associated with the certification process
and the lack of the Wi-Fi logo does not imply a device is incompatible with Wi-Fi
devices.

Today, an IEEE 802.11 device is installed in many personal computers, video game
consoles, smartphones, printers, and other peripherals, and virtually all laptop or palm-
sized computers.

Uses

Internet access
A roof mounted Wi-Fi antenna

A Wi-Fi enabled device such as a personal computer, video game console, mobile phone,
MP3 player or personal digital assistant can connect to the Internet when within range of
a wireless network connected to the Internet. The coverage of one or more interconnected
access points — called a hotspot — can comprise an area as small as a few rooms or as
large as many square miles covered by a group of access points with overlapping
coverage. Wi-Fi technology has been used in wireless mesh networks, for example, in
London.[3]

In addition to private use in homes and offices, Wi-Fi can provide public access at Wi-Fi
hotspots provided either free of charge or to subscribers to various commercial services.
Organizations and businesses such as airports, hotels and restaurants often provide free
hotspots to attract or assist clients. Enthusiasts or authorities who wish to provide services
or even to promote business in selected areas sometimes provide free Wi-Fi access. As of
2008 there are more than 300 metropolitan-wide Wi-Fi (Muni-Fi) projects in progress.[4]
There were 879 Wi-Fi based Wireless Internet service providers in the Czech Republic as
of May 2008.[5][6]

Routers that incorporate a digital subscriber line modem or a cable modem and a Wi-Fi
access point, often set up in homes and other premises, provide Internet-access and
internetworking to all devices connected (wirelessly or by cable) to them. One can also
connect Wi-Fi devices in ad hoc mode for client-to-client connections without a router.
Wi-Fi also enables places that would traditionally not have network to be connected, for
example bathrooms, kitchens and garden sheds.
Airport Wi-Fi

In September of 2003, Pittsburgh International Airport became the first airport to allow
and offer free Wi-Fi throughout its terminal.[7] It is now commonplace.

City-wide Wi-Fi

A municipal wireless antenna in Minneapolis

In the early 2000s, many cities around the world announced plans for a city wide Wi-Fi
network. This proved to be much more difficult than their promoters initially envisioned
with the result that most of these projects were either canceled or placed on indefinite
hold. A few were successful, for example in 2005, Sunnyvale, California became the first
city in the United States to offer city wide free Wi-Fi.[8] Few of the Municipal Wi-Fi
firms have now entered into the field of Smart grid networks.[9][clarification needed]

Campus-wide Wi-Fi

Carnegie Mellon University built the first wireless Internet network in the world at their
Pittsburgh campus in 1994, long before the Wi-Fi standard was adopted.[10]

Direct computer-to-computer communications

Wi-Fi also allows communications directly from one computer to another without the
involvement of an access point. This is called the ad-hoc mode of Wi-Fi transmission.
This wireless ad-hoc network mode has proven popular with multiplayer handheld game
consoles, such as the Nintendo DS, digital cameras, and other consumer electronics
devices. A similar method is a new specification called Wi-Fi Direct which is promoted
by the Wi-Fi Alliance for file transfers and media sharing through a new discovery and
security methodology.[11]

Future directions

As of 2010 Wi-Fi technology had spread widely within business and industrial sites. In
business environments, just like other environments, increasing the number of Wi-Fi
access-points provides redundancy, support for fast roaming and increased overall
network-capacity by using more channels or by defining smaller cells. Wi-Fi enables
wireless voice-applications (VoWLAN or WVOIP). Over the years, Wi-Fi
implementations have moved toward "thin" access-points, with more of the network
intelligence housed in a centralized network appliance, relegating individual access-
points to the role of mere "dumb" radios. Outdoor applications may utilize true mesh
topologies. As of 2007 Wi-Fi installations can provide a secure computer networking
gateway, firewall, DHCP server, intrusion detection system, and other functions.

History

Wi-Fi uses both single-carrier direct-sequence spread spectrum radio technology (part of
the larger family of spread spectrum systems) and multi-carrier orthogonal frequency-
division multiplexing (OFDM) radio technology. The deregulation of certain radio-
frequencies for unlicensed spread spectrum deployment enabled the development of Wi-
Fi products, its onetime competitor HomeRF, Bluetooth, and many other products such as
some types of cordless telephones.

Unlicensed spread spectrum was first made available in the US by the FCC in rules
adopted on May 9, 1985[12] and these FCC regulations were later copied with some
changes in many other countries enabling use of this technology in all major countries.
The FCC action was proposed by Michael Marcus of the FCC staff in 1980 and the
subsequent regulatory action took 5 more years. It was part of a broader proposal to allow
civil use of spread spectrum technology and was opposed at the time by mainstream
equipment manufacturers and many radio system operators.[13]

Half-size ISA 2.4 GHz WaveLAN card by AT&T

Wi-Fi technology has its origins in a 1985 ruling by the U.S. Federal Communications
Commission that released several bands of the radio spectrum for unlicensed use.[14] The
precursor to the common Wi-Fi system was invented in 1991 by NCR
Corporation/AT&T (later Lucent Technologies & Agere Systems) in Nieuwegein, the
Netherlands. It was initially intended for cashier systems; the first wireless products were
brought on the market under the name WaveLAN with speeds of 1 Mbit/s to 2 Mbit/s.
Vic Hayes, who held the chair of IEEE 802.11 for 10 years and has been named the
"father of Wi-Fi," was involved in designing standards such as IEEE 802.11b, and
802.11a.

Key portions of the IEEE 802.11 technology underlying Wi-Fi (in its a, g, and n varieties)
were determined to be infringing on U.S. Patent 5,487,069, which was filed in 1993[15] by
CSIRO, an Australian research body. The patent has been the subject of protracted and
ongoing legal battles between CSIRO and major IT corporations. In 2009, the CSIRO
settled with 14 companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Dell, Toshiba, ASUS,
Microsoft and Nintendo, under confidential terms. The revenue arising from these
settlements to October 2009 is approximately AU$200 million. [16][17][18][19][20][21]

Europe leads overall in uptake of wireless-phone technology but the US leads in Wi-Fi
systems partly because they lead in laptop usage. As of July 2005, there were at least
68,643 Wi-Fi locations worldwide, a majority in the US, then the UK and Germany. The
US and Western Europe make up about 80% of the worldwide Wi-Fi users. Plans are
underway in areas of the US to provide public Wi-Fi coverage as a public free service.
Even with these large numbers and more expansion, the extent of actual Wi-Fi usage is
lower than expected. Jupiter Research found that only 15% of people have used Wi-Fi
and only 6% in a public place.[22]

Wi-Fi certification

Wi-Fi technology is based on IEEE 802.11 standards. The IEEE develops and publishes
these standards, but does not test equipment for compliance with them. The non-profit
Wi-Fi Alliance was formed in 1999 to fill this void — to establish and enforce standards
for interoperability and backward compatibility, and to promote wireless local area
network technology. Today the Wi-Fi Alliance consists of more than 300 companies
from around the world.[23][24] Manufacturers with membership in the Wi-Fi Alliance,
whose products pass the certification process, are permitted to mark those products with
the Wi-Fi logo.

Specifically, the certification process requires conformance to the IEEE 802.11 radio
standards, the WPA and WPA2 security standards, and the EAP authentication standard.
Certification may optionally include tests of IEEE 802.11 draft standards, interaction
with cellular phone technology in converged devices, and features relating to security set-
up, multimedia, and power saving.[25]

The Wi-Fi name

The term Wi-Fi suggests Wireless Fidelity, compared with the long-established audio
equipment certification term High Fidelity or Hi-Fi. Wireless Fidelity has often been
used, even by the Wi-Fi Alliance itself in its press releases[26][27] and documents;[28][29] the
term may also be found in a white paper on Wi-Fi from ITAA.[30] However, based on Phil
Belanger's[31] statement, the term Wi-Fi was never supposed to mean anything at all.[32][33]
The term Wi-Fi, first used commercially in August 1999,[34] was coined by a brand
consulting firm called Interbrand Corporation that had been hired by the Alliance to
determine a name that was "a little catchier than 'IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence'."[35][32][33]
Mr Belanger also said, Interbrand invented Wi-Fi as a play on words with Hi-Fi, and also
created the yin yang-style Wi-Fi logo. The term Wireless Fidelity was used later as an
explanation of what Wi-Fi means.

The Wi-Fi Alliance initially used an advertising slogan for Wi-Fi, "The Standard for
Wireless Fidelity",[32] but later removed the phrase from their marketing. Despite this,
some documents from the Alliance dated 2003 and 2004 still contain the term Wireless
Fidelity.[28][29] There was also no official statement for dropping the term.

The yin yang logo indicates that a product had been certified for interoperability.[28]

Advantages and challenges

A keychain size Wi-Fi detector.

Operational advantages

Wi-Fi allows local area networks (LANs) to be deployed without wires for client devices,
typically reducing the costs of network deployment and expansion. Spaces where cables
cannot be run, such as outdoor areas and historical buildings, can host wireless LANs.

Wireless network adapters are now built into most laptops. The price of chipsets for Wi-
Fi continues to drop, making it an economical networking option included in even more
devices. Wi-Fi has become widespread in corporate infrastructures.

Different competitive brands of access points and client network interfaces are inter-
operable at a basic level of service. Products designated as "Wi-Fi Certified" by the Wi-Fi
Alliance are backwards compatible. Wi-Fi is a global set of standards. Unlike mobile
phones, any standard Wi-Fi device will work anywhere in the world.

Wi-Fi is widely available in more than 220,000 public hotspots and tens of millions of
homes and corporate and university campuses worldwide.[36] The current version of Wi-Fi
Protected Access encryption (WPA2) is considered secure, provided a strong passphrase
is used. New protocols for Quality of Service (WMM) make Wi-Fi more suitable for
latency-sensitive applications (such as voice and video), and power saving mechanisms
(WMM Power Save) improve battery operation.

Limitations

Spectrum assignments and operational limitations are not consistent worldwide. Most of
Europe allows for an additional 2 channels beyond those permitted in the U.S. for the 2.4
GHz band. (1–13 vs. 1–11); Japan has one more on top of that (1–14). Europe, as of
2007, was essentially homogeneous in this respect. A very confusing aspect is the fact
that a Wi-Fi signal actually occupies five channels in the 2.4 GHz band resulting in only
three non-overlapped channels in the U.S.: 1, 6, 11, and three or four in Europe: 1, 5, 9,
13 can be used if all the equipment on a specific area can be guaranteed not to use
802.11b at all, even as fallback or beacon. Equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP)
in the EU is limited to 20 dBm (100 mW).

[edit] Reach

See also: Long-range Wi-Fi

Large satellite dish modified for long-range Wi-Fi communications in Venezuela

Wi-Fi networks have limited range. A typical wireless router using 802.11b or 802.11g
with a stock antenna might have a range of 32 m (120 ft) indoors and 95 m (300 ft)
outdoors. The new IEEE 802.11n however, can exceed that range by more than double.
[citation needed]
Range also varies with frequency band. Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz frequency block
has slightly better range than Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz frequency block. Outdoor ranges -
through use of directional antennas - can be improved with antennas located several
kilometres or more from their base. In general, the maximum amount of power that a Wi-
Fi device can transmit is limited by local regulations, such as FCC Part 15[37] in USA.

Wi-Fi performance decreases roughly quadratically[citation needed] as distance increases at


constant radiation levels.

Due to reach requirements for wireless LAN applications, power consumption is fairly
high compared to some other standards. Technologies such as Bluetooth, that are
designed to support wireless PAN applications, provide a much shorter propagation range
of <10m (ref. e.g. IEEE Std. 802.15.4 section 1.2 scope) and so in general have a lower
power consumption. Other low-power technologies such as ZigBee have fairly long
range, but much lower data rate. The high power consumption of Wi-Fi makes battery
life a concern for mobile devices.

A number of "no new wires" technologies have been developed to provide alternatives to
Wi-Fi for applications in which Wi-Fi's indoor range is not adequate and where installing
new wires (such as CAT-5) is not possible or cost-effective. One example is the ITU-T
G.hn standard for high speed Local area networks using existing home wiring (coaxial
cables, phone lines and power lines). Although G.hn does not provide some of the
advantages of Wi-Fi (such as mobility or outdoor use), it's designed for applications
(such as IPTV distribution) where indoor range is more important than mobility.

Due to the complex nature of radio propagation at typical Wi-Fi frequencies, particularly
the effects of signal reflection off trees and buildings, Wi-Fi signal strength can only be
predicted generally for any given area in relation to a transmitter.[38] This effect does not
apply equally to long-range Wi-Fi, since longer links typically operate from towers that
broadcast above the surrounding foliage.

Mobility

Speed vs. Mobility of wireless systems: Wi-Fi, HSPA, UMTS, GSM

Because of the very limited practical range of Wi-Fi, mobile use is essentially confined to
such applications as inventory taking machines in warehouses or retail spaces, barcode
reading devices at check-out stands or receiving / shipping stations. Mobile use of Wi-Fi
over wider ranges is limited to move, use, as for instance in an automobile moving from
one hotspot to another (known as Wardriving). Other wireless technologies are more
suitable as illustrated in the graphic.

Data security risks

The most common wireless encryption standard, Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP, has
been shown to be easily breakable even when correctly configured. Wi-Fi Protected
Access (WPA and WPA2) encryption, which became available in devices in 2003, aimed
to solve this problem. Wi-Fi access points typically default to an encryption-free (open)
mode. Novice users benefit from a zero-configuration device that works out of the box,
but this default is without any wireless security enabled, providing open wireless access
to their LAN. To turn security on requires the user to configure the device, usually via a
software graphical user interface (GUI). Wi-Fi networks that are unencrypted can be
monitored and data (including personal information) may be recorded, but may be
protected by other means, such as a virtual private network or by secure Hypertext
Transfer Protocol (HTTPS) and Transport Layer Security.

Population

Many 2.4 GHz 802.11b and 802.11g access points default to the same channel on initial
startup, contributing to congestion on certain channels. To change the channel of
operation for an access point requires the user to configure the device.

Channel pollution

For more details on this topic, see Electromagnetic interference at 2.4 GHz.

Standardization is a process driven by market forces. Interoperability issues between non-


Wi-Fi brands or proprietary deviations from the standard can still disrupt connections or
lower throughput speeds on all users' devices that are within range, to include the non-
Wi-Fi or proprietary product. Moreover, the usage of the ISM band in the 2.45 GHz
range is also common to Bluetooth, WPAN-CSS, ZigBee and any new system will take
its share.

Wi-Fi pollution, or an excessive number of access points in the area, especially on the
same or neighboring channel, can prevent access and interfere with the use of other
access points by others, caused by overlapping channels in the 802.11g/b spectrum, as
well as with decreased signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) between access points. This can be a
problem in high-density areas, such as large apartment complexes or office buildings
with many Wi-Fi access points. Additionally, other devices use the 2.4 GHz band:
microwave ovens, security cameras, ZigBee devices, Bluetooth devices and (in some
countries) Amateur radio, video senders, cordless phones and baby monitors, all of which
can cause significant additional interference. It is also an issue when municipalities,[39] or
other large entities such as universities, seek to provide large area coverage. This
openness is also important to the success and widespread use of 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi.

Hardware

Standard devices
An embedded RouterBoard 112 with U.FL-RSMA pigtail and R52 mini PCI Wi-Fi card
widely used by wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) in the Czech Republic.

OSBRiDGE 3GN - 802.11n Access Point and UMTS/GSM Gateway in one device.

USB wireless adapter

A wireless access point (WAP) connects a group of wireless devices to an adjacent wired
LAN. An access point is similar to a network hub, relaying data between connected
wireless devices in addition to a (usually) single connected wired device, most often an
ethernet hub or switch, allowing wireless devices to communicate with other wired
devices.

Wireless adapters allow devices to connect to a wireless network. These adapters connect
to devices using various external or internal interconnects such as PCI, miniPCI, USB,
ExpressCard, Cardbus and PC Card. Most newer laptop computers are equipped with
internal adapters. Internal cards are generally more difficult to install.

Wireless routers integrate a Wireless Access Point, ethernet switch, and internal Router
firmware application that provides IP Routing, NAT, and DNS forwarding through an
integrated WAN interface. A wireless router allows wired and wireless ethernet LAN
devices to connect to a (usually) single WAN device such as cable modem or DSL
modem. A wireless router allows all three devices, mainly the access point and router, to
be configured through one central utility. This utility is usually an integrated web server
that is accessible to wired and wireless LAN clients and often optionally to WAN clients.
This utility may also be an application that is run on a desktop computer such as Apple's
AirPort.

Wireless network bridges connect a wired network to a wireless network. This is different
from an access point in the sense that an access point connects wireless devices to a wired
network at the data-link layer. Two wireless bridges may be used to connect two wired
networks over a wireless link, useful in situations where a wired connection may be
unavailable, such as between two separate homes.

Wireless range extenders or wireless repeaters can extend the range of an existing
wireless network. Range extenders can be strategically placed to elongate a signal area or
allow for the signal area to reach around barriers such as those created in L-shaped
corridors. Wireless devices connected through repeaters will suffer from an increased
latency for each hop. Additionally, a wireless device connected to any of the repeaters in
the chain will have a throughput that is limited by the weakest link between the two
nodes in the chain from which the connection originates to where the connection ends.

Distance records

Distance records (using non-standard devices) include 382 km (237 mi) in June 2007,
held by Ermanno Pietrosemoli and EsLaRed of Venezuela, transferring about 3 MB of
data between mountain tops of El Aguila and Platillon.[40][41] The Swedish Space Agency
transferred data 310 km (193 mi), using 6 watt amplifiers to reach an overhead
stratospheric balloon.[42]

Embedded systems

Embedded serial-to-Wi-Fi module

Wi-Fi availability in the home is on the increase.[43] Examples of remote monitoring


include security systems and tele-medicine. In all these kinds of implementation, if the
Wi-Fi provision is provided using a system running one of operating systems mentioned
above, then it becomes unfeasible due to weight, power consumption and cost issues.
Increasingly in the last few years (particularly as of early 2007), embedded Wi-Fi
modules have become available that incorporate a real-time operating system and provide
a simple means of wirelessly enabling any device which has and communicates via a
serial port.[44] This allows the design of simple monitoring devices, for example, a
portable ECG device monitoring a patient at home. This Wi-Fi-enabled device can
communicate via the Internet. [45]

These Wi-Fi modules are designed so that implementers need only minimal Wi-Fi
knowledge to provide Wi-Fi connectivity for their products.

Network security

The main issue with wireless network security is its simplified access to the network
compared to traditional wired networks such as ethernet. With wired networking it is
necessary to either gain access to a building, physically connecting into the internal
network, or break through an external firewall. Most business networks protect sensitive
data and systems by attempting to disallow external access. Thus being able to get
wireless reception provides an attack vector, if encryption is not used or can be defeated.
[46]

Attackers who have gained access to a Wi-Fi network can use DNS spoofing attacks very
effectively against any other user of the network, because they can see the DNS requests
made, and often respond with a spoofed answer before the queried DNS server has a
chance to reply.[47]

Securing methods

A common but unproductive measure to deter unauthorized users is to suppress the AP's
SSID broadcast, "hiding" it. This is ineffective as a security method because the SSID is
broadcast in the clear in response to a client SSID query. Another unproductive method is
to only allow computers with known MAC addresses to join the network.[48] The fault
with this method is MAC addresses can often, but not always, be set by a user with
minimal effort (MAC spoofing). If the eavesdropper has the ability to change his MAC
address, then they may join the network by spoofing an authorized address.

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption was designed to protect against casual
snooping, but is now deprecated. Tools such as AirSnort or Aircrack-ng can quickly
recover WEP encryption keys. Once it has seen 5-10 million encrypted packets, AirSnort
can determine the encryption password in under a second;[49] newer tools such as
aircrack-ptw can use Klein's attack to crack a WEP key with a 50% success rate using
only 40,000 packets.

To counteract this in 2002, the Wi-Fi Alliance approved Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
which uses TKIP as a stopgap solution for legacy equipment. Though more secure than
WEP, it has outlived its designed lifetime, has known attack vectors and is no longer
recommended.
In 2004, the full IEEE 802.11i (WPA2) encryption standards were released. If used with
a 802.1X server or in pre-shared key mode with a strong and uncommon passphrase
WPA2 is still considered secure, as of 2009.

Piggybacking

Main article: Piggybacking (internet access)

Piggybacking refers to access of a wireless Internet connection by bringing one's own


computer within the range of another's wireless connection, and using that service
without the subscriber's explicit permission or knowledge.

During the early popular adoption of 802.11, providing open access points for anyone
within range to use was encouraged to cultivate wireless community networks,[50]
particularly since people on average use only a fraction of their downstream bandwidth at
any given time.

Recreational logging and mapping of other people's access points has become known as
wardriving. It is also common for people to use open (unencrypted) Wi-Fi networks as a
free service, termed piggybacking. Indeed, many access points are intentionally installed
without security turned on so that they can be used as a free service. Providing access to
one's Internet connection in this fashion may be contrary to the Terms of Service or
contract with the ISP. These activities do not result in sanctions in most jurisdictions;
however, legislation and case law differ considerably across the world. A proposal to
leave graffiti describing available services was called warchalking. In a Florida court
case, owner laziness was determined not to be a valid excuse. [51]

Piggybacking is often unintentional. Most access points are configured without


encryption by default, and operating systems such as Windows XP SP2, Mac OS X or
Ubuntu Linux may be configured to automatically connect to any available wireless
network. A user who happens to start up a laptop in the vicinity of an access point may
find the computer has joined the network without any visible indication. Moreover, a user
intending to join one network may instead end up on another one if the latter's signal is
stronger. In combination with automatic discovery of other network resources (see DHCP
and Zeroconf) this could possibly lead wireless users to send sensitive data to the wrong
middle man when seeking a destination (see Man-in-the-middle attack). For example, a
user could inadvertently use an insecure network to log in to a website, thereby making
the login credentials available to anyone listening, if the website is using an insecure
protocol like HTTP.

How WiFi Works


HowStuffWorks.com
Wireless networks make it easy to connect to the Internet. See more computer networking
pictures.

If you've been in an airport, coffee shop, library or hotel recently, chances are you've
been right in the middle of a wireless network. Many people also use wireless
networking, also called WiFi or 802.11 networking, to connect their computers at home,
and some cities are trying to use the technology to provide free or low-cost Internet
access to residents. In the near future, wireless networking may become so widespread
that you can access the Internet just about anywhere at any time, without using wires.
WiFi has a lot of advantages. Wireless networks are easy to set up and inexpensive.
They're also unobtrusive -- unless you're on the lookout for a place to use your laptop,
you may not even notice when you're in a hotspot. In this article, we'll look at the
technology that allows information to travel over the air. We'll also review what it takes
to create a wireless network in your home.

What Is WiFi?
What's in a name?
You may be wondering why people refer to WiFi as 802.11 networking. The 802.11 designation
comes from the IEEE. The IEEE sets standards for a range of technological protocols, and it uses
a numbering system to classify these standards.

A wireless network uses radio waves, just like cell phones, televisions and radios do. In
fact, communication across a wireless network is a lot like two-way radio
communication. Here's what happens:

1. A computer's wireless adapter translates data into a radio signal and transmits it
using an antenna.
2. A wireless router receives the signal and decodes it. The router sends the
information to the Internet using a physical, wired Ethernet connection.
The process also works in reverse, with the router receiving information from the
Internet, translating it into a radio signal and sending it to the computer's wireless
adapter.

The radios used for WiFi communication are very similar to the radios used for walkie-
talkies, cell phones and other devices. They can transmit and receive radio waves, and
they can convert 1s and 0s into radio waves and convert the radio waves back into 1s and
0s. But WiFi radios have a few notable differences from other radios:

Other Wireless Networking Standards


Another wireless standard with a slightly different number, 802.15, is used for Wireless Personal
Area Networks (WPANs). It covers a very short range and is used for Bluetooth technology.

WiMax, also known as 802.16, looks to combine the benefits of broadband and wireless. WiMax
will provide high-speed wireless Internet over very long distances and will most likely provide
access to large areas such as cities.

• They transmit at frequencies of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. This frequency is considerably


higher than the frequencies used for cell phones, walkie-talkies and televisions.
The higher frequency allows the signal to carry more data.
• They use 802.11 networking standards, which come in several flavors:
o 802.11a transmits at 5 GHz and can move up to 54 megabits of data per
second. It also uses orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing
(OFDM), a more efficient coding technique that splits that radio signal
into several sub-signals before they reach a receiver. This greatly reduces
interference.
o 802.11b is the slowest and least expensive standard. For a while, its cost
made it popular, but now it's becoming less common as faster standards
become less expensive. 802.11b transmits in the 2.4 GHz frequency band
of the radio spectrum. It can handle up to 11 megabits of data per second,
and it uses complementary code keying (CCK) modulation to improve
speeds.
o 802.11g transmits at 2.4 GHz like 802.11b, but it's a lot faster -- it can
handle up to 54 megabits of data per second. 802.11g is faster because it
uses the same OFDM coding as 802.11a.
o 802.11n is the newest standard that is widely available. This standard
significantly improves speed and range. For instance, although 802.11g
theoretically moves 54 megabits of data per second, it only achieves real-
world speeds of about 24 megabits of data per second because of network
congestion. 802.11n, however, reportedly can achieve speeds as high as
140 megabits per second. The standard is currently in draft form -- the
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) plans to
formally ratify 802.11n by the end of 2009.
• Other 802.11 standards focus on specific applications of wireless networks, like
wide area networks (WANs) inside vehicles or technology that lets you move
from one wireless network to another seamlessly.
• WiFi radios can transmit on any of three frequency bands. Or, they can
"frequency hop" rapidly between the different bands. Frequency hopping helps
reduce interference and lets multiple devices use the same wireless connection
simultaneously.

As long as they all have wireless adapters, several devices can use one router to connect
to the Internet. This connection is convenient, virtually invisible and fairly reliable;
however, if the router fails or if too many people try to use high-bandwidth applications
at the same time, users can experience interference or lose their connections.

Next, we'll look at how to connect to the Internet from a WiFi hotspot.

WiFi Hotspots

USB wireless adapter and PC wireless card photos courtesy Consumer Guide Products
Wireless adapters can plug into a computer's PC card slot or USB port.

If you want to take advantage of public WiFi hotspots or start a wireless network in your
home, the first thing you'll need to do is make sure your computer has the right gear.
Most new laptops and many new desktop computers come with built-in wireless
transmitters. If your laptop doesn't, you can buy a wireless adapter that plugs into the PC
card slot or USB port. Desktop computers can use USB adapters, or you can buy an
adapter that plugs into the PCI slot inside the computer's case. Many of these adapters
can use more than one 802.11 standard.
Once you've installed your wireless adapter and the drivers that allow it to operate, your
computer should be able to automatically discover existing networks. This means that
when you turn your computer on in a WiFi hotspot, the computer will inform you that the
network exists and ask whether you want to connect to it. If you have an older computer,
you may need to use a software program to detect and connect to a wireless network.

Being able to connect to the Internet in public hotspots is extremely convenient. Wireless
home networks are convenient as well. They allow you to easily connect multiple
computers and to move them from place to place without disconnecting and reconnecting
wires. In the next section, we'll look at how to create a wireless network in your home.

Building a Wireless Network

Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products


A wireless router uses an antenna to send signals to wireless devices and a wire to send
signals to the Internet.

If you already have several computers networked in your home, you can create a wireless
network with a wireless access point. If you have several computers that are not
networked, or if you want to replace your Ethernet network, you'll need a wireless router.
This is a single unit that contains:

1. A port to connect to your cable or DSL modem


2. A router
3. An Ethernet hub
4. A firewall
5. A wireless access point
A wireless router allows you to use wireless signals or Ethernet cables to connect your
computers to one another, to a printer and to the Internet. Most routers provide coverage
for about 100 feet (30.5 meters) in all directions, although walls and doors can block the
signal. If your home is very large, you can buy inexpensive range extenders or repeaters
to increase your router's range.

As with wireless adapters, many routers can use more than one 802.11 standard. 802.11b
routers are slightly less expensive, but because the standard is older, they're slower than
802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11n routers. Most people select the 802.11g option for its
speed and reliability.

Once you plug in your router, it should start working at its default settings. Most routers
let you use a Web interface to change your settings. You can select:

• The name of the network, known as its service set identifier (SSID) -- The
default setting is usually the manufacturer's name.
• The channel that the router uses -- Most routers use channel 6 by default. If you
live in an apartment and your neighbors are also using channel 6, you may
experience interference. Switching to a different channel should eliminate the
problem.
• Your router's security options -- Many routers use a standard, publicly available
sign-on, so it's a good idea to set your own username and password.

Security is an important part of a home wireless network, as well as public WiFi hotspots.
If you set your router to create an open hotspot, anyone who has a wireless card will be
able to use your signal. Most people would rather keep strangers out of their network,
though. Doing so requires you to take a few security precautions.

It's also important to make sure your security precautions are current. The Wired
Equivalency Privacy (WEP) security measure was once the standard for WAN security.
The idea behind WEP was to create a wireless security platform that would make any
wireless network as secure as a traditional wired network. But hackers discovered
vulnerabilities in the WEP approach, and today it's easy to find applications and
programs that can compromise a WAN running WEP security.

To keep your network private, you can use one of the following methods:

• WiFi Protected Access (WPA) is a step up from WEP and is now part of the
802.11i wireless network security protocol. It uses temporal key integrity protocol
(TKIP) encryption. As with WEP, WPA security involves signing on with a
password. Most public hotspots are either open or use WPA or 128-bit WEP
technology, though some still use the vulnerable WEP approach.
• Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering is a little different from WEP or
WPA. It doesn't use a password to authenticate users -- it uses a computer's
physical hardware. Each computer has its own unique MAC address. MAC
address filtering allows only machines with specific MAC addresses to access the
network. You must specify which addresses are allowed when you set up your
router. This method is very secure, but if you buy a new computer or if visitors to
your home want to use your network, you'll need to add the new machines' MAC
addresses to the list of approved addresses. The system isn't foolproof. A clever
hacker can spoof a MAC address -- that is, copy a known MAC address to fool
the network that the computer he or she is using belongs on the network.

Wireless networks are easy and inexpensive to set up, and most routers' Web interfaces
are virtually self-explanatory. For more information on setting up and using a wireless
network, check out the links on the next page.
What is Wi Fi?

A way to get Internet access, the term Wi Fi is a play upon the decades-old term HiFi that
describes the type of output generated by quality musical hardware, Wi Fi stands for
Wireless Fidelity and is used to define any of the wireless technology in the IEEE 802.11
specification - including (but not necessarily limited to) the wireless protocols 802.11a,
802.11b, and 802.11g. The Wi-Fi Alliance is the body responsible for promoting the term
and its association with various wireless technology standards.

What is a Wi Fi Hotspot?

A Wi Fi hotspot is defined as any location in which 802.11 (wireless) technology both


exists and is available for use to consumers. In some cases the wireless access is free, and
in others, wireless carriers charge for Wi Fi usage. Generally, the most common usage of
Wi Fi technology is for laptop users to gain Internet access in locations such as airports,
coffee shops, and so on, where Wi Fi technology can be used to help consumers in their
pursuit of work-based or recreational Internet usage.

How Can I Use Wi Fi?

You must be using a computer or PDA that has Wi Fi connectivity already working. Most
portable computers can add Wi Fi using an adapter that plugs into a PC card slot or USB
port.

Will I need to have an account with a Wi Fi service provider?

Generally, no. You should be able to sign up with the provider at the location. Many
providers will display instructions when browser software opens on a WiFi-enabled
computer. If you don't have an account, simply start your computer and make sure your
Wi Fi card is plugged on. Then, open a browser.

Is Wi Fi the same as Bluetooth?

No. While both are wireless technology terms, Bluetooth technology lives under the
IEEE protocol 802.15.1, while Wi Fi falls under the 802.11 specification. What this
means for consumers is that appliances using Wi Fi technology and those using Bluetooth
technology are not interoperable. Bluetooth and Wi Fi are different in several ways, and
are not necessarily in competition. Wi Fi technology boasts faster data transfer speeds
and range, making it a good replacement for Ethernet (802.3) systems, while Bluetooth
requires less power and is therefore more prominent in small appliances, such as PDAs.