Wi-Fi

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wireless technology guide

Incisor overview: Wi-Fi

Coming from the wired, Ethernet standard, there is a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) technology – commonly known as Wi-Fi – that connects devices such as computers, PDAs or other devices to each other, but without any wires.

Wi-Fi is made up of a group of radio technologies that operate in the unlicensed 2.4 and 5 GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) radio bands, and whose names include IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g are used by Wi-Fi networks to provide wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi networks can also connect to computers on wired networks, providing that they are using IEEE 802.3 or Ethernet. A full listing of Wi-Fi versions is shown below. Only the 802.11 a, b, g and n versions are really relevant to users. The others matter to developers and the other people that make Wi-Fi tick.

How fast?

The IEEE 802.11b version of Wi-Fi provides data throughput of 11 Mbps, while 802.11a provides up to 54 Mbps. Products are now being built to an emerging 802.11n version of Wi-Fi, which promises data throughput of above 100Mbps, though this version has yet to become an official standard.

Where can I use Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is suitable for home and business users. While a Wi-Fi network at home may mean that one person can surf the net in the lounge while connected to the Wi-Fi access point near a PC in the home office, companies are using Wi-Fi to connect meeting rooms, training classrooms and large auditoriums to standard wired Ethernet networks. If you are a large company, or perhaps a university or other facility, you may use Wi-Fi to connect buildings.

What devices use Wi-Fi?

Laptops and smartphones increasingly have Wi-Fi built in, and as users want or need to be able to be connected wherever they are, Wi-Fi networks can be found in public places like coffee outlets as well as hotels, airport lounges, shopping malls, etc. The reach of Wi-Fi is now also extending into other devices such as cameras, MP3 players, domestic music systems, flat panel TVs and more.

Isn’t Wi-Fi tough to use?

At one time, setting a PC or other device up to connect to a Wi-Fi network was complicated, and would often require the input of a professional. Today it is much easier. In most cases you will just plug in your Wi-Fi card or USB connection, turn on your computer or other device and it will use layers of auto-install software and systems to go away and find the Wi-Fi network and ensure that in very little time you will be surfing the Net.

Who is looking after me?

In the same way that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group manages the interests of anyone involved with Bluetooth – from the engineers developing the technology through to the person in the street using a headset – Wi-Fi has its own organization, known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. They have a web site – www.wi-fi.org, and operate a system called the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED programme. Manufacturers submit their Wi-Fi products to be tested under this programme, and it is a way of making sure that your Wi-Fi devices work with each other. If you are in the market for your first W-i-Fi products, or if you are extending an existing WLAN network, it is worth looking for the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wi-Fi CERTIFIED logos (see below) on the box or packaging of the product you are considering purchasing.

 


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