Wi-fi refers to wireless networking, and is sometimes mentioned as 802.11. 802.11 is the standard designation of wireless networking. There are often letters added on after 802.11, and refer to the type of wireless network it is. The ‘g’ added on is the faster form of wireless networking, while ‘b’, more widespread, is the slower of the two. ‘A’ exists in between these.
The basic concept is often compared to that of walkie talkies. Wi-fi uses radio waves to send signals to various devices. They convert the data into 1s and 0s so that the computer can understand what is being sent, and use a much higher frequency than that of the standard radio. This allows data to be sent very quickly, and makes it a good choice in a number of situations. Unlike wireless devices like cordless phones, which can sometimes have interference problems with similar devices, wi-fi is able to change it’s frequency through a large range. This gets around any transmission interference and lets many wi-fi enabled devices co-exist in the same space. The typical range of a wireless network is about 100 feet.
The technology sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. All you really need to set up the typical wi-fi network is a sender and a receiver. The typical sender is a wireless router that hooks up to your modem. The receiver in this case would be the wireless network card on your desktop or laptop. There can be certain obstacles in signal strength, such as furniture and thick walls. Most of the setup time will consist of you finding the optimal positioning for the router.
There are also many hotspots scattered around the country. These are publicly accessible wireless networks. Depending on where it is, it could either be a free public access spot, someone’s personal unsecured network, or a place where you pay per minute/hour/day/etc for wireless access. They are cropping up just about everywhere around the country, with some major metropolitan cities creating huge amounts of hotspots to bring Internet access to many people who were unable to get it any other way.
There are also many websites available that offer hotspot search engines. Going on a trip and worried about Internet access? Just look through one of these databases and visit the hotspot. Most wi-fi equipment will detect the settings of the network automatically. The only problem you will have in connecting is if the network requires you to enter a WEP key. This key would be given to you by the owner of the network so that you could log on.
This is a very useful and user friendly technology, and is gaining ground in more than just computers. Wi-fi is used in many forms of consumer electronics, and is enabling many devices to become wired in to already existing networks. Not only that, but it also cuts down on the amount of cables cluttering your workspace. With all the cables your computer already has, wouldn’t you love to cut down on at least one?