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A Quick Guide to Wi-Fi


It may be just an urban legend, but it looks like Wi-Fi is the abbreviation for "Wireless Fidelity". It's a friendlier name for the IEEE 802.11 family of wireless standards. But how does Wi-Fi work in the first place? Let's find out!

Just like walkie-talkies, Wi-Fi devices utilize radio waves. In a typical scenario, a router broadcasts 2.4 GHz radio waves, and your laptop, tablet or phone includes a wireless adapter which is able to receive and decode them. We are talking about a two-way data exchange, of course; your device will send and receive data packets as well.

Each device that can connect to a Wi-Fi network includes a wireless module. If you own an older laptop, which doesn't include a Wi-Fi adapter, you can purchase one separately, and then plug it into one of the available USB ports. Sometimes signal range is too small; in this case, you may need to use an external Wi-Fi antenna and an SMA cable or adapter, or install a signal repeater. Be sure to follow the links if you want to learn more about these topics.

Wireless transmitters can send out the encoded Internet data using the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. The higher frequency band has a bigger throughput (read "provides bigger download and upload speeds "). The older 2.4 GHz band has fewer Wi-Fi channels, and their width is only 20 MHz, so the risk of interference is significantly higher. Since people continue to prefer this band, it can be hard to find an unused channel for your router. On the other hand, while it is true that the 5 GHz band channels are less prone to interference and can transport more data, their signal range is often smaller, because radio waves that have higher frequencies tend to bounce off obstacles much more.

Wi-Fi networks have many advantages. To begin with, they are inexpensive and easy to install. Here's how you can set up a wireless network:

1. Purchase a router, power it on, and then plug your cable-based Internet connection into it.

2. Log into the admin panel using the info in the router manual, switch to the wireless section, and then enable Wi-Fi.

3. It's time to set up the name of your wireless network, also known as "SSID". Choose a random network name, and then pick a strong password for it.

4. Write down the password in a notebook; it's the easiest way of making sure that you don't forget it, or even lose it, in case that an antivirus destroys the data on your hard drive.

5. Picking a strong password is important, but activating WPA2 data encryption is essential! Without encryption, your wireless network will be wide open for anyone who wants to get access to it and its shared resources. So, always choose the WPA2 encryption mechanism or a newer version of it, if it's available.

If you have a good mobile Internet connection, it may come in handy to know that most modern smartphones allow people to quickly turn their devices into hotspots. This means that you can easily share your Internet connection with other devices, and even cancel your cable-based Internet service for good!

Wireless network clients are easy to set up as well. Simply connect a new device to your Wi-Fi network, and then type in the password. If all works as expected, your device will be connected to the Internet within seconds!

We can't end this quick guide without mentioning some of Wi-Fi's disadvantages, though. First of all, it's not 100% secure. Therefore, if you want to have a rock-solid network, it's best to stick with one that uses Ethernet cables. Sure, WPA2 encryption is quite strong, especially when it is used in conjunction with AES. Still, hackers can discover the network password if they have enough time to analyze lots of encrypted data packets.

Wireless networks are slower than their wired counterparts. It is true that we've gotten Gigabit Wi-Fi modules these days, but real-life wireless speeds aren't that great. So, if speed and latency are essential, wired networks will win once again.

Still, if mobility is important, wireless networks are the only solution we've got at our disposal, at least for now. It's not a perfect solution, I know, but it does the job.