What Does WiFi Stand For?
Read on and understand how wireless technology called WiFi really works.
15:53 26 May 2017
Millions of people from around the world are using the term WiFi without really knowing what it stands for and how exactly it works. While many believe that it stands for “wireless fidelity”, WiFi is simply just a marketing term that an advertising agency came up with in 1999.
WiFi is a wireless networking technology that was first achieved via HAM radio in 1971, making the technology much older than most of us think. It was briefly shelved due to the huge expense needed for the equipment to make a HAM setup work.
However in 1997, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers agreed on the 802.11 standard. This standard was quickly changed to 802.11b, with the extra letter denoting the generation of wireless technology that devices could support. For example, the “b” standard means that it could support a transmission rate of around 11Mbps on the 2.4Ghz spectrum while the 802.11a standard that came out in 2002 was capable of transmitting upwards of 53Mbps over the newly minted 5Ghz frequency spectrum.
oday, we are using the 802.11ac standard, which is capable of transmitting 1.3Gbps over both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz spectrum at the same time.
In this article, we explore what WiFi is, what it stands for, how it works and what you can do.
What is WiFi and What does it Stand for?
WiFi, which many think stands for Wireless Fidelity, whilst in fact, the term, in fact, refers to a new networking technology with a bunch of wireless standards. In other words, WiFi is essentially a means of connecting to the internet without using any physical connections or wires.
And this is how the term came to be.
A couple of decades ago, when the wireless industry was just taking shape, it needed a catchy name for the new products and services that met the technical standards laid out by IEEE, namely IEEE 802.11. The folks in the industry wanted to come up with a name that had a ring to it, and coined WiFi.
And the rest is history.
They liked it that the name WiFi rhymed well with hi-fi, which was short form for high fidelity, a very popular term which referred to the sophisticated sound systems of those days. Much in the same way that hi-fi was defined, many people believe WiFi simply stands for ‘wireless fidelity’, but those who were tasked with picking a name say it’s not the case.
Wireless networks use different standards for efficient operation. Let’s now check out some of the key standards ratified by IEEE.
802.11b:- This is the first commercialized version of all WiFi standards. Capable of achieving a data transmission rate of circa 10Mbps on the 2.4 GHz frequency band.
802.11a:- Operates in a higher frequency band 5GHz, where there appears to be less interference with other devices such as mobile phones and microwaves, and touches data transmission rate of up to 54 Mbps.
802.11g: Achieves similar speeds like 802.11a while operating in 2.4 GHz band, bringing you the best of both worlds.
802.11n: A standard which operates in both 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands and delivers speeds of almost 600 Mbps. Devices working on this standard are usually know for operating in dual band.
802.11ac: Referred to as a supercharged version of 802.11n, this standard is believed to touch the 1.3 Gbps of data transmission rate operating on the 5 GHz spectrum.
Note that these figures are theoretical estimates that are not really possible to being achieved in real world applications.
Besides standards, the 802.11 family also has many designations, each of which refer to a number of different features that come with the WiFi devices. For example, 802.11i , which strengthens the security protocols of the WiFi we use; 802.11e, which deals with the key processes that are designed to support rich multimedia; and, finally, 802.11u, which makes latching on to new WiFi access points as seamless as possible.
How Does WiFi Work?
Now that we have the jargon out of the way, let’s talk about something less technical.
Ever thought about how WiFi works? How videos, pictures, and MP3 tracks can just fly through the air and end up on your devices?
Before we find out how data is sent and received wirelessly, let’s understand what a typical WiFi connection looks like.
Each WiFi router is connected by a Ethernet cable to a modem which is plugged to the internet.
Note: WiFi routers are devices that let you access the internet from anywhere in your home.
Let’s see what happens to WiFi signals after they are generated by the router.
The transmitter in the wireless router is designed to receive signal from the internet via the Ethernet cable, and convert and send it out as it into radio signals, which are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Such WiFi signals (radio waves) are then picked up by the receiver in the wireless devices you use WiFi on such as your laptop, smart phones, and tablets.
Sounds good. But what is it, though, in the radio wave signals that allow you to watch a video, or stream a movie?
In addition to the raw information that is being transmitted, the radio signals carry a set of specific instructions that basically talk to the receiving device and tell it what to do. These instructions are pretty basic and easy to pack/unpack by computers because they comprise of just two modes. Mode 1 indicates ON; and Mode 0 indicates OFF.
Suppose you want to send an email of a picture to your friend on the other side of the world. The file is broken down into packets of data using a code of 1’s and 0’s, which are then packaged and delivered to the assigned network address of the intended recipient through the WiFi router connected to the Ethernet cable. And then, the WiFi router at your friend’s home receives the data packets the same way they were packaged, and sends them through to their WiFi device, which then unpacks the sequenced packets to reproduce the original image that you sent.
And that’s how the information is carried through the air- wirelessly. And that’s how you stream a movie in high resolution or watch a video on YouTube for example.
Some may argue that this works similar to how an email works. There could be some similarity, but, luckily, for WiFi, the signals tend to travel at a faster speed, which, kind of, makes it very easy for huge blocks of data to zip through.
Note: The radio signals sent and received by wireless routers have a definite range and cannot travel beyond a particular area. This area (zone) is usually referred to as a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and is mainly determined by the bandwidth that the router operates on.
Why Go Wireless?
There’s absolutely no difference how you use your device whether it’s hooked up to a wired connection or a wireless one. You’re absolutely not going to miss anything. But here are a few key benefits you get with setting up a wireless network at your home.
There are many good things to consider about WiFi but what really drives home the advantage is that it lets you enjoy high speed internet access from anywhere in the house.
What this means is that you can work out of your home or from your garden shed, and still have your devices connected to the internet, as long as you are within the WiFi network coverage.
The flexibility that a wireless network offers is just tremendous.
Think about it.
You are not limited by the length of the wire that goes into the Ethernet jack in the wall.
Maybe you have a big house and you are not sure whether your range will pose a problem. Fret not; you can still get it to work for you: put together several access points and interconnect them to set up a wireless network with better range.
Even if the strength of the signal is low at the corners of your building and you want wireless signals to be available there, you can still buy a WiFi range extender to boost the strength and extend the range.
Now that’s some flexibility.
One of the reasons why wireless networking has grown very popular is its reasonable cost.
You can increase savings by not installing cables and running wires all over your house, saving money on extra internet connections, sharing printers and other peripherals such as scanners, and a lot more.
Now that’s a smart way to shave a significant chunk of money off your monthly phone bill.
Things you can do with WiFi
If you are still on the fence about hooking into the wireless web, here are a few points you might want to consider.
Save Phone Bills
You can ditch your landline phone and start using inexpensive Internet based phone applications to make/answer calls, thereby saving a lot of money on your monthly phone bill.
Video and Audio Anywhere
Long gone are the days when you bought music DVDs only to keep them stacked up beside your home entertainment system. With your wireless network up and running, you can now make your audio and video signals wirelessly available to all devices in and around the house. And that includes the wireless stereo speaker in your car.
Imagine what it would be like to be able to keep a watch on your home from anywhere in the world. With cutting-edge wireless cameras that hook up to your home network and send images over the internet, you will now be able to check out your house all the time no matter where you are. Wanna see what your kids are up to whilst you are busy working in your home office upstairs?
Just connect to your wireless camera and check things out.
Things to Consider
Setting up your wireless connection can be quite easy at times, and you should be ready to go in a few minutes. However, there are certain that you’ll need to think about. Here are a few:
•Which of your devices will you use your WiFi for connecting to the internet?
•What other gadgets and devices might you want to add to your wireless network?
•Which wireless standard will you be using? Will you use one or all of them?
•How will you connect the network to the internet? Through DSL or cable?
•What should be your budget for setting up a wireless connection?
•What should you do to make sure there is enough security to assure the confidentiality of the information stored on the devices connected to your wireless network?
WiFi Present and Future
One initial reason why people have always wanted to set up a wireless network in their home has been to unlock the freedom of internet access. But Wireless networking has come a long way. In fact, it has grown considerably, reaching further into areas nobody thought were possible. Over the years, WiFi has become so popular that dedicated access points started springing up in each nook and cranny of the country, enabling users to get instant connection to lighting fast internet without the need for any real telephone socket.
At present, you can find wireless networks and hot spots in lounges, hotels, pubs, restaurants, and what not. And, if recent reports are anything to go by, a few smart cities are even believed to be running very large wireless networks that cover a huge area.
It’s safe to say that wireless networking is the new norm. More and more people are starting to realise the benefits of setting up a dedicated network at home and they are switching to WiFi in huge numbers. As a consequence, from cars to cameras and gaming to audio/video equipment, a majority of things in the market today come with advanced wireless capabilities. And this means that the expanse of the wireless world will only get bigger from here.
With the IoT fast emerging, the dynamics of wireless home networking is expected to change completely. Manufacturers of consumer goods, who are driving the IoT revolution, are making a definite attempt to come up with innovative products and services that are designed to talk to each other in an automated fashion and stay current with one another. And that has paved way for a new world of wireless revolution, where the wireless network that you set up for your computers to connect to each other and the Internet can also do many things including taking control of your home appliances etc .
So be prepared to welcome all these devices that want to jump on the wireless bandwagon of your home. And get ready for an exhilarating wireless experience of the future.