What Is Wi-Fi?

Home & Family, Technology
on November 2, 2011

Wi-Fi is a way to wirelessly connect electronic devices such as computers and smartphones to the Internet.

The basics of Wi-Fi. The folks at wiseGeek, a Web site dedicated to giving clear answers to common questions, explain that Wi-Fi "is a wireless networking technology used across the globe." The term Wi-Fi, a takeoff from the older term Hi-Fi, was popularized and pushed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a pioneer in the commercialization of Wi-Fi technology.

How Wi-Fi works. In a Wi-Fi network, computers with a network access card connect wirelessly to a router, which is connected to the Internet via a modem. This is referred to as the access point. Any Wi-Fi device within 200 feet of the access point can access the Internet, although best results occur within 100 feet. Wireless boosters can enhance signal range past the standard 200 feet.

Wi-Fi hot spots. An area that's covered in wireless access is known as a "hot spot." Many businesses — coffee shops, for example — create wireless "hot spots" to attract customers. Efforts have begun to turn entire cities into large "hot spots," offering free advertisement-rich wireless Internet to its citizens, or ad-free wireless Internet for a small fee. A Wi-Fi network can be closed, requiring a password for access, or open for anyone to use.

How it works. A wireless network uses radio waves to transmit information to and from computers, cell phones, e-readers and other devices equipped with Wi-Fi access cards. A device's wireless adapter takes information, transfers it into radio waves and sends it via an antenna to the router. The router then decodes the information and sends it to the Internet using a wired connection, called an Ethernet. The process is also reversed, with the router decoding information from the Internet and wirelessly transmitting it to a wireless device.