The typical home Internet signal comes in over a telephone line or cable, goes through the modem provided by the Internet service provider and reaches your desktop via an Ethernet cable that plugs into the back of your desktop computer. Wi-Fi connects the modem with your desktop computer by using radio signals. The technology dates back to a decision by the FCC in 1985 to open radio-frequency spectrum at 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz for unlicensed operation. By 1997, the 802.11 committee of the IEEE had developed a standard that allowed for wireless networking, or Wi-Fi. Various versions of the 802.11 standard are still used.
To connect your desktop computer to a network and the Internet wirelessly, you need a wireless router connected to the modem provided by your ISP, and a wireless adapter inside or plugged into your desktop computer. The router converts network and Internet signals into radio waves and coordinates all the signals. The wireless adapter receives the signals meant for the desktop computer and sends back the desktop messages.
The main benefits of Wi-Fi are the convenience and cost savings of eliminating network cables. Wi-Fi networks can accommodate additional computers as long as each has a wireless adapter. You don't have to add any additional network components or infrastructure. The only limit to the expansion of a wireless network is the amount of traffic it can handle.
Wi-Fi is less secure and slower than wired network connections. Because the signals are radio waves, other parties can intercept them and get your data. The speeds of Wi-Fi networks are increasing as the technology improves, but wireless networks are still slower than the fastest wired ones. Another disadvantage is that Wi-Fi networks have a limited range. They can usually cover an average-sized house but, if there are concrete walls or other solid obstructions, the signal may not be able to penetrate.
Suppliers have developed ways of addressing the disadvantages of Wi-Fi. For heightened security, routers can encrypt the radio signals. The WEP encryption standard, which is still available, is no longer secure since hackers have been able to crack it, but the WPA standard is effective. Even if the speeds available with Wi-Fi are slower than wired connections, they are adequate for the average home or small-business network. For range limitations, suppliers offer range extenders that receive the signals, amplify them and send them out again. The range extenders can bridge any gaps in coverage that you might have.
You can avoid many of the disadvantages of Wi-Fi networks by following a few basic rules. Make sure you set the router to use WPA encryption and choose the setting that prevents it from broadcasting your network ID. Get the latest model and software versions for all equipment and drivers to get the best speed possible. Place the router in a central location, away from devices that use radio waves, such as microwaves and portable phones. These measures will make your Wi-Fi network perform as well as wired networks.
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