Wi-Fi is "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity."

So what does this mean?

In itself it doesn't mean anything. Wi-Fi is an industry initiative to develop an interoperability test bed for IEEE 802.11b WLAN equipment. This is what enables a card from Lucent to communicate with a wireless access point from Cisco, for example.

The iniative is led by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, or WECA for short. Anybody who wants their product Wi-Fi certified has to become a member of WECA, and can then submit their product to the labs of Agilent. If it passes the required test it gets a Wi-Fi certification and sticker, which to most of us is just a handy way of knowing that it works with other manufacturer's Wi-Fi equipment.

More information about Wi-Fi can be found on http://www.wi-fi.org/ (surprise, surprise).

Wireless Networking Defined:

Generally speaking, it refers to technology that enables two computers to communicate with each other remotely, "using standard network protocols, but without network cabling." Also known as: WiFi and 802.11 networking.


The actual technology behind wireless networking is not a far shot from that of a simple radio or walkie-talkie. The biggest difference is the higher frequency that WiFi cards operate at, allowing for higher data rates. There are actually three industry standards that WiFi cards work with. I have outlined them below:

Note that the per second megabit speeds above are ideal, and may not be typical of realistic service. All WiFi cards have the capacity to change frequencies. Sometimes, frequency hopping across many channels may be advantageous, to avoid unwanted interference.

What you need to do to get started with WiFi:

For starters, you need to buy a network card, I recommend 802.11g. It has the speed of 802.11a and is much cheaper. Also, 802.11g has "good interoperability on 802.11b equipment." If you are thinking of adding WiFi capabilities to your laptop, you will most likely need a PCMCIA card, which should be inserted into (you guessed it...) the PCMCIA slot on your laptop. Desktops on the other hand require a PCI card. This needs to be installed into the machine. Of course, there are external USB devices that will work for both of the above purposes, but that just seems silly to me, unless you have no slots. Most newer cards should work right off the bat once they are installed with their proper drivers (assuming that they are within range of an operating hotspot or signal). A wireless access point router may be used to set up a hotspot in your home, allowing you to connect wirelessly through your current DSL or cable provider. Apple manufactures a tight little package known as the AirPort Extreme, it is an example of a wireless access point router. The reason I mention it, is that it may be used with an optional directional antenna, resulting in incredible signal range and coverage. And it looks cool. In many cases, WiFi hotspots are protected by wired equivalent privacy (WEP) 128-bit encryption, I suggest you follow suit, lest you wish to become victim to the ruthless bandwidth pirate.

See also: Bluetooth, IrDA.


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