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Overview of Wireless Technology

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi (short for Wireless Fidelity) is a wireless communications technology used to transmit data from one network device to another by radio. In contrast to wired computer networks, which use cable to connect devices together, wireless networks use transceivers equipped with antennas to transmit and receive data.

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."   --Albert Einstein

Wi-Fi technology is also called “fixed wireless”, since the communications devices are at fixed locations (such as homes, offices or outdoor sites), as opposed to mobile devices (such as cell phones and handheld two-way radios).

Where is Wireless Technology Used?

Wireless technology is used in places where it is difficult, expensive or impossible to install wired networks.
Because of its wide applications, wireless technology can be used for high-speed Internet access, for integration of cellular communications with computer networks, in Voice-over-Internet (VoIP) telephony systems, in security systems using video surveillance and other security and fire alarm equipment, in commercial-quality audio broadcast systems, in process monitoring and environmental monitoring systems, and for other purposes requiring transmission of data, voice, and video.
Wireless networking is used in business to create, expand, or modernize local area networks: for example, if a computer network must be built quickly in a new department or office of a company, if employees at remote sites must be connected to the existing LAN, or if networks must be set up at temporary sites. Wireless technology can be used to create a network that smoothly integrates the wired and wireless segments into a single infrastructure.

Benefits of Wireless Networking

Wireless networking has the following advantages over wired networking:

Lower Cost.  Where communications are needed between sites located more than 100 meters apart, wireless networking is cheaper than expensive cable and the installation costs involved.
Efficiency.  Setting up wireless computer networks doesn’t require the long, labor-intensive and expensive work required to install cables. Wireless communications equipment can be installed quickly and effortlessly.
Mobility.  If a company moves to a different office or building, the money spent to purchase and install cables in the old office is lost, because those cables cannot be removed and re-installed. In contrast to wired systems, a complete set of wireless communications equipment can be easily removed and re-installed at a new location.
High Data Transmission Speed.  The maximum data transmission speed via wireless computer networks is above the 100 Mbps that is the maximum data transmission speed in 100-megabit wired systems.
High-Quality Communications.  The use of wireless equipment in buildings provides high-quality communications regardless of weather and atmospheric conditions.
Information Security.  The security of wireless networks is ensured by the same means used for security in wired channels: data encryption and a multilevel system for protection against unauthorized access.
Compatibility with Wired Networks.  The use of standard data transmission and network access protocols makes wireless systems fully compatible with wired computer systems. This makes it possible to integrate existing wired LAN and new wireless segments into a single infrastructure.
Large Coverage Zone.  The operating range of wireless communications equipment ranges from hundreds of meters to up to 50 kilometers (30 miles). The use of directional high-gain antennas and booster and repeater stations enables reliable, high-quality communications over unlimited distances.
Flexibility.  In places where the wired telecommunications system is insufficient or nonexistent (for example, in sparsely populated or mountainous terrain), wireless communications is the only cost-effective solution for connecting remote sites to the LAN and for providing Internet access for the remote sites.
Accessibility.  Due to its high efficiency, mobility and ease of installation and maintenance, wireless networking has become accessible to not only large and medium-sized businesses, but also small businesses.
Quick Recovery of Expenses.  Since wireless communications are practically maintenance-free, they are less expensive than cable communications. Investments in wireless networking are recovered quickly.

Operating Range and Data Transmission Speed

The operating range and data transmission speed in a wireless LAN depend on the type of network adapters used and the number of access points servicing the network. For wide area networks, the network throughput is determined by the communications devices and antennas used in the bridges connecting the remote sites. The operating range and speed of a wireless device are determined by the protocol used in the device, the power of the radio transmitter, the modulation technology used, the antenna gain, the length of the antenna cables, and such factors as the presence of obstacles and interference in the radio visibility zone of the device. The higher the frequency of the radio signal used by a wireless device, the more sensitive it is to various types of obstacles that block the microwave radiation in the given band (for example, building walls made of dense materials, metal structures, and trees).
Wireless LANs built to various standards have different data transmission speeds. The maximum theoretical data transmission speed in wireless LANs ranges from 11 Mbps to 54 Mbps depending on the standard used. The use of add-on software makes it possible to increase this speed to 100 Mbps or more.

Wireless Internet Access

The data transmission speed provided by wireless technology is well suited to the Internet access applications currently available. The slowest wireless device is at least three times faster than a dedicated T1 channel and just as fast as the most advanced broadband DSL and satellite communications systems. High-speed wireless devices provide transmission speeds comparable to the trunk cable channels used by Internet service providers to connect to backbone nodes.

Network Security

Some customers may have the misconception that wireless computer networks are less secure than wired computer networks, but the same means used to protect cable networks are used to protect wireless networks, making them just a secure as wired networks. Wireless network safety is ensured by a multilevel system for protection against unauthorized access and encryption of the data transmitted using the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption standard and a 64-bit or 128-bit key.

Equipment Setup

All wireless computer devices can be set up easily using a web interface.

Licensing of Radio Transmissions

In many countries (including the USA), the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands are reserved for industrial, scientific, and medical uses, and a license or official permit is not required to use them. In the majority of countries of the former USSR, the use of the 2.4 GHz band does not require a license or special permit if used in a local area network in buildings, enclosed storage sites, or on company premises.

Is Wireless Networking Right for You?

If you need to decide which network to chose—wired or wireless—one of your main criteria should be the network throughput that its users need to work efficiently. Keep in mind that the speed of the slowest wireless device is much higher than the speed of a dedicated Internet cable line. However, this speed is insufficient in LANs with a large number of users and heavy data traffic, or if your company needs to frequently exchange large files. For example, if your company is a professional graphic design or multimedia producer, wireless networking isn’t right for you. Otherwise, wireless networking will help you avoid excessive wiring and the installation and maintenance of the cable-based infrastructure.

More information:

     Wireless Technology
     Wireless Standards
     Network Equipment
     Glossary
 
 

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