Wifi – So What Is It?

In this article we're going to begin to define what wifi is and just how it works.

Relatively speaking, wifi is a new technology, created within the last couple of years at the time of this writing. However, the basis on which is created is not really new. Wifi is short for wireless fidelity as applied to connecting multiple computers. Or in other words, wireless networking.

The reason this is not really new is because we've had wireless forms of communication for some time now. One needs to look no further than ones own hi fidelity stereo system. The signal from the ration station transceiver travels wireless through the air until it reaches the antenna connected to your radio. This technology has been around for ages. But as applied to computers, yes, this is something very new.

So, how does wireless networking work?

The 802.11 standard, on which networks are based, defines two modes which are infrastructure mode and ad hoc mode. With infrastructure mode, the wireless network is composed of at least one access point which is connected to the wired network infrastructure which includes a set of wireless end stations. This particular configuration is called a Basic Service Set or BSS. An extended service set, or ESS, is a set of multiple BSS sets which form a single subnetwork. Because most WLANs require access to a wired LAN for services such as file servers, printers and Internet links, they typically operate in infrastructure mode.

The difference between Ad Hoc mode and Infrastructure mode is that Ad Hoc mode is just a set of 802.11 wireless stations that communicate directly with each other without using an access point or any connection to a network that is wired. This mode is great for quickly and easily setting up a wireless network where a wireless infrastructure does not exist or is simply not needed for services. Some places where this would be true are hotel rooms, convention centers and airports or any place where wired networks are forbidden.

While connected to a wireless network, you can do most basic things that are not too intensive such as check email, browse the Internet, connect to conferences, access your home directory, use programs such a network word processor and use printing services. You should not use wireless networks for streaming audio or video, downloading anything that is large or viewing web sites that are intense in graphics.

Even though wireless networks are nice to look at you will still get the best performance and highest speeds from wired networks. Generally speaking, a wireless connection works the same way as an Ethernet connection. The speed of a wireless network is about 11 megabits per second. The problem is that with a wireless network you have to share the bandwidth with all the users connected to the wireless network in a given network. This is what slows the network down and makes intensive operations difficult to perform. It is because of this wireless networks that will never be as fast as a wired Ethernet network.