Guide to Wireless WiFi Networking Technology
Wi-Fi is a term that everyone will now be aware of and if you have not used the technology but require internet access you really should be investigating the possibilities. Wi-Fi allows the user to connect to the internet via an access point or a hotspot and will provide an extension to a Broadband service without extra data charges being incurred.
A Broadband connection can be shared with multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices (laptops, PDAs, portable games consoles) via a router which is connected to a Broadband telephone line. The advantages of this set up are obviously a lack of wires and the flexibility to connect to the internet wherever an individual is situation in the house or garden. Typically a Wi-Fi access point will enable internet connectivity within a range of up to 150 feet indoors and up to double the distance outdoors- the range will vary and is dependant on a number of conditions such as router power and the quality of the Wi-Fi chip in a connected device. It has been reported that some smartphones and PDAs perform better than others for Wi-Fi but in reality it is difficult to know the exact performance before purchase and in any case it is unlikely to produce a noticeable performance drop if a chip is less well powered than another.
Out and about
Hotspots are high powered access points provided by companies on a paid for or free basis and will enable the user to access the internet provided they are within range of a Hotspot. Paid for options include BT Openzone which charges the user on a subscription basis (e.g. £10/month for 250 minutes) and enables the use of a Wi-Fi enabled mobile device anywhere within range of an Openzone Hotspot. More and more free alternatives are entering the market and some popular coffee chains and fast food outlets now provide free Wi-Fi access as standard. Free-hotspot.com is a new provider who is increasingly adding free Wi-Fi hotspots around the UK including substantial coverage along the Thames.
If you have a Wi-Fi network already set up at home and want to use a Wi-Fi enabled PDA or smartphone with this network you simply need to activate the Wi-Fi facility on your device and search for available networks. You would then need to input the security key pre-defined in your home network and that is all that should be required. At this point you should now have Broadband speed access from your phone / PDA and can use this for a variety of tasks that you may not have considered possible with a mobile device. For example, internet radio stations, streaming video and VOIP calls can be made with most Wi-Fi enabled smartphones and whilst the experience will be less than a desktop equivalent the flexibility of receiving information and dealing with emails without data charges should not be overlooked.
Connecting to a paid for Hotspot service will be slightly more complicated and is usually done via a particular web address requiring a user name and password but all relevant instructions should be provided when you first sign up to the service.
This document is not a technical overview of the Wi-Fi technology but more of an introduction to what it can be used for. When purchasing a mobile device it is well worth checking that Wi-Fi is one of the included features. It can give super fast mobile internet connectivity with no data charges and could very soon become a must have feature once the familiarisation period is over. Wi-Fi can have a dramatic effect on battery life but this can be negated because you only need to have the Wi-Fi feature enabled when in range of an access point. Wi-Fi is not necessarily a must have feature but it is one that will provide many more uses to a mobile device if the option is available.
PLEASE ENSURE that you use suitable encryption when setting up a home wireless network (instructions should be included with all routing devices).
802.11b- operates at 2.4 Ghz with a data rate of 5Mbits per second (typical) up to 11Mbits per second (maximum)
802.11g- operates at 2.4 Ghz with a data rate of 19Mbits per second (typical) up to 54Mbits per second (maximum)
802.11n- future protocol operating at up to 248Mbits per second with a range of up to 70 metres indoors.
Most new Wi-Fi enabled products will include either 802.11b or 802.11g technology and they have a range of up to 35 metres indoors (110 metres outdoors).
WiMAX- as yet this technology is not widely available but promises high speed internet access over long distances (measured in kilometres) and has the potential to bring fixed type Broadband access to areas not currently covered and to offer a much higher density of wireless Broadband access than is currently available. Expect to hear standards called 802.16d (Fixed WiMAX) and 802.16e (Mobile WiMAX).