Wi-Fi is incredibly important in the modern world. Coffee shops around the world lure in customers by offering it for free, thousands of dollars are spent by college campuses to provide it to students, and the United States Government even has a 100-billion dollar plan to provide it to the entire country. However, this vital piece of technology isn’t very well understood. We know it allows us to connect to the Internet, but how?
Wi-Fi isn’t a single thing. Instead, it’s a group of wireless network protocols (a set of rules that allow two devices to communicate with one another) that are verified and vetted by a single company called the Wi-Fi Alliance. This company, a non-profit formed in 1999, tests prospective protocols for interoperability with pre-existing Wi-Fi types, and then gives them a stamp of approval if they do.
One thing these all have in common is that they’re based on another family of standards called IEEE 802.11
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers created a technology in the late 90’s that works very similarly to radio. Essentially, a device will modulate air at extremely high frequencies directly to another device. Importantly, the communication only goes in one direction at a time. The receiver listens for users to connect with it, and then after it hears them, will send them “packets.” This protocol operates over a wide range of frequencies, some as low as 3 and some as high as 60.
When one of these versions of this base technology is released and then gets verified by the Wi-Fi alliance, it’s called “Wi-Fi.”
In many cases, different protocols verified by the Wi-Fi Alliance are given designations like “Wi-Fi 7” or “Wi-Fi 5;” however, it doesn’t work the same as an iPhone.
Different protocols verified by the Wi-Fi Alliance often have different functions. To understand why or how one protocol may be better than another, you should research the individual designation.
Also, most routers that people use to disperse Wi-Fi through their house or their business are often equipped with the most modern, most effective protocol for that purpose. If you’re worried about getting the wrong kind of Wi-Fi, you really shouldn’t be. Just buy a modern router for commercial purposes, and you’ll be fine.
So, in conclusion, Wi-Fi isn’t really a single thing at all. Instead, it’s a family of protocols verified by a single organization that all have different purposes. At a basic level, though, it’s a way to send information through the air from one device to another.
In the future, we’ll talk more about its practical applications, and concerns with its security.