What is Wi-Fi? Exploring Wireless Fidelity Technology

What is Wi-Fi?
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Have you ever thought about how your tablets and phones connect to the Internet without any wire or cable? Or how do you video call your family or friends from almost any room in your house or office, play online games, and stream movies? The answer is the technology that connects you to the Internet, namely Wi-Fi.

From our homes and workplaces to the terminal at the airport or the cafe, Wi-Fi allows us to move around in a vast digital world. This article highlights more about Wi-Fi, its origin, how it functions and most importantly what the future of Wi-Fi looks like. 

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi technology enables your devices to connect to the Internet without a cable. Instead of transmitting data via copper wires or fiber-optic connections,Wi-Fi sends the information using radio waves. Think of it as an invisible cable that extends from the wireless router in your living room and reaches all the areas of your home to provide the internet service to any WiFi-enabled device.

This term might be surprising, but “Wi-Fi” does not stand for any typical technical-sounding acronym. Instead, it was given its current form after the Wi-Fi Alliance simplified wireless networking.

Nowadays, billions of devices, including laptops, mobile phones, and even digital cameras, smart TV sets and home appliances, support Wi-Fi. Devices connect to the network through a central hub called a wireless or Wi-Fi access point (AP), often referred to as Wi-Fi router. We’ll understand the functioning of Wi-Fi in the next section!

How Does Wi-Fi Work?

Wi-Fi operates on the same radio frequency spectrum as your cell phone and radio. However, different radio systems operate at different frequencies. Just as FM radio stations broadcast on different frequencies compared to AM stations, devices attempting to communicate over Wi-Fi use a designated set of frequencies. Wi-Fi operates in 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bands, which are globally designated to be used by únlicensed systems. In contrast, 3G/4G/5G networks operate in licensed bands.. The Wi-Fi router and Wi-Fi device (e.g. phone) must use the same frequency so that they are able to transmit/receive data to/from each other. The device’s Wi-Fi adapter; it changes the digital data you want to send into radio signals. This whole process is referred to as modulation. The adapter alters varied characteristics of the radio wave – such as amplitude or frequency or phase for encoding binary data..

A router is the central hub of your Wi-Fi network. It receives a signal through your wired Internet connection, cable, or DSL. Additionally, it transforms the signal for Wi-Fi transmission, using its antennas to broadcast the radio waves that carry data throughout your home. Then,  the Wi-Fi adapter in your device picks up the radio waves from the router. It demodulates the signal, converting it back into digital data your device can interpret, the 1s and 0s that we connect computer work to. When you are uploading a picture to a cloud application like Google Drive or the iCloud, the reverse process takes place. In other words, the client device generates the radio signal which is received by the Wi-Fi router and forwarded over the wired interface. 

Key Components of Wi-Fi Technology

One might think that Wi-Fi works on its own but in reality it relies on a few components. Let’s understand them in detail. 

1. Wi-Fi Enabled Devices

This includes anything that supports wireless data transmitting  technology with a wireless network interface card (NIC). The card is a  built-in radio chip, which helps in translating data into radio waves and vice-versa to assist devices in communicating wirelessly. Sometimes, we might use an external device like a USB adaptor, if the client doesn’t have an in-built Wi-Fi card.

2. Wi-Fi Standards

Different standards control the methods of transmitting data on radio waves, with Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 being the common standard. These standards provide various speeds and range covers. For example, 802.11ac is much faster and better than the older standards like 802.11b. Most devices today are equipped with several standards,so they may connect to routers supporting different standards.

3. Network Security Protocol

Wi-Fi network security is crucial in ensuring data integrity and confidentiality. To avoid instances of unauthorized people accessing the network, Wi-Fi includes authentication and encryption protocols. They simply act as a wall, checking passwords and encryption of data. The recently introduced and most secure protocol is WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3) ,offering better protection against cyber attacks. 

Advantages of Wi-Fi

There are several benefits to Wi-Fi, but the obvious one is the lack of tangled wires. You can connect to the internet and devices in range without the need to plug anything in. Therefore, Wi-Fi provides a high degree of flexibility and mobility for laptops, tablets, and cell phones. You no longer have to be near the cable. 

It is also considerably easier to set up than a wired link for each device. To get it up and running, you have to set up your Wi-Fi network profile (referred to as SSID) and password. Wi-Fi isn’t expensive to use or install when compared to most forms of wired connectivity, making it ideal for small and midsize businesses also. 

Future Trends in Wi-Fi Technology

The need for faster internet and reliable connectivity is contributing to the evolution of Wi-Fi technology actively. The following are some upcoming Wi-Fi trends that we can expect in the immediate future:

1. New Wi-Fi Standards

  • Wi-Fi 6 and 6E: Wi-Fi 6 replaces Wi-Fi 4 and 5 and is the latest version of the Wi-Fi standards. It boasts speeds of 9.6 Gbps and can handle many different devices simultaneously. On the other hand, 6E opens up new ground for Wi-Fi in terms of frequency bands with a less crowded and much less distorted window–the 6 GHz frequency. That is vital in an over-crowded Wi-Fi environment where a large number of devices compete for the network. When you step into a venue with Wi-Fi 6E, for example, your video call will be smoother, and downloads will be faster.
  • Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be): Though it’s still on the way, the new Wi-Fi 7 standard should turn out better still. The early specs show that it may rise to the 320 MHz channel, which could go as fast as 5.8 Gbps. It is specifically designed to offer lower latency. For real-time applications such as online games, virtual reality treatments, etc., the importance of low latency is to provide an immersive effect.

2. The Rise of Mesh Networking

Mesh networks are getting more popular as they offer a more reliable and adaptable solution for full home connections. Once established, the system will not only ensure consistent speeds across your home but eliminate dead zones. Setup for these networks is more manageable compared to traditional routers. 

With the advancements in Wi-Fi technology, here are some benefits you’ll see in the coming years:

  • Faster Speed: Using large files, watching content that is more than 4k high definition, or carrying out activities that require significant bandwidth will be more convenient.
  • Improved Capacity: The advanced Wi-Fi will relieve congestion and, especially in areas with multiple devices in the same network. 
  • Lower Latency: Today, you may experience lag while playing online games and during a video call. The lag will reduce soon because of mesh networks. 
  • Seamless Coverage: Routers with mesh networking and future improvements like Wi-Fi 6E and 7 will ensure fast and consistent connections at home, or work. 

Conclusion

Wi-Fi’s future is about making the connection even more seamless and faster and allowing you to do even more online. Like, Wi-Fi 7 has unnoticeable latency, which is critical for real-time applications. 

However, although Wi-Fi has revolutionized the way we interact now, it is not over. It will continue to evolve as we become more reliant on a seamless and faster internet connection.

Wi-Fi speed depends on a lot of factors, like the Wi-Fi standard (Wi-Fi 6 in this case), the quality of the router, how far you are from your router, how many other devices around are using up all that valuable bandwidth and frequency band choice, walls  and interference can also reduce the speed.

Wi-Fi sends out low-powered radio waves. Most people wouldn't worry about this. Make your Wi-Fi more secure by using a strong password and WPA3 encryption. Avoid logging in online banking on public Wi-Fi networks such as airports and malls.

The different Wi-Fi standards like 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax decide the speed, range, and other properties of each version. In general,  newer versions always outperform the older ones. So if you have a newer device, do not use an older version ,like  a Wi-Fi 6 phone with a Wi-Fi 5 router.

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