Home Wireless Tutorials What Is WiFi
Home Wireless Tutorials What Is WiFi
Wireless Lan (WiFi)

Wireless Networking based around the 802.11 protocol is one of the fastest growing technologies in computing today. Despite some early security concerns, Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) are being installed in all kinds of places. Companies are installing them in increasing numbers, education institutes are using them to keep their students connected without the need for expensive infrastructure, airline lounges, cafes and shopping centres are offering wireless connectivity, and private networks that cover entire suburbs are now not uncommon in some areas.

Having been approved in 1997, the original IEEE 802.11 wireless protocol is two years older than Bluetooth. Initially the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) determined that 802.11 should have data rates of one and two megabits per second and use either frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) similar to Bluetooth or direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) technology.

Since then the IEEE 802.11 Working Group has made several revisions through various task groups. These task groups have been charged with developing specific standards and each has been identified by a letter of the alphabet.

The first of these revisions - 802.11b (commonly known as Wi-Fi) was commercially released in 1999 and is backward compatible with the original 802.11 allowing data rates of 1, 2, 5.5, and 11Mbps - all in the 2.4Ghz frequency range.

Late 2001 802.11a was released offering data rates ranging from 6 to 54Mbps but unlike 802.11b it operates in the 5Ghz band and uses orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) rather than DSSS. The higher band gives it an immediate advantage in that it all but eliminates interference from other consumer wireless devices. That said, 802.11b is widespread and 802.11a is typically used in backhual situations or where the 2.4Ghz frequencies are too heavily used in an area.

The name WiFi is short for 'wireless fidelity', a play on the term 'Hi-Fi' used to describe high fidelity audio reproduction. Although the WiFi Alliance takes the official stance that the terms are not related, the group's documentation makes several references to the use of 'WiFi' as shorthand for 'wireless fidelity'. The name was invented by Interbrand Corporation as a marketing buzzword for the new technology, as the official IEEE 802.11 specification on which WiFi is based did not have a name. The term 802.11 was deemed too technical for the average consumer that the technology is marketed for, hence the need for a name. Interbrand also designed the WiFi Alliance's logo such that it could be easily identified both in print and molded into a product's plastic casing. This allows the logo to be used to identify WiFi Alliance approved products, avoiding consumer confusion and ensuring device compatibility.


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