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Wi-Fi explained in clear everyday language

First, let’s get a couple of points out of the way: Wi-Fi, which rhymes with the outdated term “hi-fi,” has nothing in common with its soundalike. Hi-fi stood for “high-fidelity” and was used to describe a phonograph/radio system with excellent sound.

Wi-Fi, by comparison, does not stand for “wireless fidelity” and has nothing to do with sound. In fact, it really doesn’t stand for anything! It simply represents wireless networking technology that allows you to go on the Internet without having to plug in any cables.

There’s an organization called the Wi-Fi Alliance that actually owns the Wi-Fi trademark and controls or dictates the technology behind it.

Wi-Fi is everywhere these days, from people’s homes to airports, hotels, libraries, and just about every other place where people use their computers or wireless devices (laptops, smartphones, and iPads/tablets).

Here are the main advantages of setting up a wireless network in your home:

  • You can “connect” any and every computer in your home to your network without having to string cables/wires throughout the house.
  • That means you can go on the Internet in any room from a laptop, desktop or smartphone.
  • You can set up an access password that allows a visitor to log in to your network and will keep others from logging in without your permission…or knowledge.
  • All it takes is a small, affordable piece of hardware called a “router” and some time to get things working.

Some well-known brands of routers are Belkin, Linksys, and Netgear. You’ll find plenty of information on routers online.

The good news is, you can set up a wireless network in your home pretty easily and quickly these days. It starts with your computer and grows from there. Here are some of the things you should know as you start your own network:

Start with your main computer: A wireless network needs to be set up. That’s right: Even though your network will eventually be “wireless,” to set it up you’ll need to use your existing physical connection to the Internet.

A router comes with special software that has to be loaded on your computer. The software sets up the connection needed between your computer, modem and Internet Service Provider – and once everything is ready to go, you’ll be able to invite and allow others’ devices to join your wireless network.

Safety and security. The wireless network broadcasts over a small area, but it has no boundaries. A next-door neighbor could easily be aware of your wireless network. That is, anyone close by with a wireless-enabled device might be able to see that a wireless network is nearby. However, without the password you create, they will not be able to access it or use it.

There are also security settings (which come with the router software) that will prevent hackers from intercepting your signal.

Wireless with wires. One more thing: Your “wireless” router has a couple of wires, at least two. One is the electrical cord for power; the other is a cable (typically an Ethernet cable) with a connector that looks like a large telephone jack and that plugs into your modem. (If your router is a modem too, it will connect to your computer.)

That may sound funny, but the “wireless” feature has to do with the devices that will be able to connect wirelessly with the router.

Modem: You probably have a modem now – it’s an important part of a wireless network. You need your modem to connect your computer to the Internet, and you’ll still need it because your router works with your modem (or, you’ll be replacing your modem with a device that is both a modem AND router).

A “wireless” router. Just as a mailman delivers mail to different addresses on your street, the router, once it’s set up, will deliver an Internet connection (back and forth) for any computer or device with “wireless” capability.

Generation gap. Most electronic/computer stores carry a selection of routers. As with other technologies (cell phones, computers), routers have gone through several “generations” of development. As of 2013, most stores advertised “wireless-N” routers as the most common generation, with “wireless-ac” advertised as the “next” generation. (Before “N” came Wireless-G and Wireless-B.) As you might guess, the new generation tends to be better and, in this case, faster.

You’ll also see routers that come with the designation “2.4 GHz” and/or “5 GHz” (gigahertz), which are the radio wave signals a router emits. What? Radio waves? Yes! That’s how the signal is sent throughout your house and received by compatible wireless devices. If a router is both 2.4 and 5 GHz, it will be called a “dual-band” router.

As with anything else related to technology, it helps to do some research and ask plenty of questions of salespeople and people you know. With the wireless network fundamentals you just read about, you should be able to find the wireless system that will work best for you.

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